Sunday, March 17, 2019

Interview with prominent Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Khalilur Rahman Sajjad Nomani


'Muslims need to appeal to the conscience of India'

'It is not in India's DNA to accept injustice for long'

'There was, and is, a parallel undercurrent against fascist forces in India'

'If Modi wins again, we will continue to fight for a bright and justice-loving India'

'It is not a fight between Hindus and Muslims ... It is a fight between the oppressed and the oppressor'

'The oppressed are in an overwhelming majority in India and the oppressor is in a minority'


By Siraj Wahab in Jeddah
Sunday, March 17, 2019

Maulana Khalilur Rahman Sajjad Nomani is a prominent Islamic scholar from India. His sermons and speeches are listened to with a great deal of respect and attention across the length and breadth of the country. He commands special attention from members of the Indian Muslim diaspora. He is not a traditional scholar in the sense that he has not confined himself to the pulpit or to a madrasa or only to matters concerning religion. He is a sharp observer of India’s political currents and has, therefore, never shied away from expressing his views on current political affairs. In fact, he has undertaken several steps in the past to bring Indian Muslims as well as disadvantaged sections of Indian society onto a single, broad-based platform. He holds a responsible position as a member of the working committee of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) — the most widely accepted representative body of Muslims in India.

The 64-year-old maulana is the son of an even more famous father, the late Maulana Manzoor Nomani, who was a close associate of both Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and Maulana Abul Ala Maududi. As a result of his rich heritage, Maulana Sajjad Nomani is widely revered and respected by Indian Muslims. He is seen as authentic and credible because of his rich background and education. He graduated from Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama and Darul Uloom Deoband. Later he studied at the Islamic University of Madinah and completed a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies. He is a very articulate and vocal proponent of combining modern English-language education with madrasa education.

The maulana was in Saudi Arabia last week and was gracious enough to grant us an interview at short notice. The interview was conducted at his son-in-law’s residence in Jeddah’s Al-Mushrefah district. The interview took place just three days after the Supreme Court of India announced the creation of a three-member mediation committee to explore the possibility of settling/resolving the Babri Masjid issue.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Let me start with the recent decision of the Supreme Court. It has decided to go for mediation to resolve the Babri Masjid dispute. The top court has ordered the formation of a three-member mediation panel. What is your view and the view of the AIMPLB on the court’s decision?

A:
We have been of the view right from the beginning that we are in favor of talks to resolve the problem. The proof of our stand is evident because on almost seven occasions in the past two or three decades, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has entered into negotiations under different prime ministers. We have had many, many rounds of negotiations. Unfortunately, the negotiations failed every time. Despite these unfortunate failures, we never closed the door to negotiations from our side. It has always been our point that we have been — and we will always be — ready for unconditional talks. The operative word here is unconditional. Without any conditions. We have always been ready for talks and negotiations.

Q: If that is the case, the question becomes as to why was the last offer of talks from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar turned down by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board?

A:
Yes, we refused that offer of talks. The reason was that the offer came with a condition. Right from the beginning, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said that it had been decided that a mosque would not be built at that place and that the place must be given to Hindus for building a temple. The Muslims would thus have to relinquish their claim to that land and the land would have to be given to Hindus. We will discuss the rest. It is beyond anybody’s comprehension as to what the talks will then be about. This was the reason why we refused. He was going around telling everyone that the temple would be built at the exact place where Babri Masjid existed. There was a contradiction in what he was saying and the offer of talks. So we, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said no. This conditional offer of talks is unacceptable.

Q: How significant do you think the current offer of mediation from the Supreme Court is?

