No state for Muslim leaders?
Top: Badruddin Tyabji was a Congress president and leader; (above) Feroze Ashraf
Journalist Feroze Ashraf lists 22 Muslim leaders for a government that couldn’t think of even one name worthy of commemoration.

The Maharashtra government has no Muslim in its recent list of personalities whose anniversaries are worth commemorating. Ironically, journalist and retired Indian Oil trade unionist Feroze Ashraf has already found 22.

At the top of Ashraf’s list is Amir Khusro, “the greatest Indian ever”. “To call him a Muslim would be to lessen his personality. There hasn’t been another poet who has written so lovingly about his country. And writing was just one of his many talents. Forget Maharashtra. The Government of India should honour him.”

The 1992-93 riots forced Ashraf to move to Muslim-dominated Jogeshwari. There began the discovery of his own community. He began hearing the refrain that non-Muslims never hear: the anguish among Muslims that their leaders have always been ignored. “It’s as if Muslims made no sacrifices; as if the only contribution of Muslim leaders was to create Pakistan.”

While the Maharashtra government has ignored even those names we study in our history books, Ashraf points out many others. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, for instance, better known as the writer of the ghazal Chupke chupke raat din. “He could’ve become a Collector; instead, as one of the founders of the Communist Party, he was sentenced to pound grain in jail and spent much of his life underground.”

In 2009, Ashraf started a weekly series on Muslim leaders in the newspaper Hamara Mahanagar. If Maharashtra’s babus were to go through it, they may find it difficult to choose from the galaxy of greats.

Of particular interest to Maharashtra would be Badruddin Tyabji. His participation in the first session of the Congress, and his turning down the invitation of the Mohammedan Educational Conference, paved the way for Muslims to join the Congress. He presided over the 1887 session, became a judge in the Bombay High Court and fought for women’s rights. Lawyer Rahimatullah M Sayani presided over the 1896 session, and was appointed Fellow of Bombay University.

The Deoband seminary played an important role in the freedom struggle, says Ashraf. Its first student, Maulana Mahmoodul Hasan Deobandi, founded the revolutionary Reshmi Rumal movement and was exiled. His pupil, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani, accompanied him to jail. Thanks to Madani, many Muslims from UP and Bihar stayed back during Partition. He was among the first recipients of the Padma Bhushan.

Then there were Maulana Shibli Nomani, and the Ali brothers, Maulanas Shaukat Ali and Mohammed Ali. The last named declared at the First Round Table Conference: “I will not go back to a slave country…if you do not give us freedom, you will have to give me a grave here.” He died in England and was buried in Palestine. Other names, too, stand out: Hakim Ajmal Khan, who revived Indian systems of medicine neglected by the British and presided over the 1921 Congress session; Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, who studied medicine in England, joined the Congress and was one of the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia and Kashi Vidyapeeth. Ataullah Shah Bukhari, jailed for his speech at the 1921 Congress session, was described by the British as a man who “has spent a considerable part of his life preaching sedition.” In a league of their own, says Ashraf, were Kerala’s Moplahs, who fought British guns with their scythes.

The series was an eye-opener for Ashraf. “I had no idea that Muslims from Tamil Nadu were so active in the freedom movement. I learnt that the common Muslim stood with Hindus; the elite supported the British. And I realised how instrumental Gandhi had been in uniting both communities. When his ashes were being taken for immersion in the Ganga at Patna, Muslims led the procession, with Maulvi Fazlur Rehman reading out shahadat (martyrdom) verses from the Koran.”

What does he feel about the Maharashtra government’s omission of Muslims from their list? “They’ve been brought up on RSS history. What would they know about Ashfaqullah Khan and Asif Ali?”