By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
Where are those who trolled the heads of Sufi shrines who met the Indian Prime Minster in 2015 and subsequently organised the World Sufi Forum in 2016? Following the 40-memeber Sufi delegation which interacted with the PM in August 2015 on the pressing issues of the Muslim community, the Deoband clerics have now met the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They sought to ‘open the door for dialogue’ between the common Muslims and the Prime Minister. According to the media reports, PM Modi, at his official residence, met a delegation of Muslim clerics led by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, who reflected on the key current issues of the community, particularly the Triple Talaq controversy.
While Madani avers that the Prime Minister heard his group ‘passionately’ and ‘agreed with their concerns’, Muslim community is caught with surprise and suspicion over the fresh engagement of Modi with the clergy. However, this surprise does not stem from the fact that Muslims and their clergy have historically been wary about the BJP in general and Narendra Modi government in particular after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Rather, it results from the staggering news that this time the delegation was led by Maulana Mahmood Madni, General Secretary of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, not by Maulana Hazrat Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichchawchchvi, founder-president of All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB).
Inevitably, the members of the Madani delegation which met PM Modi on Tuesday were predominantly the Deobandi Ulema including Maulana Syed Mohammad Usman, president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal, JUEH president in the Assam State, who is also a member of Darul Uloom Deoband. To the utter surprise, there was not a single cleric from among the Sunni-Sufi leaders or Barelvi Ulema who met PM Modi in August 2015.
This meeting is more surprising for those who consider the Jamiat’s earlier uncompromising stand on Narendra Modi that it strongly proclaimed in 2014, as reported in India Today. In an interview, Maulana Mahmood Madani issued an avowedly harsh statement against the BJP government saying that “Muslims won’t back Modi at any coast”. He said that nothing has happened that will make one believe that Narendra Modi has changed. “Not just Muslims, but others too believe that Modi was directly involved in 2002 riots. Modi’s acquittal in a particular case does not mean that he cleared of all charges”, said Maulana Mahmood Madani.
So what has happened now that acquits PM Modi of “all charges” he faced in the earlier view of Maulana Madani? And more interestingly, how did the decision of meeting PM suit the Muslim clerics who pledged not to meet him, because they held him responsible for Gujarat riots, fake encounters and a vitiated atmosphere of ‘hate against the Muslim community’ in India? One of the Muslim newspapers in India, The Milli Gazette edited by Dr. Zafrul Islam Khan of the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat has triggered a row on this meeting:
“Soon after Mr. Modi’s coming to power, at least three high-level meetings were held by Muslim community leaders including one called by Maulana Mahmood Madani himself in his Masjid Abdun Nabi office in Delhi, in which it was decided unanimously that no Muslim group will meet Mr Narendra Modi who was held responsible not only for Gujarat 2002 riots, fake encounters but also for creating in the country an atmosphere of hate against the Muslim community. The leaders had decided that if a need arises to meet the PM, it should be a joint delegation”…..”Today’s delegation did not include any leader of leading Indian Muslim organizations like Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Jamaat-e Islami Hind and Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e Hadees or institutions like Muslim Personal Law Board or Darul Uloom Deoband. By meeting the PM today with only a Jamiat delegation, Mahmood Madani group has broken the Muslim ranks”, the newspaper wrote in its reportage on Madani’s meet with Modi.
On the contrary, Maulana Madani has expressed ‘complete satisfaction’ with his group’s meet with the Prime Minister. In a press release issued by the Jamiat, Madani described the meeting which lasted for about 2 hours, as “satisfactory and positive”. He showed great optimism about the PM who heard the delegation ‘passionately’ while nodding to the ‘concerns’ it raised. Most interestingly, Madani hailed Narendra Modi for his great reverence for Islam and Sufism, as he said, “We are happy to note that in the context of tarnishing the image of Islam and Muslim globally, you made the Indian Muslim communities hold their head high by projecting Indian Muslim community’s ideology of peaceful Islam with reference to India’s tradition of Islamic Sufism and their aversion to extremist ideology”.
Now, remember how the same Jamiat castigated the heads of Sufi shrines who met PM Modi in 2015 in a delegation of 40 Sufi clerics. Notably, in his remarks during the meeting, Modi said that extremist forces are attempting to weaken the Sufi ideology today. He continued: “it is essential for Sufi saints and scholars to counter these forces through various avenues including on social media, so that the ideology of extremism does not take root in India”.
Subsequently, Sufi leaders organised the “World Sufi Forum” in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan announcing a strongly-worded counter-narrative against the ISIS’s brand of radical Islamist ideology. However, much like the meeting of the Sufi leaders with Modi, World Sufi Forum was also castigated by the Deobandi and a few other clerics, only because it was inaugurated by Narendra Modi. The Jamiat strongly opposed the World Sufi Forum calling it a political stunt of the Indian government to divide the Muslim community over “Sufism vs Wahhabism”. At that time, Maulana Madani proclaimed: “Sufism is nothing” and that the World Sufi Forum was an NDA bid to “divide the Muslims”. In a direct rebuttal to the World Sufi Forum, another leading figure of the Jamiat, Maulana Arshad Madani stated: “Sufism is no sect of Islam and is not found in the Quran”, while accusing the Modi government of “trying to create acrimony in the Muslim community”.
So what is the sudden stimulus behind Maulana Madani’s softness for Narendra Modi and his favourite strain of Islam–Sufism? This is a tough question posed by the Indian Muslim community’s watchers, considering that the Jamiat leaders and other Deoband clerics have been trying to forge a victimhood narrative among the Muslims masses by scaring them about the RSS and the NDA government. Tellingly, Maulana Madani has been a Rajya Sabha member with support from Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and has dabbled in electoral politics as well. So, many might be fascinated by his political correctness in his latest media statement: “Our meeting with the PM was mainly for opening the door of mutual communication and closer understanding that would lead to further opportunities and all of us will be able to play our role in the development of our country.” Talking to several media outlets, Maulana Madani added that he asked the Prime Minister to create a ‘mechanism’ for further dialogue between the PM and the Indian Muslim community, as shown in a video.
While Narendra Modi’s meeting with the clerics ideologically opposed to what he hails in Islam as Sufism is staggering, a deeper observation reveals that this meet reeks of rivalry between the Ulema of different Muslim sects in drawing closer to the Modi government and, thus, securing a political space for themselves.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular columnist with www.newageislam.com , scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia.
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