A:
This time the offer of talks has come from the Supreme Court. It is a very serious effort. The All India Muslim Personal Board has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. If the court thinks the mediation can help resolve the issue, then we are ready. Having said that, let me state that going by the experience of mediation efforts in the past, we are not very hopeful. “Ummeed bohat kam hai.” Also, our optimism is diminished by the fact that one of the three-member mediation panel includes a person (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) whose clear stand is against the rebuilding of the mosque. However, we want everyone to know that we should not be blamed for not giving mediation the chance of succeeding. We don’t want to be seen as rigid nor that we are against any compromise. We want justice. We seek justice. “Ham chahte hain insaaf ho.” Peace cannot be established without justice. We want to ask all peace-loving people: “Can you have peace at the altar of injustice?” So, if the Supreme Court thinks that one more effort should be made toward resolving the issue — and the Supreme Court itself has acknowledged that the result of the past efforts has not been very encouraging but even then the Supreme Court wants to make one last effort — then that is fine with us.

Q: There is an impression or a perception among the Muslims of India that repeated efforts at mediation are basically to force and compel Muslims to give up their rightful and legal claim to the land. The impression is reinforced by the fact the Muslims have unequivocally and publicly stated that whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, the community will abide by it. The community also feels secure with the fact that its legal case is strong. Do you get an impression that these repeated efforts at mediation are basically to dissuade Muslims from giving up their rightful claim?

A:
I don’t rule this out completely, and I would like to raise a question. If this is true, then it means that there is no rule of law in India. This means that the writ of the Supreme Court is not binding. This concept of majoritarianism cannot succeed in a democratic setup. In a democratic setup, law has to be supreme. The law of the land is supreme. If the perception that you have referred to in your question is true, then we see a very dark future for India. We pray that this is not true. One does get the impression however, that the Supreme Court of India is worried that it will not be able to enforce its decision or order. This does not augur well. It is not a good sign. In such a scenario, all peace-loving and justice-loving people of India must come together and raise their voices from a single platform for the supremacy of the rule of law.

Q: What is expected from the current effort at mediation?

A:
To me, all roads (for a successful outcome of mediation) seem closed.

Q: So all parties must wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict then?

A:
The Supreme Court itself has said that if the mediation panel comes to an amicable agreement, then it should bring forward the formula. If not, then the Supreme Court will begin hearings in the case.

Q: If the final decision goes against Muslims, do you think the community will accept this with an open heart or a heavy heart?

A:
Muslims are living in India under a covenant of their iron-clad determination and decision. One of the community’s iron-clad decisions is that the community will remain faithful to the country’s constitution and, at the same time, retain its identity. Our fight and our peaceful struggle are not geared toward one issue. New issues crop up every once in a while and embedded in these issues is an attack on our identity. The idea is to assimilate our religion into the other more widespread religion. I am referring to the Brahminical idea of supremacy which has been in force for quite some time. You must understand that all other minorities in India — almost all of them — have surrendered before the onslaught of the Brahminical supremacist juggernaut/order. The Jainism movement in our country was against the Brahmanical order of supremacy. When the Jains were tortured — physically and mentally — they could not withstand the pressure of Brahminism so they surrendered. The most vocal and determined voice against the Brahmanical supremacy in India was that of Gautam Buddha. That is why we read in books that Buddhists were the victims of physical torture at the hands of Brahmins. They too, therefore, surrendered and accepted the supremacy of the Brahminical social order. There are so many examples. Muslims, however, have been the only exception who refused to surrender their faith. They weathered so many difficulties but remained true to the tenets of their faith. Everyone will — and should — accept the fact that despite all the challenges, Muslims have managed to protect their identity in India. They have suffered economically; they have been politically marginalized and they have lost out on education. All this has happened, but credit must go to the Muslim leadership, and especially to the Islamic scholars, who managed to protect/retain our religious identity. It is this resolute determination and iron-clad resilience that bothers the forces that are out against us. They want us to surrender. These attacks in the form of different issues that crop up at regular intervals are part of that larger plan to force the Muslims to dilute their identity and assimilate their culture into the culture of Brahminism. I am very confident that if that happens (of Muslims losing the case in court) Muslims will absorb this painful shock. Muslims will definitely not react in a way that will create any law and order problem. Muslims will continue their traditional role of defending their religion and will continue to safeguard the Constitution of our country.

