The Muslim Devastation of India

Why Muslims Loot and Destroy Hindu Temples
by Anestos Canelides       
Friday, June 18, 2010

Sources:K.S. Lal, The Legacy of Jihad: Muslims Invade India, Prometheus Books

 

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, Simon and Schuster. New York, 1954

 
According to Reuters, on July 27th, 2008, Islamic extremists put several Indian cities on high alert, and about forty people became victims in two days of bombings. It was reported that 16 small bombs were exploded in the Indian city of Ahmadabad on Saturday, killing at least 39 people and wounding 110. A day later another set of blasts in Bangalore tragically killed a woman.

Ahmadabad 2
A little-known group called the “Indian Mujahideen” claimed responsibility for the bombing, although it is unusual for any group to make such a claim. It is believed it was a militant group from Pakistan that actually carried out the attack. Reuters’ Islamic analysts blamed the violence on the Indian government, due to its neglect of the poverty-stricken Muslim community. According to Uday Bhaskar, a security analyst and former director of New Delhi’s Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, the disenfranchisement of India’s Muslims has forced them to join the global/regional jihad. (www.jihadwatch.org) Is it really because Muslims faced discrimination by the kuffar — the unbelievers of India — or does it go much further back in history? The truth is that if one looks at the historical record, these attacks on the Hindus cannot be justified. Some of the major targets of these bombings have been Hindu Temples, and this has been happening for decades.

In light of these attacks on Hindu Temples by Islamic extremists during the last several decades, it is important to realize that this is not a modern phenomenon. While one cannot say it is not totally separate from issues such as Muslim independence from India in Kashmir, in reality the roots go much deeper in history. The ideology of Islamic supremacism has not changed, and it is this same religious fanaticism that resulted in the Islamic conquests of ancient India, from present day Afghanistan to southern India. To the pious Muslim rule by non- Muslims is still unacceptable, and the modern nation of India is still largely a pagan nation full of idolaters.

The point of this article is not to understand the dhimmis — people of the book — but rather the contrast that the idolaters faced from a historical viewpoint. What is the Islamic ideology behind the attacks on the Hindu people of India and their religion? What are its roots? Why did the Muslims destroy temples and other religious artifacts in India? Is this connected to the modern-day attacks in India?

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The great historian Will Durant clearly states that the “Mohammedan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history.”2 He wrote these words prior to World War II, but even so, compared with the Muslim conquest of Christian and Jewish lands, the Muslim conquest of India was extremely brutal.

India friezeIndia was and still is largely Hindu, with some pockets of Buddhist and other assorted faiths, but under the teachings of Muhammad they were all idol worshippers. Unlike Christians, Jews and certain other groups, Hindus were not classified as “People of the Book”, and were not given the option to pay a protection tax called the jizya to be able to retain their faith.

People of the Book were given three choices: convert, pay the protection tax, or die. It was after paying this tax they moved from the House of War,Dar al-Harb, to the House of Peace, Dar al-Islam.Groups classified as idolaters were only given two choices: convert or die. Later on the kuffar (unbelievers) in India were given the same status as people of the book, but this only happened after their Muslim masters saw how lucrative it would be to tax these idolaters. Still, the Islamic conquests of India brought onto the Indians centuries of cruelty, even after they were granted dhimmi status.

The beginning
– – – – – – – – –
The first Muslim attack began with a raid on Multan, in the western Punjab region of India, and similar raids continued at the convenience of the invaders for the next three centuries. Eventually this led not only to conquest, but also to the establishment of Islam in the Indus Valley contemporaneously with the battles fought by its co-religionists against the Franks at the Battle of Tours in 731 AD. However, the real conquest of Hindu/Buddhist lands did not come fully into fruition until the turn of first millennium after Christ.

In any case, military contact by the “peaceful” armies of Islam in pagan India resulted in conversion, destruction of property such as temples, outright slaughter, enslavement, and pillaging. These brutal attacks continued for the next 500 years, bringing war upon the kuffar from Afghanistan to southern India. The invasions caused the destruction of many temples throughout the lands of India, and in some cases eliminated Hindu and Buddhist culture from certain regions forever. Other groups such as the Jains faced the same threat from Islam.1

Arab conquests: the beginning

It was after the complete conquest of Persia under the Sassanid Dynasty in 637 AD that the boundaries of the Caliphate touched the frontiers of India, known as Hind va Sind by the Arabs. It was natural that India could not escape the attention of the Islamic expansionists, whose eyes were ever-hungry for converts, conquest, loot, and slaves.

