Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a rare video appearance, has praised Muskan Khan, the student who had become the face of defiance against the hijab ban in the Indian state of Karnataka. Zawahiri also asked Muslims of the subcontinent to unite and raise their voice against the hijab ban in the state.

In a video that had gone viral on social media in February, Muskan Khan could be seen being heckled by a group of saffron shawl-clad students as she was entering the college. Khan had responded to "Jai Shri Ram" chants with a cry of "Allah-hu-Akbar."

#KarnatakaHijabRow when a #hijabi student arrives at PES college in #Mandya. She gets heckled by students wearing #saffronshawls chanting #JaiSriRam. She raises her hand says "#AllahuAkbar befor being escorted by college staff. Video courtesy: Digvijaya News. #Karnataka

— Imran Khan (@KeypadGuerilla) February 8, 2022

Terrorist Zawihiri has now responded to the incident in a 9-minute pre-recorded video, and goes on to talk about this issue.

"... May Allah reward her greatly for imparting a practical lesson to Muslim sisters plagued by an inferiority complex vis a vis the decadent Western World. May Allah reward her for exposing the reality of Hindu India and the deception of its pagan democracy," Zawahiri said.

He goes on to add that Khan had inspired him to write a poem which he recited in the end. "Her takbeer inspired me to write a few lines of poetry, in spite of the fact that I am not a poet. I hope that our honourable sister accepts this gift of words from me," he added.

The video was released on Tuesday by As-Sahab Media, Al-Qaeda's official media wing, and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. It also put an end to the rumours that the group's leader is no longer alive.

Meanwhile, Muskan Khan's family has distanced themselves from the controversy created by Zawahiri' s statement on the issue. Her father Mohammad Hussain Khan has said that they do not need any appreciation from a terrorist.

"We do not know who he is and why he is involved in an issue of my is wrong to take my daughter's name. I am happy in my country. We do not need them (Al Qaeda) to speak about our country's issues. They are just spoiling our peace," he told The Indian Express.

The controversy over the wearing of hijab to educational institutions erupted after a college in Udupi denied entry into classrooms to students who were wearing it. These students then started holding demonstrations against the college authorities inside school premises and were met with opposition from right-wing groups.

Several petitions were then filed in the Karnataka High Court against the ban. However, the court upheld the ban stating that the hijab is not an essential part of Islam, hence, the practice is not protected under the fundamental right to religion.

Hijab ban
A Muslim student during a protest against the hijab ban in Karnataka. Reuters / ANUSHREE FADNAVIS