Q: And Muslims would expect the same from Hindus — that they would protect and abide by the Constitution too?

A:
Yes, of course. Our expectation is for everyone. I would like to clarify here that this discussion or conversation must not assume that all Hindus are against Muslims. That would be a fallacy and would be totally wrong. The majority of Hindus are not with the supremacists and right-wingers. It is the responsibility of the Muslim leadership or opinionmakers that they must enlist all sections of society in the fight for the preservation and safeguarding of the country’s constitution. There should be a broad-based, grand alliance to defend the rule of law and the Constitution and for establishing peace and justice in India. The chances of the success of such a noble struggle are very bright. I am an optimistic person and I believe in the concept of a blessing in disguise.

Q: Was the demolition of the Babri Masjid also a blessing in disguise in the sense that it awakened the community, at least constitutionally and politically?

A:
You can say that. It led to greater political awareness in the community. Allah has granted us many, many opportunities but we must accept that we have not been able to use those opportunities for the optimum effect. The conscience of India does not accept injustice for too long. Injustice is not in India’s DNA. This is the exclusivity of India. There is something about this land that it does not let injustice take root or flourish. On most occasions, we Muslims are not able to appeal to that feeling but sometimes we do. On many occasions, we don’t. When we do not, that is our problem. If we choose the path of reason, then I would say a vast majority of Indians would stand with truth and justice. We need to get out from behind the walls of isolation that we have built around us. We must increase our channels of communication.

Q: In the Babri Masjid case mediation council, who will represent the Muslims?

A:
Those who are parties to the case will appear before the mediation council. The case is not between Hindus and Muslims and so the mediation is not going to be between Hindus and Muslims. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is one of the parties in one of the cases. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board is a party in six cases related to the Babri Masjid. These two will definitely be there. Both are very strong Muslim representatives. And then there are the non-Muslim parties to the case.

Q: You keep saying in your speeches and talks that Hindus cannot be taken as one monolith. Can you elaborate on that?

A:
There are 11 crores Adivasis (tribals). They are engaged in a brave fight against the Brahminical social order. We have opened good channels of communication with them. Look at the Lingayats in south India. They number 7.5 crores. They were considered non-Hindus before India attained independence. After Independence, they were forcefully categorized as Hindus. They are engaged in movements to reestablish their original identity. There is great awareness among the Buddhists of India. The SCs/STs (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) have become fully aware of their positions. The broad-based alliance that I referred to earlier can be formed very easily on the basis of a common minimum program. It is not possible that all of us will agree on all the issues. That is not possible. On the agenda of protecting the democratic and secular ideals of our nation and on the issue of protecting our Constitution, we can bring together a vast majority through this common minimum program. So if Muslims lose the case in the Supreme Court, it will be like the proverbial darkness of the night that ultimately leads to a bright morning.

Q: There is one question that keeps wracking the minds of Muslim intellectuals in India and that is: Why Muslims should be in a fight against Brahmins. They reason that during Muslim rule in India, during the Mughal era, the people who were actually running the country belonged to the high castes. Brahmins were in powerful positions in the Mughal court. The martial component of Hindus, especially the Rajputs, were the mainstay of the Mughal army. Where has the relationship gone wrong? Why didn’t it continue?

A:
We, the Muslims, made and accepted Brahmins as our Quaid-e-Azam (the tallest leader). We made Gandhiji our leader. We made Nehru our leader. We made Indira Gandhi our leader. A majority — 90 percent — of those whom we accepted as our leaders were either Brahmins or members of the upper caste. But we must learn from the experience of the last 70 years. We must not repeat our mistakes.

Q: There is a group among Muslims which can be described as intellectual. This section of the liberal Muslim intelligentsia includes secular-educated writers, journalists, and academics. The influence of this group on the Muslims of India is at best marginal. On the other hand, we have reputable Islamic scholars who are the products of religious education and religious seminaries. They have an enormous following among the Muslim masses. They are considered far more credible because of their Islamic background. Why has there been no effort to bring these two important segments of the Muslim community together? Why are they poles apart?

