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A good man put down

Vastanvi’s ouster isn’t good for the reputation of India’s Muslims and Darul.

india Updated: Jul 27, 2011 23:31 IST
Firoz Bakht Ahmed

It’s sad that Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi has become a victim of a conspiracy by the Darul Uloom Deoband’s shoora (governing council). The seminary has lost a progressive cleric who wanted to reform madrasa education in India.

The loyalty of some Delhi Urdu newspapers had been bought by the powerful Madani family with the purpose of maligning Vastanvi so as to put their own pliant candidate in his place. Added to his reputation as a ‘moderate’, there was the issue of the Gujarati Vastanvi being an outsider in an institution that had been always headed by a north Indian Muslim, mostly from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

These newspapers have viciously attacked Vastanvi, branding him an ‘RSS stooge’, a ‘Zionist’ and a ‘Hindu agent’. Sadly, Vastanvi was unable to counter this propaganda war unleashed against him. He was too busy trying to clarify to his fellow Deobandis that he had been misquoted by the Times of India as having praised Narendra Modi. Only a few Urdu papers were balanced. The Hindustan Express boldly defended him, arguing that his critics were indulging in or abetting yellow journalism.

Vastanvi is different from the other past or present custodians of Darul. He is less doctrinaire in his thinking and is considerably more socially engaged, qualities badly needed to bring about reforms in one of the world’s most influential and conservative madrasas. What exactly do the Madanis have against Vastanvi? For starters, he was the first non-’super caste’ cleric to be elected as the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband. Though un-Islamic, the ‘caste’ factor still influences the judgement of many among India’s Muslims. What also worked against him is the fact that he is not a ‘qasmi’, a graduate of Darul but of Madrasa Mazahir-e-Uloom in Saharanpur, UP.

Most students, when contacted, were confident that Vastanvi would be able to make the new syllabus more meaningful and useful for students, something that the Madanis had never thought of doing. Shakil Khan of New Age Islam Blog stated that the ouster of Vastanvi exposes “the moral and intellectual bankruptcy” of his critics and that the Madanis thrive on political machinations and a culture of factionalism no matter what damage all this does to the common Muslim.

What is most shameful is the bad name this sordid chapter has brought to India’s Muslims and the venerated Darul Uloom.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a Delhi-based commentator on social and educational issues. The views expressed by the author are personal