At a press conference last month, the Islamic Foundation of India announced their decision to build a mosque in Sahranpur that would outdo all others in splendour. The foundation plans to collect Rs 100 crore from the 10 crore Muslims who vote in India. This money will be used to build a bulletproof, earthquake proof mosque with engineers brought in from Belgium. The structure will be made of glass, wood, steel, silver and gold with 11000 laser lights adding to the glitter, they claim. In this essay, read what Sahitya Akademi Winner Ather Farooqui has to say.
Let me begin by bluntly saying that to criticize any issue, however fake or farcical it is, related to Islam is quite dangerous. Indian Muslims are quite averse to any introspection even regarding the worst social evils; unfortunately no Muslim organization that has an impact on Muslim minds tries to address this. The role of religious leadership in this regard has been along expected lines.
A significant chunk of literate Muslims, particularly the neo-educated, are no different from, rather worse than, the erstwhile elite which was pro-establishment. Of these educated Muslims, the alumni of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who still take pride in calling themselves Old Boys, form a sizeable portion. Their association world over is officially called AMU Old Boys Association with few exceptions of AMU Alumni Associations.
Clearly, they don’t consider girls a part of society. Educational backwardness of the community is the subtext of every discussion on Muslims, without any effort to address it. For example, AMU alumni across the world relish a grand dinner on the birth anniversary of the founder Syed Ahmad Khan every year. If they remember their founder over a cup of tea and spend the same amount on education, they can build a university every ten years or establish at least three functional intermediate inter colleges in different parts of India.
Apart from marriage and other institutions, we see wastage of money by the impoverished community on the same pattern as the Hindu middle class. The ugliest among them is the tradition of animal sacrifice on Eid.
I am in no way criticizing the right of sacrifice on Eid-ul Azha, popularly known as Baqar-e Eid or Bakar-e Eid, where flaunting money on most expensive goats has now become fashion more than religious duty. This can be rationalised in two ways: sacrifice male goats that are reasonably priced, and, in case of families with many members who are obliged to make a sacrifice, replace the goats with a buffalo. The calculation is simple; one buffalo can be sacrificed for seven people. Not all seven need to be from the same family. So, any seven people can contribute. It was a trend some twenty years ago, but now it is a social stigma even for those who cannot afford mutton for guests in the normal course. Worst is the competition to sacrifice the most expensive goats.
I was not surprised when, about fifteen days ago, after the debate on the Supreme Court Ayodhya judgment had subsided, there was an announcement from the people of Saharanpur about building a grand glass mosque with a hundred crore budget. It was all over the media, but did not attract attention of the social media tribe that started the day abusing the RSS or making mockery of the Prime Minister and the BJP government.
These people take pride in provoking the community against the government. My saying this will urge the social media mujahidin to call me an RSS agent. That is fine with me. I bring this up because anybody who questions this grand mosque movement will face the same treatment from more than one quarter.
Saharanpur was earlier a district-level town and is now a commissionaire for administrative purposes. Here too, the Muslims are financially and educationally as backward as in other places in western Uttar Pradesh. Muslims don’t have an excellent primary or secondary school run by the community in Saharanpur, and the presence of Muslim students in other schools is almost negligible.
The first reaction of reasonable people, including local people, to this project was that the people who have initiated it have no social or financial backing and it is only a publicity stunt. Keeping in view the community’s track record, this assessment is an oversimplification and an underestimation of the potential of Muslim leadership, political as well as religious. Whenever they see a chance for exploiting Islam, they become one. Let me be explicit.
Islam has been the most flourishing business from the beginning of the 20th century, and its emotional appeal has increased manifold, like in the past, in the last few decades. Now one cannot be sure about a zealous Muslim’s response to this project of building an aalishaan masjid (grand mosque) similar to Masjid Qartaba in Spain, with which Indian Muslims have been quite obsessed after Iqbal’s powerful poem with the same title.
The support or sabotage of such a project by the unemployed Muslim religious leaders after the Supreme Court judgment in the Babri Masjid case cannot be ruled out. They have their connections with people across the globe, including those countries that officially fund the building of mosques. They certainly do not support the project of modern education for Muslims. Citizens of these countries are also one the main sources of funding for Dini Madaris (Muslim religious educational institutions) in India. They can rain largesse for building a grand mosque in response to the magnificent Ram Temple, the unique selling proposition of the project. Rogue money can also come in handy for such a project.
One call on the occasion of the next Id-ul Azha to donate the money out of the sale of the skin of sacrificed animals will build the mosque in no time. An emotional appeal in the name of donation for building a grand mosque will collect the desired Rs 100 crore in no time. In a way, it would display their passion for Islam—of accomplishing something at any cost. When they were willing to sacrifice lives for literally nothing, as they did at the inception of the Babri Movement, then a call to establish the superiority of Islam by building a mosque will have a more substantial appeal.
I hope that people sincerely interested in Muslims living peacefully in India in general and in the region in particular will oppose this move. Let me remind everyone that Saharanpur is the district adjacent to Muzaffar Nagar where lakhs of Muslim victims of the 2013 riots are still awaiting rehabilitation, and the region was never known for such an open Hindu-Muslim hostility which we have witnessed after the 2013 riots.
Bio: Author of Islamic Banking in India at the Service of Pan-Islamists which forced the UPA-II to reverse its decision to allow Islamic banking, and of Marx My Word, a unique play of Marxist dichotomy, Ather Farouqui, a PhD from JNU, is a pioneer scholar of Urdu language and its education. For long he has been arguing that instead of modernizing Deeni Madrasas, the government should provide Urdu education as part of the secular curriculum of school education. A Sahitya Akademi Award winner for translation, he is the editor of Muslims and Media Images and Redefining Urdu Politics in India. Presently, he is the General Secretary of the 125-year-old Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind). He lives in New Delhi. He can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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