The raids started in the territories of Sind by land and sea. At first the progress of invading Arab armies was slow, and they faced numerous defeats due to stiff resistance. “For the declaration of objectives of Muslim invaders had not taken into account the potentialities of India’s stiff and latent resistance.”1

Subsequent invasions were repulsed, and the Arabs enjoyed little success until they began to invade from the northwest, emboldened by the earlier annex of Khurasan in 643 AD. The first Arab army penetrated into Zabul, or present day Afghanistan, which at that time was part of India territorially as well as culturally. The Arabs were driven out of Zabul, but later reconquered the territory under Arab General Abdul Rahman, forcing Kabul to pay tribute to the Muslim conquerors.1

The attempts to conquer southern India continued by land and sea, but the first subjugation of India proper began in 712 AD with a full-fledged invasion. The main purpose of the invasion of India was the spread of Islam into the region. The Qur’an clearly says, “fight against them (the Mushriks) until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reins supreme” The one thing these Muslims knew about the inhabitants of India was they were idol-worshippers and infidels, which led to only one conclusion: conquest. This is repeated in Sura 69 “Lay hold of him and bind him. Burn him in the fire of Hell,” and again “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly.”

The invading Muslims knew about their duty concerning such idol worshippers with the instructions coming from three sources: the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the personal exploits of Muhammad himself. The supreme Qur’an taught them to fight the kuffar or unbeliever with all their strength until they were subdued. It was their pious duty to convert them and destroy their idols, shrines and temples.

“The Jihad or Holy War is a multi-dimensional concept. It means fighting for the sake of Allah, for the cause of Islam, for converting people to the true faith.”1 The central theme in Islam is iconoclasm and razing pagan temples, often to replace them with mosques. It is justified by Quranic revelation, and the examples are written in the Sunnah of Muhammad, who destroyed Arab temples, thus, setting an example for his followers. This example was carried into India, or anywhere else they came in contact with Kuffar. Without jihad there would be no Islam, and jihad is the duty of every true Muslim alive, from the time of the Prophet Muhammad until today.1

History does testify to the destruction caused by incursion of the religion of peace into India, which started with the Arabs.1

The Arab Jihad on Indian culture

A clear example of the destruction of the Hindu/Buddhist culture and their temples can be seen in the siege of Debal by Muhammad bin Qasim; who marched into India with a large military expedition. His forces were supplied by Muhammad Harun, the governor of Makran, with weapons of siege warfare such as five catapults. Debal was located on the coast, and was so called because of its Deval or temple. Qasim arrived at the city walls in late 711 or early 712 AD with about 20,000 foot soldiers and cavalry. The Muslims gave the initial invitation to convert, and many in the lower rung of society known as the Jats and Meds, who were thoroughly uneducated, accepted this invitation and flocked to the standard of Islam. Their main motivation was the hope of more material gain and the desire to escape from the Hindu caste system.

Multan: Fort Seraikistan
Much of the population in India — such as the Buddhists, who were totally averse to fighting — was passive; their faith taught them to avoid bloodshed. Many people were indifferent to invasion, but some resisted. K.S Lal states, “In such a situation it were only Raja Dahir of Sind, his Kshatriya soldiers and Brahman Priests of the Temple who were called upon to defend their cities and shrines, citadels and country. This is based upon a Muslim source and should be accepted with caution.”1

In the latter part of the siege of Debal, defectors informed Muhammad about how the temple could be captured. Following their information, the Arabs planted their ladders on the walls of the citadel and stormed over them. Once they took Debal the citizens were given the invitation to accept Islam and upon refusal the males were slaughtered and the women and children were taken into slavery. The carnage lasted for three days: looting, plundering, and rape. Their temple was razed, and was replaced by a mosque. Muhammad left a garrison of 4,000 soldiers in the town. The spoils of conquest were divided first among the leadership and then the common soldiers, and this would be repeated again and again with continued Islamic conquests. “As this was the pattern of all future sieges of Muhammad bin Qasim — as indeed of all future Muslim invaders of Hindustan — it may be repeated. Inhabitants of a captured fort or town were invited to accept Islam or face death.”1 India would face three major invasions over the centuries, beginning with the Arabs and continuing with the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century AD. Over and over again the same scenario repeated itself, with those who converted being spared and those who did not accept the religion of peace being massacred or enslaved. In every case their temples were destroyed, along with all the idols within them, and the remains of the temple were used to build a mosque on the former temple site.1 Later Turkish invasions would even be more brutal.

