By R. Upadhayay
Despite extensive support extended to the movement launched by Anna Hazare demanding appointment of an effective Lokpal to deal with corruption by many people and organisations including a number of Muslim organizations like All India Ulema Council, Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, (a socio-political organization of backward class Muslims who constitute the vast majority of Muslim population in India), All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board and All India Muslim Majlish-e-Moshawarat, (a confederation of various Muslim organizations), Syed Ahmad Bukhari of Jama Masjid declared it un-Islamic and asked the Muslims to keep away from it.
At a time when after the last Friday Namaz during the holy month of Ramdan when Imams by and large preach the Muslims to follow the spiritual path as revealed in the holy book of Quran, Bukhari’s sermon was political in nature and it was more on Anna’s movement and its negative impact. He argued that the slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram” as being raised by Anna was blasphemous for Muslims. He also accused Anna for working at the behest of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bhartiya Janata Party. In another statement he said, “Anna Hazare must detach from the political power working behind him. He praised Narendra Modi sometime back who is accused of massacre in Gujarat.”
Contradicting his statements, a well reputed Islamic scholar Mufti Mukarram who is also the Shahi Imam of another seventeenth century Fatehpuri Masjid in Delhi said that Islam has nothing to do with Anna’s movement which is for a noble cause and appealed to the Muslims to join it. Mufti Mukarram subscribes to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam which is adhered to by a vast majority of Indian as well as Pakistani Muslims in the sub-continent. Therefore his words carry more weight and more acceptable as he is a mufti in his own right and has the authority to issue an Islamic Fatwa.
Apart from Bukhari, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani , Vice Chancellor of Darul Uoom Deoband, an internationally reputed Islamic institution too tried to keep a distance from the movement but did not make any appeal to the Muslims to boycott it. He said, “Anna Hazare’s stir is against corruption and we are supporting it. But we can not join the protests as we are basically an educational centre concerned with the religious teachings only.” This statement is therefore also an indirect signal for Ahmad Bukhari that religious leaders to confine themselves only to the task allotted to them and not exceed their responsibility.
By and large the Muslim community in India did not give much credence to the statement of Ahmad Bukhari though many were not seen participating physically in the movement. But it certainly was not due to the appeal of Bukhari as he was not an authorised spokes person of Muslim community. Everyone knows that his influence is hardly seen beyond the Jama Masjid area of Delhi.
As referred to Al-Quran in a pamphlet by the Central Wakf Council Delhi that
“O ye that believe
Betray not the trust
Of God and the Apostle,
Nor misappropriate knowingly
Things entrusted to you” suggests that the holy book of Islam is also opposed to corruption which is a misappropriation of things entrusted to any individual or institution. In the light of this Quanic verse the agitation against corruption cannot be classified as “un-Islamic.”
One of the issues raised by Ahmad Bukhari was the use of the slogan “Vande Mataram”. Didn’t he know that the slogan of Vande Mataram was raised by both the Hindus and the Muslims during the Khilafat movement and no Imam including the then Imam of Jama Masjid raised any objection? Similarly, the singing of Vande Mataram was the first item of agenda in the fifth session of the Constituent Assembly of India held on 15th August 1947 when all the participating members including Muslims stood up and sang it. Had this anthem been un-Islamic the Muslim members in the Constituent Assembly would not have sung it.
A noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani in an on line paper said, “I think the Shahi Imam does not deserve his title or office because he seems to be ignorant of what Islam teaches and the spiritual meaning and message of Vande Mataram. What follows is an attempt to educate a foolish fanatic that he seems to be. There is little hope he will change. In that event he will have to be dealt with harshly. Whatever my diffidence, I propose to try and introduce the Imam to the nobility of Islam, which he does not understand” (htt://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/imam-bukhari-needs-to-understand-islam).
Syed Ahmad Bukhari, is the thirteenth Imam of the seventeenth century Jama Masjid of Delhi from the year 2000. He had always tried to grab the headlines and his statement on the movement appeared to be more out of frustration. In this he has followed the footsteps of his late father Abdullah Bukhari the first Imam of Jama Masjid in post independent India who deviated from the traditional approach of dealing purely with religious sermons.
The past records of the father and son duo suggest that instead of using the post of Imam for delivering spiritual sermon in post-Friday prayer discourses, they had been using it for disseminating political and communal issues which is rather unfortunate. Were they looking for political dividends? It is not clear.
To understand the frustration of Bukhari one needs to analyse the status of the Imam of Jama Masjid during Muslim rule and thereafter. Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid were constructed by fifth Mogul emperor Shahjahan (1628–1658) and one of his wives Fatehpuri Begum respectively and their Imams were designated as Shahi Imam( royal cleric). The fifth Mogul who had himself laid the foundation stone of Jama Masjid was so much overwhelmed after its completion in 1656 AD that he wanted to have an eminent Islamic scholar as Imam for this mosque. He therefore requested the Shah of Bukhara (Uzbekistan) in Central Asia for sending “a man noble by birth, descendant of the Holy Prophet from both of his parents, with high learning and high qualities, i.e., inwardly and outwardly an outstanding figure of the time” for the post of the Imam of Jama Masjid. As desired by Shahjehan, Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah was sent from Bukhara and was appointed as the first Imam. He was also conferred with the title of ‘Imam-ul- Sultanat’ (Imam of the Empire) with an honourable place in Moghul court along with ministers and nobles. (‘What is Waqf’ by Imtiaz Ahmad Khan). The general public however addressed him by a simpler title of Shahi Imam.
