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Thursday, November 19, 2009 10:45:53 AM, Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan: President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat (AIMM)

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan is the President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, a platform of several influential Indian Muslim organizations. He is also the editor of the New Delhi-based fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the few English-language Muslim news magazines in India. In this interview with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad  he talks about terrorism in India, about how the media projects Muslims and what he feels Muslims should do in the current context.


As President of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mashawarat (AIMMM), what do you think are the problems facing Indian Muslims that need immediate attention?

There are a lot of issues facing Indian Muslims, as depicted earlier by Gopal Singh Committee and now by Sachar Committee report which clearly depicts the Muslims of India as the most marginalized community compared to other communities. Official figures available, portray the Muslim standard graph as the lowest whether in terms of per-capita income, literacy or living standard. There is under-representation of Muslims in all kinds of Government jobs. Prevalence of communal feelings against them is a common problem. There is no magic wand to change this grim situation in a few moments but the main priority as of now that reservations must be extended to Muslims as recommended by Mishra Commission as it is an assured way to fight this discrimination.


Regarding the presence of communal feelings against Muslims, were they present before Partition also or are these a post-Partition Phenomenon?

Communal grudges against Muslims were always there but Partition escalated these feelings. Communalists believe and profess Muslims to be aliens, demanding that they must live like guests in India. We reject with contempt this second-class status. We will never accept it because the Constitution of India guarantees us full rights and privileges as any other community. These are communal slogans of some political parties which exploit religion like BJP, and these will die a natural death as they only use them for vote bank politics and will abandon them if they feel that they are counter-productive as was witnessed recently in the case of Varun Gandhi. They used these slogans since late 1980s in Gujarat, Karnataka etc for political ends. This demon of communalism can be tackled by awakening the whole community through education, and economic and political participation.


What you say about the media hype of labeling Muslims as “terrorists” after any incident of bomb explosion or terrorist activity?

Indian media is manufacturing hate against Muslims on the basis of rumours and baseless reports spread by communal elements. We have just heard about the explosion in Margao, Goa, in which Malgonda Patil, a Sangli-based Sanatan Sanstha  member was killed. He was going to explode bombs on the eve of Diwali and then as usual accuse  Muslims for the same. The Sanathan Sanstha office has been raided by the police and it was found that the place is used for manufacturing bombs. This ground-breaking revelation has been blacked out by the electronic media. The media is concentrating on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan or the Taliban threat while ignoring these types of real domestic threats. The media kills Muslim stories or buries them somewhere inside where nobody will read them while on the front page they create the myth of Muslim  terrorism. This labeling of Muslims as terrorists got a boost after 9/11 when President George W Bush used the word “Crusade” for his war against Muslims and this western label was lapped up by our journalists here to malign Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism or Taliban.


Do you think that the Indian State is encroaching upon the rights of minorities, be it the 1984 riots against Sikhs, Gujarat riots of 2002 against Muslims, and Orissa riots against Christians in 2008?

Not only these minorities are facing the wrath of the Indian State but many other marginalized communities like Gujjars, Dalits and adivasis are also suffering and we must not be selfish as to speak about our rights only but we all must get together to form a large united front comprising all the deprived communities to fight for our constitutional rights.


This means that the Indian State as a whole has failed to live up to the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India be it commitment to Secularism or Protection of Minorities?

All the governments that come to power speak beautiful language; they have tried to show their concern for the minorities especially Muslims whether it be the 15-Point Programme of Indira Gandhi or now of Manmohan Singh. This concern is also witnessed by the fact of constituting committees like Gopal Singh in the past and Sachar Committee under the current government to show that the Indian State cares about the marginalized but nothing comes out of these exercises. They are only recommendatory in nature with no or half-hearted efforts for implementation. There is no real wish to implement, the top brass don’t want them to be implemented and the benefits are simply not reaching the common people, e.g., scholarships for students are not reaching the deserved and funds for minority development are lapsing back unused to the government.


