For the first time in over a century, Darul Uloom Deoband – an influential seat of Sunni Islam in Uttar Pradesh – will ponder over whether “sufficient religious freedom” exists in the country under the Modi government.
Well-known cleric and former MP Mahmood Madni, has sought a “fatwa”, or a religious ruling on how to defend Islam in the face of campaigns from right-wing Hindu groups.
Madni heads a faction of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a Muslim organisation with wide following.
He said the ruling would be publicly declared before a large gathering of clerics at a rally in New Delhi on May 16, the first-year anniversary of the Modi government.
On that day, he will launch a yearlong campaign to implement the fatwa, which is still being deliberated upon. His movement would focus on religious freedom, growing attacks on minorities, re-conversion programmes such as “ghar wapsi” and a generally tougher cultural climate under the Modi government, he said.
“After one year, the country will obviously demand answers. Religious freedom is linked to the honour of this country. If you can’t secure places of worship of whichever community, you can’t secure the country,” Madni told HT.
Never since Darul Uloom’s founding fathers waged a “jihad” against the British and opposed Jinnah’s two-nation demand to support Mahatma Gandhi has the institution been called to examine religious freedom of Indian Muslims.
Although its fatwa is unlikely to be a radical one and in any case not binding, Madni’s move is surprising as much as intriguing for its confusing political signals.
Madni is rumoured to maintain channels of communication with the NDA. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed him to a national panel headed by the PM to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru.
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections last year, Madni took on avowed secular parties for “holding Muslims to ransom” by constantly citing the BJP as a threat.
“There could be many assumptions. Madni has been applying this tactic of pressure, sometimes on secular parties, at times on others. Basically he’s trying to say ‘you can’t sideline me’,” said Sanjeer Alam, assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Some have questioned the timing of Madni’s campaign, ahead of the Bihar polls this year. Janata Dal (United) MP KC Tyagi said: “Such a campaign is aimed ultimately at weakening the secular forces by giving a handle to the BJP to polarise votes. But a grand Janata alliance is sufficient to stop the BJP in Bihar.”