Example: Jihad by the Turks on the Indian culture

The Turkic Seljuk tribes who had converted to Islam were no less destructive to India’s largely Hindu and Buddhist population. Like the Arabs, the Turks gave the same invitation to convert or die.

In the year 997 AD a Turkish chieftain by the name of Mahmud in eastern Afghanistan cast an envious eye at the wealth across the Indian frontier, because his throne was new and his kingdom was poor. Mahmud knew the kuffar in India were extremely wealthy and he wanted their riches for himself. Using a zeal against idolatry as a pretext for war, he swept across their frontiers with a force inspired by a pious lust for booty. He slaughtered the unprepared Hindus at Bhimnagar, pillaged their cities, and destroyed their temples, carrying away the accumulated treasures of centuries. He returned to his capital in Afghanistan with so much loot that he astonished foreign ambassadors by displaying “jewels and unbored pearls and rubies shining like sparks or like wine congealed with ice, and emeralds like fresh sprigs of myrtle and diamonds in size and weight like pomegranates.”2 Each winter he returned and invaded India to fill his treasure chests and allow his men to pillage and kill, only to return to his capital richer than before.2

At the town of Mathura, Mahmud looted from the temple gold statues encrusted with precious stones and emptied its coffers of gold, silver and jewels. At the same time he expressed an admiration for the architecture of the city’s great shrine, and he judged that its duplication would cost him about one hundred million dinars and the labor of 200 years. He then ordered it soaked with naphtha and burnt to the ground. Six years later he sacked a city in Northern India called Somnath, and murdered all 50,000 of its inhabitants, although at other times he spared the population to be taken to his capital as slaves.2

The whole scenario in this conflict between India and the Muslim world would continue even after India became independent from Great Britain. The separation of India into Pakistan only confirms the hostility by some Muslim groups against their kuffar neighbors.

It is still clear that the main objective of radical Muslims in destroying Hindu temples was laid out by the examples of their Prophet Muhammad. For pious Muslim these temples are not only full of idols or false gods, but are an affront to the Unity of God — after all, there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.

Islam is not only a religion but it is a political system which does not tolerate rule by the infidel kuffar, let alone Hindu idolaters. Until the day comes when Islam is reformed, as Christianity has been, there will be no peace between radical Muslims and the non-Muslim population of India. The bombing of Hindu temples and other property will likely continue even if Kashmir gains independence from India.

Radical Islam only respects strength and courage. This fact is supported by Spero Vyronis in Medieval Historiography. In his book he states that during the First Crusade the only virtue that Arabs respected the Franks (French) for was their courage. This can be no less true for the government of India and, yes, the USA as well.

If we do not learn from history then we will never be able to deal with the Islamic threat. Respect will only come from the Muslim world by carrying a bigger stick.

 


THAILAND: Muslims behead a 9-year-old boy (WARNING: Graphic Images) 2011

Then they hanged or beheaded the rest of his family. Yet another example of Muslim on Buddhist violence in a country where Muslims are only a small minority.

More than than 4000 people from police and teachers to monks and children have been killed in the past 7 years by Muslims in southern Thailand, but hardly a word in the mainstream media.

In Southern Thailand Muslim gunmen continue killing and threatening innocent citizens. The Muslim insurgents have threatened to kill 20 teachers and have distributed fliers that said, “WANTED: 20 Deaths of Buddhist teachers.” Muslim terrorists object to the education system which teaches Buddhist culture that is not acceptable in Islam. The attacks are intended to force Buddhists to leave the region because Muslims want to create an independent Muslim nation in the three southern provinces.