A:
You have struck a chord in my heart with this question. The real problem is the educational system. The duality of our educational system has caused this gap. This happened after the arrival of colonial powers — the British — in India. Our education system in the past never suffered from such a duality. Let me give you one example. Two pupils of a great Islamic scholar in the past were Mujaddid Alf Sani (Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi) who was himself a great Islamic scholar. His fellow pupil of the same teacher was the chief engineer/architect of the Taj Mahal. Both — a reputable architect and a well-known scholar — were students of the same teacher. Madrasas in the past produced engineers, doctors, scientists, judicial experts, Islamic scholars, exegetists of Qur’an, jurists — all of them were products of a traditional madrasa. This is our history. When the British came, they turned everything upside down. They believed in separating religion and education. They divided the education system in two and the two became two streams — religious education and modern pedagogical education. As a result, we became helpless. They completely divested religious education of its economic utility. This was done deliberately so that a product of a madrasa education had no chance of earning a livelihood with the religious education he had received. When the economic utility of madrasa education was made redundant, our children went to modern, secular schools, colleges and universities in order to seek better career prospects and jobs. From the Muslim point of view, when we were under British rule, it was important for us to retain our identity as Muslims and protect our deen (religion). If everyone had gone to study modern, secular education, there would have been nobody to read the Qur’an; nobody would have known how to pray or when to pray, etc. Thus, in those days, it was decided to protect Islam and our identity. That was given preference over earning a living. Religion and our religious identity, of course, came first. This was to be a temporary strategy. It was not permanent. I stress here that it was a temporary strategy designed to face the challenge of the British colonial era and I am talking about the time after 1857. Now, what happened is that — and this is not exclusive to Muslims: rather it is the story of all defeated people — when a community is on a downward spiral, it becomes traditional and inward-looking. It is not able to distinguish between what traditions are temporary and strategic and what traditions (riwayaat) are permanent or eternal (daayemi). So there were two systems of education. One system was producing what we call professionals and intellectuals. This section was very important and very respectable. The other stream was producing what we call Islamic scholars. Now, a majority of the products of this stream were not able to understand modern challenges. Each era had its language and that is the master key to understanding the era. There was a time in India when you could not understand anything without learning Persian. It held the key to power and knowledge. Now we are in 2019 when we cannot understand the challenges of modern times without understanding English or other Western languages. We cannot understand our era without having knowledge of modern languages. If we don’t know English today, we will not be able to understand the politics of today, the commerce of today, the banking system of today or the economic system. Nor can we fully understand science. We cannot even clear our doubts if we don’t know English and other modern languages. The whole dynamic changes. The wavelength of the students of our madrasas today is totally different from that of the intellectuals and students in modern, secular schools colleges and universities. There is no correspondence between the dynamics which don’t match so the gap is widening. What is saddening is that though there is, and has been, an awareness in the community about this, there has not been any consistent large-scale effort to bridge the gap in order to integrate the two sections and so end this duality in education.

Q: Was this duality in education exclusive to the Muslims of India?

