The special branch of the Mumbai Police claims that controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik and his non-profit Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) have illegally converted around 800 people to Islam by paying them using funds received from abroad. The allegation, if proved, could spell more trouble for Naik, who is being investigated for his fiery speeches and alleged extremist links.
The police learnt about this after the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) and Kerala Police arrested Arshid Qureshi, a guest representative officer of IRF, from his house at Seawoods in Navi Mumbai on Thursday. A day later, the same team arrested Kalyan resident Rizwan Khan, who allegedly played a crucial role in the conversions and weddings.
Both Arshid and Rizwan were taken to Kochi on a transit remand as they were named in an FIR registered at Palarivottam police station in Kochi against Bestin Vincent, alias Yahya, a Christian from Palakkad who converted to Islam and is believed to have joined the Islamic State. Bestin and his wife Merin Jacob, alias Mariyam, have been missing for some time. The FIR is based on a complaint registered by Merin’s brother Ebin Jacob.
According to Ebin’s complaint, Merin, who is from a Christian family in Edapally, Kochi, met Bestin while she was working in Mumbai in 2015. They got into a relationship and eventually married. According to a source in the Kerala Police, Bestin and Arshid converted Merin to Islam and radicalised her during her stay in Mumbai. Merin initially resisted but finally relented after she was taken to various classes, added the source.
According to Ebin’s complaint, Bestin and Arshid then forced Merin to join the Islamic State, which she also resisted at first, expressing her desire to return to Kerala. Ebin claimed that Bestin and Arshid had tried to compel him to convert to Islam, too.
Earlier, Merin’s parents had alleged that both Bestin and Merin had been radicalised by Naik, whom they had met in Mumbai.
The special branch found that Rizwan also worked for an organisation known as Al-Birr Foundation at Mazagaon, allegedly a hub for conversions and marriages funded by IRF.
“After an initial indoctrination, (potential converts) would be taken to Arshid’s Navi Mumbai office for further indoctrination. Later, they would be taken to a Dongri office where Rizwan would complete the documentation for their conversion,” said a police officer, who did not wish to be named.
Investigators added that Rizwan, who is also a maulvi or a priest, would also conduct marriages for couples among the converts. Finally, he would send vouchers with individual expenses to Arshid, who would pay for them from IRF’s funds, the police said.
“IRF gets funds from several countries, including Saudi Arabia, and these were used for such activities. Those converted would also get around Rs 50,000 in cash,” added the officer.
Investigators have also identified others who allegedly assisted Arshid and Rizwan and are questioning them.
The latest revelations will be included in the police’s final report that will be submitted to Mumbai Police commissioner DD Padsalgikar.