Syed Abdullah Bukhari
Syed Abdullah Bukhari, the grand old Shahi Imam of Delhi's historic
Jama Masjid and for long one of India's most outspoken Muslim
leaders, died here Wednesday after a long illness. He was 87.
The elderly Bukhari, who anointed his son Syed Ahmed Bukhari as the
Shahi Imam in 2000 but continued to retain the title, breathed his
last at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where he
had been admitted since June 9 following breathing problems.
"He passed away early in the morning," mosque spokesperson Amanullah
Khan told IANS.
news of the legendary Bukhari's death spread, thousands, mainly
Muslims, gathered at the sprawling 17th-century Jama Masjid mosque,
the country's biggest and located in the heart of Mughal-built Old
National leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit,
joined the Muslim community to mourn the death of Bukhari, who was
named the Naib Shahi Imam in 1946, a year before India's
Belonging to a family originally hailing from Central Asia, the
Bukharis were invited to Delhi by Mughal emperors to preside over
the Jama Masjid.
Abdullah Bukhari, born in Rajasthan and educated in Delhi, was the
12th Shahi Imam.
The image he earned in later years as an aggressive Muslim leader
often clouded the difficult role he played before and during August
1947 when he persuaded scores of Indian Muslims not to migrate to
During those troubled days, thousands of Delhi's Muslims, forced out
of their homes by mobs, took shelter in the premises of the
red-stone mosque under his care. Bukhari provided them food, clothes
the decades that followed, using his clout as the cleric of the
country's best known mosque, Bukhari took keen interest in the
social and economic issues linked to Muslims.
took to the streets following communal violence in Delhi's
Kishanganj area in 1974, leading to his jailing for 18 days in early
1975. The event triggered widespread protests.
rose to national prominence in March 1977 when he joined national
politicians in mobilising people to vote out the Congress government
of Indira Gandhi, accusing it of displacing the poor from their
homes and forcing their menfolk to undergo vasectomy.
Since then politicians used to make a beeline for him to seek his
support in elections, giving him a larger than life image.
The senior Bukhari also played an active role in support of the
Babri Masjid in Ayodhya but his appeal started to wane after mobs
destroyed the mosque in 1992, creating the worst Hindu-Muslim
fissures since 1947.
Wednesday, Muslim leaders praised the contribution of Bukhari for
the country's largest religious minority.
"Imam saab was a dynamic personality. Besides being the Imam, he was
always involved in raising social and political issues," respected
Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan told IANS. "He played a
constructive role in 1947."
Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam of the nearby and equally
historic Fatahpuri mosque, said Bukhari had been a fighter for 30
"The Imam was a great personality. He was a fearless man. He tried
to pressurise the government to take up issues concerning the
community," the Fatehpuri Imam said. "After Emergency, he became
Abdullah Bukhari's belligerence during and after the Babri mosque
demolition coupled with the rise of the Hindu right eclipsed his
standing in the national arena.
then, India saw the birth of several Muslim leaders of various hues.
Once Bukhari handed over the charge of the mosque to his son, he
retreated from public arena.
the years rolled by, he became reclusive, meeting only the family
and close friends. He could often be seen resting in the mosque
complex, surrounded by ducks and children.