But the present government has constituted a separate ministry for the welfare of minorities?

The Minority Ministry is not an Independent Ministry, it head, in-charge of another ministry, too overburdened to fully discharge his duties as the minister for minorities.


How can these problems be tackled and solved?

The schemes and programmes that are meant for minorities aren’t fool-proof, with no proper implementation, supervision and follow-up mechanisms. These loopholes must be plugged in, in order to reach a large chunk of deserving masses.


Do you think that the government is in fear or resorting to the votebank politics, or majority appeasement when it does not take action against the perpetuators of 1984 and Gujarat riots and Babri Masjid Demolition?

The government can do nothing in this regard. The people within the government are the problem. Many of the MPs, ministers, MLAs themselves are perpetuators of these crimes and accused; they would never want to get themselves punished. Lal Krishna Advani, main accused in the Babri Masjid demolition, managed to remove his name from the chargesheet of the accused. Also the CBI is a tool in the hands of the ruling politicians, not an independent body. It is highly politicized and the government doesn’t want it to take action in certain serious matters involving politicians or influential wealthy people.


Don’t you think that we can have hope for a change as the UPA in Centre is not the Right Wing NDA led by BJP?

The bureaucracy is infiltrated by the RSS cadres and it remains the same despite the change of regimes, so we can’t hope for any breakthrough or miracle happening for Muslims and other minorities and marginalised sections. Even in Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, which was carried out in Gujarat, the Union Home Ministry in an affidavit stated that Ishrat and three others killed with her were operatives of the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba which was a lie as we know now. Maintaining that the four were “terrorists,” the Union government had told the High Court that “No proposal for CBI investigation is under consideration of the Centre nor does it consider the present case fit for CBI.”  So justice was neither done under BJP nor Congress and Muslims continue to be on the receiving end.


In these circumstances how will Muslims work for their progress when they have become so disillusioned with the State? Would education and reservation be enough or something different and unique is needed?

We must work hard to built our progress as Japan did after the Second World War and now they are free to create their own army to safeguard their interests. Violence is not the way; we must build ourselves educationally and economically in order to take up our rightful place in the country.


Do you think that the disillusionment with justice system, failure to protect minority rights, especially of Muslims by subsequent governments whether it be Batla House encounter or fake encounter killings in Gujarat and Kashmir, isn’t it driving Muslims to the wall, where they will dissent and can even resort to violence?

Even under worst conditions, Muslims must not resort to violence as it will give free license to security forces to kill us, torture us, intimidate us, raid our houses, offices and working places as well as rape our womenfolk. They really want it, that we get provoked and resort to violence so that they find an excuse to pounce on us. We must opt for the legal procedure which is open to us to fight against discriminations though this route is cumbersome and long but we must not forget that justice is still possible in this country where very high-ranking officials of the State who were guilty of crimes against minorities are now in jails like DG Vanzara of Gujarat. There may be stray cases of violence by Muslims but most of the cases of violence attributed to Muslims are fabricated by security agencies and Police. Even in the case of SIMI which was alleged to be a terrorist organization, the Tribunal set up by the Home Ministry itself declared that it is not a terrorist organization. Despite a lot of provocations, Muslims are maintaining their calm and tranquility and not returning violence by violence.


The Hindutva demon is spreading its tentacles in the Indian society but each government seems to protect this demon, be it the Kanpur blast while fabricating boms, or Hyderabad Masjid bombings. Why are they protected and the chapter is closed, while the case with Muslims is different?

We will not let this chapter be closed and those wishing to get it closed would not succeed. Communalism is a great threat to our nation and the poison of communalism is spreading in our society. Hindu communalism as well as Muslim communalism is not acceptable. Political parties actively play the communal card to gain votes.


A new trend of manufacturing terrorists has cropped up in which Muslim youths, especially the educated ones and techies are apprehended and tortured to make false confessions and then some case is slapped on them and the Police declares that it  has solved the case bringing the alleged culprit to court. How do you see the repercussions of this trend?

