He may have stirred a nationwide controversy by announcing a Rs 10 lakh bounty for anyone shaving Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam’s head, but in reality, Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi is no imam or maulana, and has zero religious authority.
The head priest of the little-known Khanka Sharif at Bagnan in West Bengal’s Howrah district, Quaderi is a little-known face in the state’s Muslim community and has almost no influence. Muslim leaders say the bounty offer was also not a fatwa because he isn’t an Islamic scholar.
“The media is wrongly portraying him as cleric, maulana and maulavi. We fail to understand why the media ended up giving so much importance on what he said,” an Islamic religious leader told HT but refused to be quoted ‘on a silly matter’.
Quaderi’s offer had come hours after Nigam tweeted against the Islamic call for prayer, azaan, and called the custom “forced religiousness”. The bounty was widely criticised and ridiculed, especially after Nigam got his head shaved and challenged Quaderi to pay up.
In fact, Quaderi’s perceived importance appears to rest on his self-declared connection with Prophet Mohammad. “I am the 35th descendant of the Prophet,” he told HT. His visiting card, too, claims the same. He also calls himself a spiritual leader and a social worker.
It requires a scholar in Islamic law to issue a fatwa – a legally non-binding decree on issues having no clear guidance from Quran or Hadith. But on Thursday when asked if he had the authority to issue a fatwa, Qaderi appeared to row back.
“I did not issue a fatwa in the first place. All I announced was a reward for shaving Sonu Nigam’s head, garlanding him with old, torn shoes and touring him across the country. Since he neither wore a garland of shoes nor toured the country seeking apology from people whose sentiments he has hurt, there is no question of rewarding anyone. He has no right to ask me to keep the money ready,” Quaderi added.
He might have taken a leaf out of the book of Bengal’s ‘Fatwa Imam’ Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati., who in 2006 issued a fatwa on live TV, announcing a reward of Rs 50,000 to anyone who blackened Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin’s face.
Responding to how Quaderi wriggled out of his promise, Nasrin tweeted on Thursday, “Kolkata Imam once issued fatwa whoever blackens my face will get Rs 50,000. A friend blackened my face. But Imam didn’t give money. Imams r liars.”
Quaderi holds the position of vice-president of West Bengal United Minority Council, a little-known organisation, but is known in the Islamic religious circles as a close associate of Barkati, who has also issued a fatwa against Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his demonetisation announcement.
On Thursday, however, Quaderi brought up references to how Modi respected the azaan in a bid to justify his act.
“During his electoral campaign in West Bengal, the prime minister stopped his speech midway after he heard the sound of azaan coming from a mosque. He maintained silence until the azaan was over. Our chief minister Mamata Banerjee, too, has shown similar gestures. They represent Indian culture. Sonu Nigam should leave the country,” Quaderi said.
On Thursday, Quaderi came to attend a press conference flanked by representatives of other religions, who came to support him, but did not speak much. They were Keshab Chatterjee, priest of Kalighat Temple; Dr Arunjyoti Bhikku, a Buddhist monk; Muni Moni Kumar Maharaj, a Jain priest and father C Chittaranjan, a Christian leader.