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Fatwa against AR Rahman: Raza Academy a hardline outfit in Sufi garb

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:34 IST
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The fatwa

  • Mumbai\'s Raza Academy has issued a fatwa against AR Rahman
  • Rahman has composed the music for an Iranian film on Prophet Muhammad
  • Academy founder Mohammed Saeed Noori says the film is against Islam
  • Rahman has criticised the fatwa. He has urged people to avoid violence

The outfit

  • Raza Academy is a Mumbai-based outfit representing Barelvi Sunni Muslims
  • It claims to be promoting Sufi beliefs. But its actions suggest otherwise
  • Some believe it played a role in the violence in Azad Maidan in 2012
  • It has possibly issued the fatwa to gain publicity

Mumbai's Raza Academy has issued a fatwa issued against musician AR Rahman for being part of the Iranian movie Muhammad: Messenger of God.

The film is directed by Iran's much awarded and internationally renowned film director Majed Majedi, himself a Muslim.

The fatwa was issued by the organisation's founder secretary Mohammed Saeed Noori. This isn't the academy's first brush with controversy. It came into public attention when violence erupted during a protest rally at Azad Maidan in 2012. Even though the academy denied any involvement in the violence, it had to face criticism from many quarters.

Background

Raza Academy is a Mumbai based organisation of Sunni Muslims that claims to promote Islamic Sufi culture. According to Noori, who founded the academy in Mumbai in 1978, it aims at spreading awareness about Islam and its values.

"We have published over 800 books to spread awareness about Islam. Our main focus is on disseminating the teachings of the Holy Quran. We have published editions of the Quran in Hindi, English and Urdu," Noori said.

The history of the Raza Academy is quite interesting. Sunnis are divided into two sub-sects - Deobandi and Barelvi. While Deobandis disapprove of praying at Dargahs (graves of Sufi saints), for Barelvis it is a very central practice.

Raza Academy came in the spotlight due to its alleged role in the Azad Maidan violence in 2012

The Barelvi sect is named after Islaimc scholar Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921), who lived in Bareilly, the city which gave the sect its name. Besides writing several books and commentaries on Islam, Khan established the Manzar-e-Islam in 1904, which has now become the headquarters of the Barelvi sect.

Noori, a devout Barelvi, came to Mumbai in 1978 and established the Raza Academy. He began publishing and selling books by the Barelvi sect's founder, which became rather popular. This helped Noori widen the base of the Raza Academy in Mumbai and its adjoining areas.

Suspicions

Though Noori claims to be involved in preaching of Islam by disseminating religious literature, intelligence agencies remain suspicious.

"Though Raza Academy claims to be following the teachings of Sufi saints, their behaviour is in complete contrast to it," said a retired IB official. The official further alleges that the academy was behind the violence in Bhiwandi in 2006, in which two police constables were killed.

Azad Maidan protest

The academy hit the headlines after the Azad Maidan protest on 11 August 2012. Even though the protest was against the riots in Assam and the attacks on Muslims in Myanmar, it turned violent. The mob vandalised the Hutatma Square, damaged police vehicles and assaulted police personnel.

The intelligence official claims that Noori made a provocative speech during the protest. Noori, on his part, says that the Raza Academy had nothing to do with the violence.

But the outfit doesn't restrict its activism to issues concerning the Muslim community. It is known to have gone into a nationalist overdrive by demanding that 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab be hanged publicly in the Muslim dominated Bhendi Bazaar area.

The fatwa

Why did the Raza Academy pick on AR Rahman?

According to Noori, "The movie (Muhammad: Messenger of God) depicts the Prophet as a child. It is against Islam. We have appealed to all those following Islam to register their protest in all possible ways".

However, many believe that the fatwa is just a publicity stunt.

It is important to note that other Muslim organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith and Tablighi Jamaat have voiced no objections towards the film.

Rahman, on his part, issued a calm but dignified reply to the fatwa.

"I'm not a scholar of Islam. I follow the middle path and am part traditionalist and part rationalist..I live in the western and eastern worlds and try to love all people for what they are, without judging them," he wrote in a letter posted on his official Facebook page.

Rahman, who is known to be a devout Muslim, said that the spiritual experience of working on the film were "very personal for him" and he "prefers not to share those".

The music director states that his decision to compose the music for this film was made in good faith he had no intention to offend anyone.

"Let us set a precedent in clearing conflict with grace and dignity and not trigger violence in words or actions," Rahman adds.

First published: 15 September 2015, 9:03 IST
 
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.

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