 

 


Female genital mutilation: This barbaric ritual cannot be given credence as ‘cultural’

01/Aug/2010

Source: observer.guardian.co.uk/

It is shameful that this country has never prosecuted anyone for inflicting this dangerous and painful procedure on small girls.

I am glad you covered the issue of female genital mutilation last week. It is shameful that this country has never prosecuted anyone responsible for inflicting this dangerous and excruciatingly painful procedure on small girls. Your articles have spurred me on: I have written to the home secretary and to the Lib Dem Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone. I am also going to write to every MP with a sizeable community from the Horn of Africa in their constituency. I urge other readers to do something along those lines.

The softly-softly approach hasn’t worked. Enabling communities in this country to resist the pressure to mutilate their girls has achieved little. Over many years our impotent hand-wringing has condemned countless girls to a lifetime of pain and infection and possible infertility. Would we tolerate it if white women had to have their scar tissue cut open on their wedding night?

Vera Lustig

Walton-on-Thames

Surrey

While, according to the Oxford Dictionary, your use of the word “circumcision” is correct in contemporary usage, the term derives from the Latin “circumcise” (to “cut around”). For boys, this is the removal of a small section of prepuce, leaving intact the glans with its promise of a lifetime of erotic pleasure.

For girls, “female circumcision” is a violent amputation that removes the clitoris, the main, and for most women the most satisfying, physical source of pleasure. It is emphatically not circumcision, nor simply “genital mutilation”, and the physical, sensual and emotional scars that remain are profoundly distinct from those of male circumcision.

It is deeply disturbing that the Observer does not name this horrific practice for what it is – clitoral amputation.

Professor Dr Suzanne Buchan

University for the Creative Arts, Farnham College

Surrey

In your editorial about female circumcision you refer to the “queasiness on the part of officials to intervene against a traditional practice”. Does this include doctors? If evidence of gunshot or knife wounds can be passed on to the police then one assumes that child mutilation can be, given that they are all probably the result of illegal acts.

I hope your heartbreaking, but encouraging, article is just the start of a sustained campaign against this horrendous activity.

Andrew Dean

Exeter

I first encountered this practice as a medical student in obstetrics and then again when working as a doctor in reproductive and sexual health. As the feature rightly points out, it continues to be inflicted on British citizens despite its illegality. Worldwide there is no indication of any reduction in the number of young girls made to suffer this procedure in countries with a strong cultural tradition. The health risks, both physical and psychological, are evident and raising awareness and education are essential if this practice is ever to be ended. How this is to be achieved is problematical but your article is a step in the right direction.

Dr Christine Mustchin

Hove, East Sussex

Your reference to “this brutal cultural practice” perpetuates the tendency to devalue the term “cultural”. It is regrettable that it is increasingly applied to all sorts of cruel, perverse and degrading deeds. My dictionary defines it as “cultivated: well educated: refined”. Genital mutilation is none of these. It may be described as “practice” but one that is revolting and criminal. As your article rightly points it out: “It is condemned by many Islamic scholars and predates both the Qur’an and the Bible and possibly even Judaism, appearing in the 2nd century BC.” It should have been repudiated long ago along with other barbaric rituals of the distant and murky past. Genital mutilation should never be given credence as something “cultural”.

Professor PP Anthony

Exeter


Iran: 2013 will be ‘fall of American empire’

02/Apr/2013

Source: wnd.com(Reza Kahili)

The “American empire” will fall this year, the head of Iran’s Basij forces claimed Sunday, a message that was approved by the Islamic regime’s supreme leader.

“America should not think that with some diplomatic dialogue it can solve its dossier (problem) with the nation of Iran,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi said. “The path of this land is directed by the martyrs. America with its hollow slogans … thinks the Iranian nation will believe it.”

The Basij commander was speaking to an audience of the 10th conference of “Journey of Enlightened Land” commemorating the “martyrs” of the eight-year war with Iraqaccording to the Journalist Club, an outlet run by the Revolutionary Guards intelligence division.

Naghdi called President Obama’s actions deceitful, saying, “Obama in letters sent to the Islamic Republic promised to put an end to the Iranian nuclear dossier but … reacted in a different way.”

