For long, Indian Muslims have been held hostage to their religious leaders, many of whom speak on behalf of the community on political issues but end up doing a great disservice to the community’s cause. The latest case is the deplorable decision of Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, to invite Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to the investiture ceremony of his son as the Naib Imam (deputy imam), and not invite Narendra Modi as a mark of protest for his indifferent attitude towards Muslims. Bukhari’s move is an insult to the PM and must be condemned.
However, it is refreshing to note that there is disgust among the Muslims. Similarly, BJP leader Nalin Kohli’s statement, that the Muslims born in India and who love India would never think of Pakistan, is welcome, even though Muslims don’t need a certificate for their patriotism. The practice of issuing certificates to the community is emotionally taxing.
Religious figures, like Bukhari, have often used their clout to further their own interests. They don’t even represent the ‘minuscule percentage’ of Indian Muslims. Indian Muslims, though divided on various lines, are wise enough to take their own political decisions. It is the political parties who have accorded legitimacy to people like Bukhari by approaching them and have never cared to seek the views of common Muslims. The media too have often given undue coverage to their utterances and helped to establish the perception that ‘Muslims are swayed by their dictates’. This is wrong.
The anointing ceremony is devoid of religious or scriptural legitimacy. In Islam, there is no concept of a hereditary position of ‘imamat’, but the family of the shahi (royal) imam has been holding it for 16 generations. According to the Sunnah of the Prophet, the most qualified people to lead the prayers are those who are the best readers of the Quran and if they are equal in reading the Quran, then the most knowledgeable of them about the Sunnah of the Prophet. If they are equal in the knowledge of Sunnah then the senior among them in hijra (religious migration) and ‘if they happen to be still equal then the most senior of them in accepting Islam’.
In Islam, the prayer leader is a knowledgeable and respected figure and the selection of the imam must be based on the virtues mentioned in the traditions of the Prophet. This has been the practice throughout the history of Islam. Unfortunately, due to the socio-economic and intellectual backwardness of Muslims, the position of Imamat is not discussed.
But how long will Muslims continue to pay the price for the actions of some of their members and how long will they continue to feel obliged to condemn or explain?
Given the heightened communal polarisation in the country, which appears to be designed and calculated, and the targeting of the Muslim youth and the silence of the government over it, there is perceptible resentment among Muslims, which the government must remove.
Having said this, I would like to reiterate that it is the duty of the government to stop marginalisation and gehttoisation of the community by taking steps to bring it to the socio-economic and political mainstream, without which the idea of India can never be realised in its true form.
Mujeebur Rahman is professor and chairperson,
Centre of Arabic & African Studies,
Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed by the author are personal