A:
No, it is the bane of the entire Muslim world. From Libya to Morocco, to Sudan, to Syria, and even in our subcontinent, especially Pakistan. When Muslims and Arabs were fighting for their freedom from British, French, or Portuguese rule, the madrasas provided thousands and thousands of people who became martyrs. They led from the front. In Algeria, too, the majority of freedom fighters were God-fearing Muslims. They were products of madrasas. All these states became independent and threw off the colonial yoke but when the countries attained independence through the hard work and priceless sacrifices of madrasa graduates, there were no professionals to take charge of the machinery of the state. There was nobody to run the education ministries, the foreign policy, the interior ministries, the finance ministries, the health services, or people who could understand the modern medium and idiom. The madrasas had not produced people with such skills. States, however, had to run and function and so we had to bring in professionals from Washington, London and Berlin and the rest of the modern world. These professionals began to run the countries. Naturally, they ran the countries on the basis of their experience and education which they had acquired in their home countries. They ran the Muslim and Arab countries along the lines they had been taught by their education. I will not say or claim that they were the enemies of Islam or of Muslim countries. I am against calling anybody and everybody an enemy of Islam; I am totally against this. What I know, however, is that these professionals who came from outside to run Arab and Muslim countries relied on their particular beliefs and customs and they ran our countries according to their experience and education. There is every possibility that they were friends of Muslims. I, therefore, don’t describe this as a tragedy for the Muslim world. I consider this to be a tragedy for humanity. We have not been able to project Islam as a provider of solutions for today’s problems. Even today we have not been able to do that. I don’t think — and I don’t believe — that a majority of non-Muslims hate Islam. They do not. If we had had professionals who could provide solutions to today’s problems in the light of Islam and if then the world had refused, we might say that non-Muslims had refused to accept the truth — but we never came up with solutions.

Q: We never did?

A:
Never. Take the case of Pakistan. It was created in the name of Islam. It was to provide solutions. The Muslims of Pakistan failed because of this very duality of education. The Islamic scholars helped attain independence by providing freedom scholars by the thousands. When the country became independent, there were no bureaucrats because madrasas did not produce bureaucrats. They did not have people familiar with statecraft because madrasas did not produce them. The products of modern secular education think of the products of madrasas as having a parochial, narrow-minded, difficult mindset, and we the Islamic scholars think of modern educated people as deviants, as ones who have strayed from the right path. This is absolutely wrong. Both are wrong. The majority of our professionals, both boys and girls, are very promising, and very talented. They have a positive mindset. I wish madrasas could present to this talented section the messages and teachings of Islam in a language that they could understand. Today Islam has not been taken as a relevant religion. Our own young people do not think that Islam is relevant. So now is the time for us to work on the education system.

Q: How? How can today’s madrasas produce an architect and an Islamic scholar at the same time?

A:
You are an Indian and I invite you to look at a small initiative that we have taken in this regard. Notable personalities have praised what we have done. We have established an institute called Darul Uloom Imam-e-Rabbani. It is in Maharashtra, between Bombay and Pune, in a village called Mamdapur in Neral. It was set up some seven years ago. What is notable about this institute is that a student takes courses in Arabic in all subjects that are taught in a traditional madrasa, such as Qur’an, hadith, tafseer (jurisprudence) while at the same time, he takes the subjects taught in a modern school in English such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, English, computer science, history, geography, etc. Our students sit for the Maharashtra State Education Board exams. They are doing their 10th Grade in English and are also becoming “aalim” (Islamic scholars). The students speak fluent Arabic and fluent English. We also have sports and other extracurricular activities. We have mixed the best of madrasa education with the best of modern education. The educational experts who have visited us have had very encouraging words for us and this has boosted our morale. We believe that is the first of this kind of experiment in India. There has been wide acceptance of this model but we don’t know if any other countries have such a model. Maybe some do, but we are not aware of them. In India, however, this is definitely the first such successful attempt at ending what I referred to as the duality in education.

Q: Can you expand on this a bit more?

A:
The universe is a work of God. The Holy Qur’an is the word of God. You will not be able to understand the word of God until — and unless — you understand the work of God. Those who understand the work of God better will also be able to explain the word of God in a better way. There are several verses in the Holy Qur’an that refer to the work of God — the sun, the moon, the galaxy, etc. So those who understand the work of God are in a better position to explain the word of God. Unfortunately, because of the duality of the educational system, we have people who partially understand the work of God, like for instance, someone has done a PhD. in geology. Yet they have no idea what the Qur’an says about geology. There are many people who are experts in medical science but they have no idea what the Qur’an says about embryology and what it says about psychology.

Q: You have great insight into the history of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. In 1947, the Muslim creme de la creme went to Pakistan and left behind a large group of economically and politically weak Muslims. In the last 70 years, do you think the lot of Muslims has become better or worse?