As reported in January 2012, Iranian officials revealed the contents of an Obama letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that indicated a deep desire by the U.S. president for a dialogue with the radical leaders of Iran. Iranian officials also claimed that a subsequent oral message by Obama delivered through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran was even more revealing than the letter delivered to the Iranian supreme leader.

Hossein Ebrahimi, the vice chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said last year that in a meeting between Swiss Ambassador Livia Leu Agosti and Iranian Foreign Ministry officials, Agosti informed the Iranian officials that Obama recognizes Iran’s right of access to and use of nuclear technology.

Ebarhimi also disclosed another important point that the Swiss diplomat delivered: Obama said that “I didn’t want to impose sanctions on your central bank, but I had no options but to approve it since a Congress majority had approved the decision.”

The Basij commander called Obama the most seditious president in the history of America: “Within this period, nothing but betrayal has been witnessed by Obama as the president of America. … America with its enmity toward Iran … has surrounded the country with sanctions.” Under the supreme leader’s request, Naghdi warned that “The epic political movement this year will be the fall of the American empire and the revealing of its true face of cruelty by its politicians.”

Naghdi was born in Iraq and moved to Iran after the Iranian Revolution, joining the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He later joined the Quds Forces, which is involved in international terrorism.

In October 2009, Khamanei appointed Naghdi to command the Basij paramilitary forces. Naghdi has been sanctioned by the U.S. as a violator of human rights for having participated in the suppression of the Iranian people.

Naghdi previously had threatened to kill American generals in response to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

He said at the time, “We will mark the hanging sites of the American and Zionist generals and we will identify which hanging was in retaliation for the blood of our great martyr.”

At Sunday’s ceremony, Naghdi, as promised, presented “The Wet Gunpowder” award to first lady Michelle Obama. The award is given to those who “unknowingly and unwillingly” have contributed greatly to the Islamic Revolution. The prize was sent to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to be handed over to American officials for delivery to Mrs. Obama.

As WND reported March 14, Naghdi had announced that Iran would give the first lady a special award for allegedly exposing a direct link between Hollywood and the White House. He cited her announcement of the “anti-Iran” movie “Argo” Oscar for Best Picture in a live feed from the White House Feb. 24.

“Mrs. Obama’s action was awesome,” Naghdi said with what he described as irony, “and if we had spent billions of dollars, we could not show a link and allegiance between Hollywood and the U.S. government and the White House, especially since they have always denied the allegations.”

During the past months, U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of the State John Kerry, have repeatedly announced the Obama administration’s willingness to hold bilateral talks with Iran. Although the supreme leader in his latest remarks on the occasion of the Iranian New Year said he would not object to such talks, he said that America was the “center of all conspiracies and the No. 1 enemy” of the Islamic regime.


India: Muslim women’s group under police scanner, for trying to “motivate girls towards Islam”

01/Apr/2013

Source : timesofindia.indiatimes.com(By Mateen Hafeez)

MUMBAI: Intelligence agencies in the state have sent letters to all police stations in Mumbai asking them to monitor the activities of the Girls Islamic Organization (GIO). The organization is trying to “motivate girls towards Islam”, the letter warned.

GIO is girls’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami in India. The letter stated that the GIO is trying to recruit young women and girls. It also mentioned names of two women, Swaleha Baji and Smaiyya. While the former has been referred as the Maharashtra chief of GIO, Smaiyya is said to be recruiting people.

“People are now attracted towards science. These women are trying to ask girls to wear a burqa and study Islam. We have asked police stations to monitors their activities,” said Sanjay Shintre who heads the special branch’s intelligence wing.

According to Shintre, male activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami had come under the scanner and now women were coming to the fore. “Many male functionaries of the Jamaat are on our radar so they are now focusing on girls. Muslim girls who are educated are not inclined towards religion,” Shintre said.

When asked whether there was any case against the GIO in the state or preaching a particular religion constituted any wrongdoing, Shintre said, “No. But we are monitoring them.” A Jamaat activist said they contacted special branch chief Nawal Bajaj. “Bajaj told us he will inquire into the matter,” he said.


Mumbai Police circular says girls being trained for Jihad at Islamic organisation

1/Apr/2013

Source : .hindustantimes.com

Mumbai Police has kicked up a controversy following its circular which says the women’s wing of an Islamic organisation is “brainwashing and training girls for Jihad”.

