The controversy surrounding Maulana
Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, elected as vice chancellor of Darul
Uloom in Deoband, a leading school of Islamic theology with
followers across the world, would need to be viewed in the larger
context of modernisation of education for India's 160 million
Reforms in education imparted in madrassas is the unique
proposition of the advent on the national scene of this scholar,
barely known outside the tribal areas of Gujarat and Mahartashtra,
where he has a fine track record of introducing modern education
in institutions he has set up.
Although there is no real count of the number of Muslim seminaries
in India, the estimate is of about 35,000. Not all of them are
controlled by the school of theology that Deoband propagates.
In response to the rising needs of Muslim boys and girls, many
madrassas have begun teaching science, engineering and IT. In
doing so, they are also refuting the perceptions, heightened
post-9/11, that Muslim seminaries are stoking fundamentalism and
Elected Jan 10, Vastanvi announced his intent to resign within a
fortnight amid a raging controversy, not for his views on
education, but having triggered a debate on the 2002 violence in
Gujarat in which a thousand Muslims were killed.
Vastanvi does not condone the Gujarat carnage. He wants those
guilty punished. But he says it is time for Muslims to emerge out
of the past and move on. They must educate their children so that
they do not take to crime or religious extremism and strive to
flow within the national mainstream.
This is a very bold, if conciliatory, message and not just to
Gujarat's Muslims, an estimated 100,000 of whom were displaced
during the riots. It goes across India and wherever the 2002
events have cast a dark shadow.
Vastanvi, who takes his name after his birthplace Vastan, a
southern Gujarat village, perhaps knows the ground reality better.
He differs with what activists working among the riot victims, and
the New Delhi government that keeps an eagle eye on
opposition-ruled Gujarat, claim about continuing discrimination
The relief work has been carried out very well by the government
and the people, says Vastanvi. "All communities are prospering in
Chief Minister Narendra Modi's Gujarat and there is no
discrimination against the minorities as far as development is
concerned," he said in an interview to the Times of India.
This is arguably the most significant endorsement of Modi. Dubbed
"merchant of death", he is still under investigation. Since 2005,
the State Department has barred his entry into the United States.
The European Union too has denied him diplomatic status.
Not surprisingly, the conservatives among Muslim theologians,
scholars, lawmakers and members of representative bodies like the
All India Muslim Personal Law Board roundly condemned Vastanvi and
demanded his removal from the high post.
The demonstrations by students on the campus and a smear campaign
castigating him as a Modi beneficiary appeared to unnerve Vastanvi
who initially said he would resign. However, he appears to have
gathered support among the students and teachers and has since dug
in his heels.
The campaign against him stems from the fact that he is the first
clergyman from Gujarat to head the institution that has domination
of the people from Uttar Pradesh - students, teachers, the staff
and the management - and has been remote-controlled by a
Also, neither liberal Muslims nor much of the media that generally
takes up issues in favour of forward-looking reforms have
supported him so far. Muslims seem unable to forget or forgive
But there is nothing to indicate that Vastanvi has any hidden
agenda to absolve Modi. This makes his call to Gujarat's Muslims
to move on noteworthy.
Vastanvi's education model for seminaries has been replicated in
many parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. For these largely unsung
efforts, he was honoured with the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Award
by the Maharashtra government.
Vastanvi said: "Development has undoubtedly taken place in Gujarat
and we hope it will continue. I ask Muslims to study well. The
government is ready to offer jobs (to them), but for that, they
need good education."
Ghulam Hussein Patel, a former corporator of Surat, supports
Vastanvi's standpoint. Thanks to modern education, the literacy
level among south Gujarat's young Muslims has grown from 36
percent to 57 percent in recent years, he said.
Patel said India's madrassas have no choice but to go for modern
education, like the seminaries in Saudi Arabia and some other
Muslim nations. Irrespective of Modi's legacy, it is difficult to
disagree with Vastanvi and Patel.
(Mahendra Ved can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)