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World Sufi Forum: Muslim leaders divided over PM Modi's presence

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:57 IST
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The event

  • AIUMB, a Sufi outfit, is organising the World Sufi Forum in Delhi
  • PM Narendra Modi is likely to attend it, which has raised heckles among Muslim outfits
  • The organisers say, the forum is aimed at countering extremism

More in the story

  • Who are the organisers?
  • What is the criticism of the event?
  • The background to the event

The All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), an umbrella group of Sufi leaders is organising a World Sufi Forum in the National Capital, purportedly to push a counter narrative to the rise of Islamic extremist groups. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the four day programme which will host religious leaders, academicians and delegates from over 20 countries.

The event and the news that PM Modi is attending it, has, however, raised heckles of other Muslim organisations, including the two Madani factions of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind who are associated with Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. Owaisi wondered if the PM was going to talk anything new. "All of us already know the beauty of Sufism."

Read- The Deoband dilemma: why it asked madrasas to celebrate 15 August

There is near unanimity among them that all sections of the community are deprived and this government has not been able to address their issues.

Arshad Madani, who leads one of the Jamiat factions, criticised the Sufi forum for inviting PM Modi. He was unhappy on how the PM was silent even when BJP lawmakers were spreading hatred against the minority community. Among other things he also reportedly mentioned how during the Congress regime they could easily have an audience with the government and how they do not have that channel now. In a recent conference organised by Madani, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad made that statement comparing ISIS with the RSS, which later led to a furore in Parliament.

The government on its part, which recently engaged with Buddhist leaders in a high profile conference organised by the Vivekananda Foundation, is seemingly keen to engage with the moderate Sufi Islam. PM Modi, in the past, has evoked Sufi Islam as a message of peace.

The AIUMB, too, says that this forum is an attempt to promote peace and harmony in the country and that it wants to make India a hub of moderate Islam.

"In Sufism there is no place for hate. It calls for unconditional love for humanity," Hazrat Ashraf Kichchochwi, the President of AIUMB and organiser of the event told Catch. "At a time when hatred is increasing the people should go back to Sufism as it is the only way to counter it," Hazrat Ashraf says.

Will PM say anything new? All of us know the beauty of Sufism, says Asaduddin Owaisi

The AIUMB chief explained how the body, which was formed in 2005, has been regularly hosting conferences to counter the ideologies of hate within Islam. The first conference, which looked more like a rally, was held in Moradabad in UP in 2010 and had a sizeable number in attendance. In 2016, many have deserted the flock. Allegations of personal agenda getting precedence over larger issues of this majority Muslim group has led to infighting.

Syed Babar Ashraf, who served as the General Secretary of AIUMB before he started his own organisation says it is an important event. And that there is a need to stand up against the Wahabi ideology which is spreading in the country through petro-dollars. He says that all the terror outfits trace their evolution to this ideology.

Lately, the rise of the Islamic State or Daesh as the Arabs prefer to call it, in West Asia has sent jitters in countries with Muslim populations. In India, which has one of the biggest populations of Muslims, the threat has led to the Home Ministry brainstorming on ways of reaching out to the community and the leaders to ensure that the ideology doesn't find roots. The security agencies, too, have been on their toes looking out for individuals who may have been radicalised either after travelling to one of the affected countries in West Asia or through exposure to material available online.

Also read- Muslims' dilemma: how to find voice in Modi's India

The country, indeed, has had just a very few stray cases of persons falling into the trap of the ideology. Like a senior home ministry official told this reporter a while back, "according to our assessment, India is at the bottom of the ladder on the chances of this ideology spreading its fangs among countries with any population of Muslims."

The leaders of the community, too, including those from the Wahabi and other sects have been active in de-legitimising the violent ideology and have organised protests and issued statements against it. After the ghastly Paris attacks, which were claimed by ISIS Mahmood Madani of the Jamiat organised protests in several cities across the country with a message that killing people in the name of religion is tarnishing the image of Islam.

The vacuum

Several people this reporter spoke to alleged that the Congress led UPA had ignored this constituency of Muslims. "They would just speak to the organisations like the Jamiat and Jamaat and think of them as representatives of the whole community," says one leader who was formerly associated with AIUMB. This is what led to the formation of AIUMB. "You can't just talk to a group which just has presence in Meerut and Bulandshahar, towns with a big Muslim population in western UP, and ignore the rest of the Shias and Sunnis who constitute 80% of the Muslims," he says.

"India is the hub of Sufism and yet it has been ignored for the last so many decades. Our religious places have also been ignored. That is why these efforts to revive it," Hazrat Ashraf points out.

At a time when hatred is increasing, people should go back to Sufism: Hazrat Ashraf, the organiser

Now, with the BJP in power, this group saw an opportunity to engage with the government. The fact that other groups, like the Jamiat who have enjoyed the patronage of several political outfits including the Congress, could not come to an understanding on how to deal with the BJP government also gave them a window to fill up that vacuum.

In January 2015, Mahmood Madani and Kamal Farooqui, another prominent Muslim leader had called a meeting of prominent Muslim organisations in the Capital to chalk out a path on how to take up the apprehensions of Muslims with the BJP led government. The meeting was called off after some of the participants assumed that it was a veiled attempt to reach out to PM Modi.

Meanwhile, In August 2015, a 40 member strong delegation of Sufi leaders had met the Prime Minister in presence of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and apprised him of the issues facing the community. Even before the BJP government came to power, the Doval-led Vivekananada Foundation had been cultivating some of these Sufi organisations through seminars and events.

Read more- Amartya Sen report: 80% Bengal Muslims live on less than Rs 5,000 a month

"The response was positive," Hazrat Ashraf recalls while adding that they discussed the 15 point programme with the PM. While he says that no tangible action has happened, the response of the government was positive.

Some Muslim leaders, however, fear that it might be an attempt to divide the community.



Views of other organisations

"This programme does not have people from the mainstream, it doesn't have the main leaders," says Neyaz Farooqui, a senior functionary of the Mahmood Madani faction of Jamiat. He says that Sufism means taking everyone together, while such efforts only create a divide. He was referring to AIUMB's frontal attack on Wahabi Islam.

Asaduddin Owaisi also feels that the government should not divide Muslims over ISIS. "Be it the Shias, Sufis, Deobandis or Wahabis, everyone has taken a definite stand on ISIS," he points out. Owaisi, who has openly criticised ISIS, has been subjected to threats on social media from accounts said to be associated with the terror outfit. Owaisi also pointed out how the PM has not even held a meeting of the 15 point programme which he was duty bound to and how empirical date on social backwardness is staring at his face.

Meanwhile, on the perception that the government was only reaching out to the Sufis, Hazrat Ashraf says cheekily, "Maybe they have not been able to put their questions and apprehensions properly for the government to take note."

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 17 March 2016, 9:37 IST
 
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