This simply is a trap to provoke Muslims to resort to violence but they are well aware of these traps and they should always refrain from using violence to achieve even genuine ends.


If there is a united political party of Muslims representing all Muslims of India would it help to turn the tables?

It is not possible to have a single party representing the Muslims of whole India as Muslims here are diversified and scattered over a vast country except the Valley of Kashmir  where Muslims are in majority. There are around 80 parliamentary constituencies where Muslims are in sizeable numbers in the country. Though there are political parties like the Muslim League in Kerala and some parties have been formed by Muslims in Maharastra, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh etc. If these parties don’t fight with each other, they are destined to win in 20-25 constituencies which is a good chunk to ensure a vocal representation in Parliament. Muslims who get elected on other parties’ tickets can’t raise an independent voice for Muslim causes unlike the freedom enjoyed in Parliament by the likes of Bantawala, Suleman Seth in the past and Asaduddin Owasi of Ittihadul Muslimin at present. They were independent and therefore vocal articulating the real and unbiased demands and grievances of Muslims.


Indian Muslims have been too under-represented in the mainstream media. Why is this so?

Muslims are not in the mainstream media, though there is now some Muslim representation in the electronic media but same is not the case with print media. Educated Muslim boys and girls must join print media which obviously would help make a change. We should also create our own mainstream media like Muslims in Kerala and now in Karnataka have done. There are four Malayalam daily newspapers brought out by Muslims in Kerala, and they exercise a considerable influence on the local scene. In Karanataka too a Muslim daily has started some years back and it is exercising a healthy influence on the media scene there. Now other newspapers in Kerala generally abstain from publishing concocted stories about Muslims in the state because the very next day these Muslim newspapers reply back by exposing the false claims of biased journalists. This secular media has established a sort of check and balance there and same is being experience now in Karnataka.


Why is this contradiction between Muslims of North and South India?

It is because North Indian Muslims have no wish to get into the media. They must shun this attitude and only then they will be able make inroads into the mainstream media. Also, I am a witness to this fact that a rich Muslim businessman wanted to finance a Hindi daily but at the last moment he backed out only because of the fear of being harassed by the state authorities for supporting the truth and as a businessman he didn’t want to get into trouble and lose his peace of mind. It is not that Muslims don’t have money to support big media houses but they still do not fully realize its importance even as a commercial venture. In north India, we have only Urdu newspapers which are not read by non-Muslims; even our Muslim elite does not read them. So even if some false claims are made about Muslims in the English and Hindi press, the only way that Muslim organizations respond is by publishing counter-claims in the Urdu press which no one but a limited number of Muslims read, and so these responses do not have any impact on our society. 


You say that Urdu newspapers are not read by non-Muslims and not even by the Muslim elite. Before Partition it was a common language reinforcing the Hindu-Muslim unity, why this apathy now? Is it due to government policy, Hindu apathy, yellow journalism or something else?

It is a result of government policy after Partition. They tried to kill Urdu in favour of  Hindi, even though it was resolved before Partition that the common language of independent India would be Hindustani written in both Persain and Devangiri scripts. This was forgotten after independence and Hindi in Devnagri script was imposed by brute force. Before Partition many Hindus and Sikhs knew Urdu and even now some of them do exist in places like Delhi and Punjab. Also the lower administrative work was carried out in Urdu in north India but due to the government policy, Urdu was wiped off from its native bastions comprising of Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi etc. There is no Urdu-medium government-run school at present in U.P. Now the children of these schools can only speak in Urdu but can’t read or write it. Some old newspapers in Urdu are still being published in these states but they have only a small readership and are not able to articulate Muslim interests and help shaping the opinion of the masses with regard to the problems facing Muslims.


How much has Milli Gazette been able to fill up this void in the existing Muslim media?

