Controversial Muslim cleric Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati was sacked on Wednesday as the shahi imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan mosque after months of controversy over a series of fatwas and refusal to give up the red beacon.
A meeting of the trustees of the 165-year-old mosque decided to remove Barkati - considered close to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee - for “objectionable and inflammatory remarks against the country”.
Barkati, known as the ‘fatwa imam’, had courted controversy over a series of diktats against prominent personalities including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What prompted his sacking was threat of a ‘jihad’ if India was declared a Hindu state.
He had also refused to remove the red beacon on his vehicle following the Centre’s decision to do away with what is considered a status symbol for many. Barkati was later forced to remove the beacon by the Bengal government.
“The termination notice was sent today. The notice has told him that he is not the imam from today (Wednesday),” said Arif Ahmed, chairman of the Prince Gholam Mohammad Wakf Estate, the custodian of the mosque.
The trust gave him seven days to vacate the office or potentially face forcible eviction by police.
A defiant Barkati, however, said the committee had no right to sack him.
“I have been the imam for 30 years. The committee is functioning for 12 years only. It cannot sack me. They are conspiring against me with the help of a section of the media. I have to explore what legal step I can take,” he told reporters.
The cleric said he was will speak to Banerjee on her return from Delhi.
Other prominent names to have faced Barkati’s fatwas include author Salman Rushdie, Bangladesh-born writer Taslima Nasreen and Canadian columnist Tarek Fateh.
The Wakf Estate authorities has given the mosque trustee board the responsibility to find a new imam. A senior cleric will perform Barkati’s duties till his successor is found.
Shahezada Anwar Ali Shah, the head of the mosque board, earlier described Barkati as a “blot on our community”.
The man known for his burgundy beard and about a dozen pet cats seemed to enjoy a degree of impunity as he got away even after announcing the fatwa against Modi, over which a BJP leader had filed a police complaint.
But Barkati’s relation with the establishment soured last week after his jihad comments. On May 13, Banerjee sent urban development minister Firhad Hakim to chastise him and also to force him to remove the red beacon on his car.
The same day, library minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury also held an agitation against the imam outside his mosque.
The trustee board head said the mosque received a flood of complaints against Barkati, prominent among which is the false claim of being shahi imam.
According to Shah, a shahi imam is one who administers namaaz to royal families, or is appointed by a royal family. “Barkati is the second generation imam from his family after his father. He took over the charge as the imam in 1989,” he said.
The trustee board chief also said that a police complaint has been filed against Barkati for forcefully snatching away the keys of rooms of the mosques including the record room.
There are also complaints against the imam for misusing the mosque complex for press conferences and running personal businesses like conducting marriages.