It may not be out of place to mention that in early eighth century AD the Syeds of Arab with ancestral lineage to Prophet Mohammad had invaded the city of Bukhara and converted the native Uzbeks to Islam by sword. The first Imam of Jama Masjid therefore prefixed his name with addition of a word “Syed” and also suffixed it with the term “Bukhari”.
One can understand the weakness of human nature to boast about noble ancestry which is reflected in titles. Even today many Syed Muslim families in India add suffixes like Siddiqi, Umari, Usmani and Ali to claim their lineage from the first four Caliphs of Islam namely Abu Bakar As-Siddiq (632-634 A.D.), Umar ibn Al-Khattab (634-644 A.D.), Usman ibn Affan (644-656 A.D.) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (656-661 A.D.) respectively with a view to show their exalted positions.
It is not clear why when the first Imam was the descendent of the Syed clan of Prophet Mohammad was actually rooted to Arab and not Bukhara, did he suffix his name with Bukhari? Perhaps his intention was not only to prove the Islamic might of his ancestors who had established Islam in the city of Bukhara but also to show off his superiority even within the Syed group of Muslims. Thus it became customary for the successive Imams to carry Syed and Bukhari as prefix and suffix with their names.
After the death of the first Imam there was no scrutiny of the criteria for the post of Imam in Jama Masjid as prescribed by Shahjehan and it became customary of anointing the eldest sons of the successive Imams as their successors who also enjoyed the royal status in the court of the respective Mogul emperors.
With the collapse of Mughal Empire in 1857 when the British power confiscated the Jama Majid and an army post was set up in its premises, the then Imam escaped from his residence and took shelter in the house of his cousin Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a loyal Muslim employee of the British who founded Aligarh Muslim University.
The Imam was allowed to resume his post only in 1862 when the mosque was returned on condition that it would not be used for any sort of political activities and its administration regulated under the Religious Endowment Act 1863. The supervisory power too was vested with judiciary for scrutiny of the corruption in the management. The royal status of Imam also ended though; this loss remained a perpetual source of mental agony for the post-Mogul Imams. They however, carried forward the title of Shahi Imam from generation to generation perhaps to satisfy their ego.
So long the British were the rulers of Indian sub-continent, the Imams remained quiet. After partition the then Imam Maulana Syed Hameed Bukhari maintained a low profile due to the prevailing demoralisation in Muslim community and was not found in any controversy but his successor Syed Abdullah Bukhari ever since his coronation as the twelfth Imam of Jama Masjid in 1973 started using his post-Friday prayer sermon to project himself as a leading voice of Muslims in India particularly when the country was passing through J P movement.
Taking advantage of the vote bank politics of Indian political leaders, Imam tried to create a political constituency of his own and wanted to be in the political “lime light.” He even planned to create an ‘Adam Sena’ in late eighties of last century to protect the minorities from the ‘communal forces’ but abandoned the idea when there was no response from the community. His inglorious record of playing communal politics solely based on his personal ambition is said to have often caused harm to the community members. One Mohammad Wajihuddin in an article had observed that “Imam Bukhari has always sought to alienate Muslims from the mainstream”.
Syed Ahmad Bukhari became the Imam of Jama Masjid in 2000 as his father was not keeping good health. Imitating his father, he also adopted the strategy to get wider space in the media to meet his ambitions. As a habitual exploiter of emotional issues he too started using his discourses to deal with political and communal issues that were beyond the pale of the religion that he was supposed to do.
Soon after becoming the Imam, he announced the formation of a Muslim political party and assured the Indian Muslims to regain the “lost right of minorities”. His communications with the leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference in Kashmir, and expression against the political leadership of the country that “”We did not accept Jinnah as our leader, we recognised only Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V. P. Singh and others, but what have we got in return: only empty slogans and hollow promises”(Asghar Aili Engineer, December 2000) were not in keeping with his position as the Imam of the Jama Masjid.. His new party however, failed to take any shape.
On Ayodhya issue Bukhari was so rigid that he said, “If any Muslim organisation or an individual tries to enter into a dialogue with any of the organisation or with Mr.Vajpayee, the entire community will not only oppose it tooth and nail but also boycott them.” (Hindu dated January 21, 2001.
The problem of Bukhari is his “aggressive superiority arrogance” for acclaimed ancestral lineage with Prophet Mohammad, roots to the city of Bukhara and the medieval mental load of the royal status of Imam. He is not ready to accept the ground political reality of constitutional democracy and secularism in which neither the ancestral superiority nor the medieval status of Imam has any role in governance. He should have tried to understand that India is no more a Mogul court which provided his predecessors a royal status and his negative medieval mindset has no place in democratic polity. Even during Muslim rule in India the Imam had no role in governance and his sole duty was to lead the royal members in prayer and perform the required religious Islamic rituals for them.
Against the backdrop of the past records of Bukhari it is the responsibility of the Government to direct Delhi Waqf Board which is supposed to be the managing body of Jama Masjid for responding and confronting the Imam against his activities which are detrimental to the communal harmony in the country. As per Government notification Jama Masjid is the property of Delhi Waqf Board. But its silence on the issue is said to be encouraging the Imam for his fundamentalist dictum which is neither to benefit the Muslims nor to the country. Even Delhi High Court criticized the Centre “for maintaining silence over the ownership of the Jama Masjid despite funding its maintenance” ( The Hindu May 27, 2005).
(The author can be reached at e-mail [email protected])