We have been able, to an extent, to fill the vacuum in the field of the Muslim English-language media though it is not a mainstream paper. Our aim when we started MG ten years ago was to publish Muslim news which didn’t find space in the mainstream media, as well as to reach non-Muslims and our own elite who now do not read Urdu. We are focusing on issues facing minorities and marginalized sections like Dalits, Christians, Sikhs while concentrating on Muslims who are neglected by the mainstream media. Even if we write a letter to a mainstream paper it is destined to end up in the dustbin. I recognize that at present our paper doesn't fully satisfy the needs of the community. We are still a fortnightly while the situation demands that we become a weekly. We need better quality reports, stories from the field, but we lack the finances needed to do this on a wider scale. Presently, we do not have even a single full-time correspondent outside Delhi because of shortage of funds.



Regarding social and charity work among Muslims that you are committed to under the banner of Charity Alliance, do you think that Muslim money in the form of Zakat, Sadaqat etc is properly utilized?

First of all I wish to state that Charity Alliance (CA) is not a big organization. It owes its birth to a crisis that suddenly emerged in early in early 2005 in Murshidabad where Muslims were dying in scores daily with no one coming to their rescue. At present, we are offering weekly ration, medical help, school fees and a vocational training centre  there. Last May we have also opened a school in the area of our work in Murshidabad. We are also offering some scholarships to school-level students in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi beside some other small help here and there. We realize that there is need to broaden the scope of CA but for that we need much more funds.


Regarding the Zakat and its proper utilization, according to a survey we conducted in a Muslim majority area of Delhi we found that ninety percent of Muslims do not pay Zakat and even the small minority that pays doesn’t bother to see that it is properly utilized and reaches the categories defined as recipients of Zakat by the Qur’an. So the real purpose of Zakat, ie, alleviation of poverty in the Muslim society, is defeated as it fails to reach the really deserving people while parasites siphon it off leaving the needy high and dry. We are not really able to see the benefits of Zakat in our society. We read in our early Islamic history that a time came when people used to go searching for someone who would accept Zakat. The real purpose of Zakat is that from recepients people should become payers of Zakat.


Ulama and madrasas where the age-old traditional Fiqh and jurisprudence are taught, eat away most of Zakat leaving  a little for others. Moreover, they have not been even able to guide the community.


We need madrasas but not so many as we find today. There has been a mushroom growth of these institutions and we need to curtail this trend. There are presently madrasas that exist in name or on paper only but they are the first in the run for this money. There are good madrasas like Deoband, Nadwa, Madrasatul Islam, Jamiatul Falah, Jamia Darussalam, Jamiat ul Salehaat and Sultanul Madaris.

They are producing good scholars for the community and we really need them but we don’t need one lakh madrasas which are the need of people who have formed them not of the Muslim Ummah.


Also, madrasas should compete for Zakat and Muslims should pay more than Zakat for such purposes of the community. It is not enough to just pay 2.5% of your savings. Any person can spare much more than this for community services. If Bohras and Shia can pay a very hefty amount to their religious heads, why can’t Sunni Muslims pay more than their Zakat in order to run their community services. Money from foreign sources should be avoided by madrasas as the foreign donors impose their own conditions. Moreover, since most of such funds come through non-transparent channels, there is lack of accountability which breeds corruption and discontent in the institutions that accept it though even this channel is now drying up.


Ulama proclaim that unity is a basic characteristic of this community but the fact is that the Ummah is disunited and the unity is seen only rarely as during the Danish Cartoons, Babri Masjid demolition and Shah Bano case and the Ulama themselves are divided?

Let us start to learn living with differences which we cannot change them. Even the Prophet of Islam said that differences are a blessing for my Ummah. There have been attempts to wipe out these differences like the Ahli Hadith Movement which took this challenge but with the passage of time they themselves became a sect. Yes, it is true that cases concerning all Muslims like Shah Bano and Rushdie unite us for a common cause but these are spontaneous reactions and unity which do not last long.


This is a fact that 99% of these Ulama don’t come to the rescue of Muslims when in distress, e.g.,  Batla House encounter, countering the myth of Muslim terrorism etc, whereas politicians use them for their own selfish ends.