The outfit has threatened legal action if no apology is tendered by the police.

The “internal circular” said the Girls Islamic Organisation (GIO) of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, one of the country’s largest Islamic organisations that runs 40 high schools and three junior colleges in Maharashtra, has been operating with the objective of “brainwashing college and school girls and train them for jihad”.

 “The group GIO is related to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and it was established in Kerala. The purported aim of this organisation is to make more and more Muslim women aware of their religion and the holy Quran. But the real objective of this organisation is to brainwash school and college girls and train them for jihad,” the circular, issued last month, says.

The document, meant for internal circulation, got leaked and has invited the wrath of Jamaat with its Maharashtra spokesman Mohammad Aslam Ghazi threatening to sue the police department if it does not apologise.

Ghazi alleged it was a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of the socio-religious organisation.

“The circular was leaked with vicious intentions. The allegations against GIO are false and baseless,” he said.

“The Mumbai Police either has to prove the allegations or apologise for the error. Otherwise, we would sue them for defamation,” said Ghazi, adding their organisation worked for “peace, justice and to fight against prejudice of the state machinery”.

Mumbai Police spokesman Satyanarayana Choudhary said “the circular was meant to be only for the department and not for public.”

Earlier, Mumbai Police had got embroiled in a row over a poem by a traffic police inspector Sujata Patil published in an issue of the force’s in-house journal Samwad where she had described last year’s Azad Maidan protesters as “snakes” and “traitors” whose hands should have been “chopped off”.

Amid threat of legal action and mounting anger of Mulim organisations, Patil had apologised in writing. The apology was published in the next issue of Samwad.


Tunisia: Can niqabs and bikinis live side-by-side?

27/March/2013

Source: .bbc.co.uk

Two years after the long-time government was ousted in Tunisia, some women are enjoying their freedom to wear Islamic clothes such as the niqab, while others are afraid of losing their rights, reports Caroline Anning.

Arije Nasser greets me in her living room in the dusty, wind-blown Tunisian town of Gafsa with the traditional two kisses on the cheek – but through a swathe of black material.

The 22 year-old English student chose to put on the niqab – the full Muslim veil which leaves only the eyes showing – after the Tunisian revolution in 2011.

“I feel like a princess when I walk down the street wearing this,” she says. “The niqab and even the hijab were forbidden before the revolution, but now we feel more comfortable to practise our religious activities.”

Ms Nasser, and other conservative Tunisians like her, have benefited from the new-found religious freedom in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

With an Islamist party now holding the majority of seats in government, the aggressively secular policies of the old regimes are out, while beards and veils are increasingly in on Tunisia’s streets.

That has some Tunisian women worried.

At a recent demonstration, around 800 people pushed down Avenue Habib Bourguiba in central Tunis, chanting for a “secular state” and against “the party of the Brotherhood”.

Several middle-aged women were pulling reluctant, gauche teenage girls off the pavement. “March with us – this is your future too” they urged.

“Tunisia has always been an advanced country in the Arab world when it comes to women’s rights, but now unfortunately our rights are threatened,” blogger Lina Ben Mhenni explained, away from the crowd, the Tunisian flag draped over her shoulders.

“Before the revolution we used to ask for more rights, for total equality, but now we’re just trying to preserve and keep the rights we already have,” she said.

Topless protestUnder President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian women enjoyed more freedoms than their sisters elsewhere in the Arab world.

They can divorce on equal terms and polygamy is banned – in many Muslim countries, men are allowed to take up to four wives – although the law still grants men a greater share of inheritance.

The new government, dominated by the Islamist Ennahda party, has not taken away those rights.

Said Ferjani, a senior member of Ennahda’s political bureau, said it “is not looking to impose a lifestyle on anyone, we are here to defend freedom”.

The party stepped down in a fight over the wording of the new constitution – the draft text had originally referred to “complementarity” between women and men in the family in line with Ennahda’s ideology, but after an outcry from women’s groups it was changed to “equality”.

“Just look at this girl who did a topless protest,” said Mr Ferjani. “We protect her rights, but we also protect the rights of women to wear the niqab.”

