Ramadan charity seeks to free 'innocent' Indian Muslims

An Indian man in Kashmir Image copyright AFP
Image caption Zakat is money traditionally collected during Ramadan

One of India's leading Islamic organisations is using the traditional "Zakat" (Ramadan donation) to give legal aid to Muslim youths languishing in jail on serious charges like terrorism. Zubair Ahmed reports.

The story of Nisar-ud-din Ahmad, who was acquitted of terror charges and released from jail 23 years after he was arrested, gripped India in June.

Mr Ahmad had then told the BBC that he rued his "lost" life and said that even his newly procured freedom could not give him happiness.

The story of delayed justice made headlines across the country, but unfortunately Mr Ahmad's plight is hardly unusual.

Many Indian Muslim youths are fated to spend years in prison on charges like terrorism and "waging war against the nation" until courts clear them, often many years later.

'Good cause'

Part of the delay is their inability to pay expensive legal fees, or find someone to take up their cases.

But one of of India's leading ulema (Islamic scholars) organisations, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, has used the community's Ramadan Zakat funds to try and change this situation.

The Jamiat has so far spent 20m rupees ($300,000; £243,167) on court cases in this regard.

Gulzar Azmi, who heads the organisation's legal cell in the western India, told the BBC that Muslims contribute to Zakat funds generously during the holy month of Ramadan which ends in India on Thursday.

"We appeal to the faithful in Friday sermons to donate to this good cause. The response has always been very good," he said.

And the effort seems to have paid off.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The appeal to donate towards this cause has generated a good response

Mr Azmi says his organisation has taken up the cases of 560 men in 65 terror cases.

But first they screen each application and only take up the cases of people they believe have been wrongly implicated.

"By the grace of Allah more than 100 Muslim boys, convicted under terrorism charges by lower courts, have been acquitted by higher courts.

"The acquittals include those who were first given death sentences and life imprisonment," Mr Azmi said.

The latest to be released were nine Muslim youths who were arrested 10 years ago in a bomb blast case in Maharashtra state's Malegaon town.

The Jamiat tasted its first major success in this effort two years ago when all six men convicted for an attack on a famous temple in Gujarat in 2002 were freed by the Supreme Court.

Two of them had been sentenced to death.

'Moral responsibility'

Maulana Siddikulla Choudhury, a minister from West Bengal state, supports the Jamiat's effort to fight for ''justice'' even though he belongs to a rival faction of the organisation.

"We believe it's our moral and religious responsibility to extend legal help to those Muslim youth who are falsely implicated in terror cases," he told the BBC.

Qari Mohammed Shafiq, an imam of a prominent mosque in Kolkata (Calcutta), said it was money well spent.

"Those Muslims who have been implicated in false cases must be helped. Many of them don't have money to fight cases on their own. The Zakat money can be spent to give them legal help," he said.

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