This is not correct that all Ulama are used by politicians. There is only a minority which is used by politicians and the community doesn’t respect them. Important ulama of Deoband and Nadwa do not join politics. The fact is that you cannot stop this trend of ulama joining politics and getting used by politicians as ours is a democracy and a free country where everyone is free to do what he things is good or beneficial to him or her. Ulama should only teach people, offer an exemplary character to become role models for the masses and help in removing the misconceptions about Islam.


These traditional Ulama with their rigid outlook have tried by every means to promote their own sects and interpretations of Islam, leading to internecine wars. What is the remedy?

Differences of interpretation would continue but to form violent groups based upon these different readings of Islam is not acceptable in any way. Also, these violent groups in many cases were formed and clandestinely funded by foreign sources, e.g., Jundullah in Lebanon and Iran is a creation of the CIA. Similarly, other violent groups in Saudi Arabia and Iran etc owe their creation to foreign hands. If a country is occupied, like Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan, then only armed resistance groups may be formed and that too only to fight for the liberation of the country and not to indulge in sectarian strife or to attack innocent people of whatever religion or sect.


The Ulama still deny women the positive role they can play in changing Muslim society. They wish to keep them at bay and continue patriarchal hegemony. Don’t you think Islam needs to be liberated from these Ulama?

Ulama opposing women’s positive participation within the boundaries laid down by Shari’ah are not speaking for Islam but for their own cultural beliefs or tribal and social norms trying to camouflage these as “Islam”. Such attempts to curtail the role of women have developed due to local readings of Islam while ignoring the real and universal Islamic teachings. Who can forget the role of Hazrat Aisha (RA) in Islamic history and her contribution  to Muslim society. Many senior companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) would come seeking her advice in different religious matters. Muslim history is full of examples of women being rulers of great countries like Shajart al-Durr of. Even in the Subcontinent we had reigning queens like Raziya Sultana and Begums of Bhopal and Ulama were never opposed their rule.


They have tried to impose what they call Islamic State based on pure theocracy  whether be it Taliban in Afghanistan or Swat, thus paving a way for what Akbar S Ahmad calls as “Clash Of Muslim Inclusivists and Exclusivists”.


Muslim Ulama are not in a position to rule anywhere in the world. They are not equipped with the knowledge of ruling as well as they lack the knowledge of present time and the tools needed to rule today. There have been attempts since Syed Ahmad Shaheed to form an Islamic State but they all failed. Even Taliban in Afghanistan were an unsuccessful attempt as their state did not include modern features and failed to make contacts with the outside world. During its whole tenure, it was recognized as a legitimate government by three countries only and all these three states backed out when U.S attacked it. As far as the whole Muslim history is concerned, Ulama always played a secondary role and they never ruled anywhere. In the present times, their madrasas don’t equip them with the tools to rule a country. After the end of the colonial era, Ulama tried to lead the masses but all their attempts failed  because their way is rigid -- it is either Halal (permissible) or Haraam (forbidden) in their dictionary, while politics is based on the principles of the possible, of give and take.


So do you think that a new leadership is emerging among Muslims?

Ulama have not been able to impose their leadership on Muslim masses, neither have they been able to rule, nor are they suited for political rulership. Yes, a new leadership is emerging in Muslim societies from other sections of the Ummah.


Don’t you think that the traditional Ulama can still play a significant role by joining hands with Muslim intellectuals and shunning their rigid attitudes?

As I said earlier, we need Ulama, but they must shed their rigid attitudes and emulate  Muhammad Abduh of Egypt who was able to influence Muslim masses unlike his mentor  Jamaluddin Afghani who despite traveling, preaching and inspiring for a change wasn’t able to bring a change be it Persia, Egypt, India or Afghanistan. We really need Ulama but they are not suited to become our political leaders, they should limit themselves to guide the rulers and educate the masses.


Mushtaq ul-Haq Ahmad is a student at Kashmir University, Srinagar.






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