Amina, a 19 year-old Tunisian student, is the topless girl he refers to.

She created a Tunisian Facebook group for the international feminist movement Femen, which uses nudity as a form of protest, and posted a bare-breasted photo of herself with the words “my body is mine, not somebody’s honour” written on her chest in Arabic.

Ennahda officials may not openly oppose Amina’s actions, but other conservatives do.

A prominent Salafist cleric has called for her to be flogged and stoned to death.

‘Rediscovering religion’Many Tunisian women feel that their rights are under threat.

“I think the situation for women in Tunisia now two years after the fall of the regime is mixed,” said Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch in Tunisia.

She admitted nothing has changed on the legal level regarding the status of women or indeed in her own life, but said “big changes are happening deep in society”.

“There are more hardliners, more of these so-called Salafist groups who tend to impose their own vision of society and religion – I think this might have a very strong effect on women.”

women swimming in tunisia - one in a bikini, the other covered up

Anecdotally, Tunisia is becoming outwardly more conservative.

It remains liberal compared to many of its neighbours; many women are unveiled and even imams and Ennahda officials will often shake a woman’s hand.

But more people are choosing to wear the veil, which was officially banned under the old regime.

It is also now not uncommon to see men wearing the garb of the conservative Salafist Islamists – long beard, skull cap and a thobe.

Some women report feeling pressured to start wearing the veil, while young men told me they have been ordered by conservatives to stop drinking or playing dominos.

Sheikh Mohammed Moncef Nasser, a schoolteacher and the imam at a local mosque in the central city of Gafsa, said he has seen a resurgence in interest in Islam since the revolution.

“People are rediscovering their religion, it’s natural,” he said. “At dawn prayers I used to only have one row of worshippers – now it’s five or six, mostly young people.”

 

‘Personal choice’

Many secularists see this as evidence of foreign influence, particularly from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But for Tunisian Islamists, it is a case of publically reclaiming their Muslim and Arab identity after years of being suppressed by the regimes of Mr Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba.

“I was so happy when I was able to wear the niqab,” said Ms Nasser.

As we chatted, she checked her smart phone for messages from her fiancee using fingers clad in black gloves.

This is all because of the presence of her male cousin; when he leaves the room, she lifts the veil to show me her pretty, round face.

“I study and I succeed in my studies, I have a love story, I live a normal life,” she said.

“The niqab is not an obstacle for me. But that is my personal choice – people must be educated in Islam, it can’t be forced on them.”

She revealed that when she first started wearing the niqab, there were only a handful of other women in Gafsa doing the same.

“Now, I would estimate there are about 30 of us.”

 

‘Giving Salafism a bad name’

The fears that secular, liberal women have when they see women like her stems from two things, Ms Nasser believes.

Tunisian women protesting

One is that people are simply not used to seeing what she called “real Islamists” in Tunisia.

The other is that certain groups of Salafists – what are termed here “jihadi”, as opposed to “scientific” Salafists – are giving Islamists a bad name.

Jamal Bouthouri, a Salafist imam from Kesserine, agrees.

Sitting in the small office of the car garage where he works, the 23 year-old says the media have exaggerated problems between women and conservative Islamists.

“People in Tunisia are always talking about this, but they are wrong.

“The fears of Tunisian women are down to ignorance about our ideology, and there are some Salafists who give Salafism a bad name,” he admits.

“Our relation with women is based on respect and that each one respects his or her tasks in this life.

“What we see today is that we have entered into confusion about men’s tasks and women’s tasks,” Mr Jamal adds.

It is remarks like that which have some Tunisian women concerned.

There is a pervasive belief among the party’s opponents that Ennahda is quietly working with the Salafists.

Mr Ferjani tried to calm their fears: “Ennahda believes people can speak out and cherish whatever they wish to, so long as they are peaceful. If you are peaceful, wear the niqab [or] a bikini on the beach. Just don’t try to impose your lifestyle on the others,” he said.

For Samira Aloui, a teacher from Kesserine, and other women like her, those sentiments ring hollow.

“Ennahda is two-faced,” she said. “We don’t know what to believe with them – they use religion as a front. But when it comes to women’s rights, we want to go forward not back.”