A:
I feel the situation of Muslims in India has improved a great deal. We have reached this point after a long, arduous, and very tough struggle. The desperation that we see today in some sections of Indian society is because those sections never thought Muslims would survive and resist for so long. It is an act of desperation on their part. Those right-wingers thought they had chased Muslims away into Pakistan and that they were free to do whatever they saw fit to do, but the fierce resistance that came from all justice-loving and peace-loving Indians — what I have called the conscience of India — frustrated their plans. They will continue to fail in the future as well. This is my conviction. There is every possibility that they (the right-wingers) will do something worse, but India will not tolerate it. India will reject it. In fact, such an attempt may lead to a bright future of peace and justice. Thus to answer your questions, I see the overall situation as better.

Q: The kind of excesses, like mob lynchings, etc., that we saw in India in recent times, did we have something similar happening over the last 70 years? Of course, we are not talking about the horrors of Partition.

A:
We have gone through several different stages over the last 70 years. There was a stage when Gandhiji was assassinated and the nation went into shock. The shock became all the more acute when it became clear that the man or men who killed Gandhiji was/were neither Muslim nor Sikh, but Brahmin. The right-wingers were distressed and dejected because of this feeling of guilt (“mujrimana ehsaas“). Unfortunately, the Indian leadership at the time could not convert this national tragedy into a resolve to get rid of the venom that was injected into India’s body politic by the right-wingers. They could not do it and let me say, they did not do it. They could have done it. There was no pushback. In fact, in 1948 Gandhiji was assassinated, and in 1949, idols were placed in Babri Masjid. Pandit Nehru was the prime minister. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was a Congressman. There was no other party. The idols could have been easily removed. There would have been no problem. It would have been very easy. This has always been a problem with our secular forces. They do not fight the fascist forces the way they should. They allow them to flourish (“panapne diya unhe“) — perhaps to perpetuate the votebank/election politics. In electoral politics, principles and values become secondary. The real bottom line is an electoral victory so that was one stage. Then there was another stage in 1992 when Babri Masjid was sacked in Ayodhya. That was a very difficult period for Muslims in India, a very, very difficult period. It was felt that Muslims would never be able to live in India again. But then there was, and is, a parallel undercurrent against the fascist forces. This undercurrent does not get much media coverage or exposure so people in the outside world are unaware of it. The important aspect of this undercurrent is that it is very broad-based. It includes people of all religions and all sections of society. They all are fighting against injustice. The opinion-makers among Muslims must understand that this is not a fight between Hindus and Muslims. It can never be and it should never be. It is a fight between the oppressed and the oppressor. The oppressed are in an overwhelming majority in India and the oppressor is in a minority. The outgoing government won a huge majority during the last elections in 2014. And what was their vote share? Thirty-one percent. Which simply means 69 percent of the vote was against this government. This 69 percent was divided among different parties, sections. This time around those who love India and its secular democratic values must try to bring this 69 percent together and avoid divisions among them.

Q: One last question: Suppose Narendra Modi and his party win again and he becomes the prime minister, what will be the feeling in India?

A:
Then, God willing, the spirit of our peaceful struggle against the oppressor will become greater and stronger. Those whose unflinching faith it is that the final decision rests in the hands of Allah will never be, and can never be, depressed or pessimist, come what may. We will fight back. And by “we,” I mean not just Muslims but all the oppressed against the oppressor. I will end this interview with this sentence: We need to learn the fine art of converting challenges into opportunities. Challenges are a precursor to opportunities. This is what we learn from the life and times of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). India will become a bright and fine example of peace and justice. We will have to struggle for that bright India and we will. InshaAllah.

Q: On that bright note, thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you.
A:
Thank you.

Interview with prominent Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Khalilur Rahman Sajjad Nomani

'Muslims need to appeal to the conscience of India' 'It is not in India's DNA to accept injustice for long' '...