November 4, 2011 At an October 16, 2011 conference in the northern Indian city of Moradabad, thousands of Sunni Islamic clerics and mosque leaders cal
November 4, 2011
At an October 16, 2011 conference in the northern Indian city of Moradabad, thousands of Sunni Islamic clerics and
mosque leaders called for countering the violent message of Wahhabi Islam and eradicating Saudi Arabia’s
influence among Indian Muslims, and stressed the message of peace and love advocated by Sufi Islam. The clerics belong to the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), which organized the conference, a mahapanchayat (grand convention) of Islamic scholars and prayer leaders.
The AIUMB represents thousands of Sunni Islamic scholars and Sufis (mystics) from across the
country. Its members owe allegiance to the Barelvi School of Islamic thought, which advocates
unconditional love for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The organization comprises of 78 Sufi dargahs
(monasteries and shrines), including that of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti based in the town of Ajmer
and that of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia based in Delhi.
Unlike Deobandi scholars who support the Taliban in Pakistan, the Barelvi clerics approve
numerous syncretic beliefs and practices – including music and dance – at Sufi shrines across India
and elsewhere. The syncretic beliefs and practices at Sufi shrines are seen as un-Islamic by
Deobandi followers. It should be noted that the Darul Uloom Deoband, the world’s second largest
Islamic Deobandi seminary after Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, is situated in the town of Deoband, not
far from Moradabad.
In the recent past, the AIUMB, whose members voluntarily join the organization, has held similar
conferences in various Indian cities, mainly in the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand
and Uttar Pradesh. The AIUMB leaders plan to organize similar conferences in coming years to
counter the influence of Deobandi/Wahhabi Islam.
Calls for Eradicating the Saudi Influence
According to a media report, the grand convention urged Indian Muslims to reject the message of
hardline Wahhabi Islam, saying that it is giving the Muslim community a bad name, and called for
limiting the Saudi influence in the affairs of Indian Muslims.
Syed Babar Ashraf, an AIUMB spokesman, accused the Deobandi Islamic organizations in India –
such as the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and Ahl-e-Hadees – of importing a “foreign ideology” into the
country, and added that these groups, which owe allegiance to Wahhabi Islam propagated by Saudi
Arabia, are “funded by petro-dollars and aim to grab political power.”
Syed Babar Ashraf noted that 80 percent of Indian Muslims follow the Sunni Sufi tradition – i.e. the
Barelvi School of Islamic thought – while Wahhabis wield control over just 13-14 percent of Muslim
community in India.
Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi, the AIUMB General Secretary, urged the Indian government
to set up a federal board for madrassas in India to counter the influence of the Saudi-sponsored
“Right now the madrassas are under the control of Wahhabi-inspired organizations which run on
Saudi money. The ideology they teach and spread is hardline Wahhabism,” the cleric said. He
added: “Madrassas, which are being run by the Deoband school of thought, are radicalizing and
poisoning the minds of innocent Muslim boys.”
Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi further stated: “We clearly want to tell this to everybody, that
we won’t allow the Deobandis and Wahhabis to grab Indian soil by terror and violence being
fostered through petro-dollars [from Saudi Arabia].”
At the convention, the AIUMB released a memorandum urging the external affairs ministry of India to
ask Saudi Arabia to stop “destroying historical places and preserve sites associated with the
Prophet, his family and his Sahabas (companions).”
Sufi Islam Described as “Deterrent” to Wahhabi Islam
Maulana Mahmood Ashraf, the AIUMB president who also spoke on the occasion, said that the only
thing which could be “a deterrent to Wahhabi terrorism” is the Sufi tradition of Islam.He said that
Wahhabis and Saudi petro-dollars have destroyed the secular fabric of India by propagating the
worst form of puritanical version of Islam, which considers Sufism as not only un-Islamic but worst as
shirk (unpardonable idolatry).
Hazrat Shahid Mian Chishti, who is in charge of the dargah (shrine) of the 12th century Sufi mystic
Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, at Ajmer, countered the Wahhabi clerics’ opposition to praying at
dargahs, stating: “Millions of Muslims visit the Prophet’s shrine at Madina every year. Muslims are
following the Prophet when they pray at dargahs. Why should it be un-Islamic?”It should be
noted that every year millions of Muslims as well as Hindus visit the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin
Chishti, who is popular across South Asia.
At a press conference organized a week before in connection with the convention, AIUMB General
Secretary Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi outlined the threat to Indian Muslim youth from the
Saudi-backed Wahhabi Islam, stating: “Wahhabi-influenced terrorism has taken a section of Indian
Muslim youth in its grip…”
“Peace-loving Sufi Muslims are in a huge majority in this country but regrettably the major Islamic
institutions, including the Waqf Boards [which control collective Muslim properties] and the
madrassas, are under the control of cash-rich organizations practicing hardline ideologies. We want
to reclaim Islam from these elements and turn our youth away from the path of extremism and
towards harmony and coexistence,” he told journalists in New Delhi.
Speaking at the convention in Moradabad, Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi lauded the Sufi
traditions of Islam, stating: “About 100 years ago, Sunni Muslims in India rejected the Wahhabis.
After [India’s 1947] independence, however, the Wahhabis expanded their influence through
political backing. While we remained distant from government and politics, Wahhabis gained
control over institutions dealing with [Muslim] minority affairs…”
Various speakers at the convention accused Wahhabi-inspired Islamic organizations in India of
indoctrinating radical Islam among Indian Muslims by feeding on their frustrations associated with
educational and economic deprivation. Syed Mohammed Ashraf Kachochavi said: “Muslims should
be careful about such anti-national activities in the name of religion. If they find any extremist
exhorting them to terrorism, they should immediately hand over the person to police.”
Urdu Media Accused of “Boycotting” Clerics’ Message
A media report noted that the grand convention was “a sort of ‘coming out’ event for the AIUMB,
which… has been barely visible on the Indian Muslim political and cultural scene. The AIUMB’s case
is that despite their huge numbers, they have not been able to assert themselves because the
Deobandis and the Wahhabis have captured key Muslim institutions such as the Wakf Board and
the madrassas, and also wield political influence far beyond their size…”
The Urdu-language press, which has influence in the Muslim community, was not appreciative of the
clerics’ convention. The Urdu media – including the Urdu newspapers owned by Hindu proprietors –
is known for feeding hardline views among Indian Muslims in order to boost subscriptions. The
Urdu-language newspapers “boycotted” the convention or allowed significantly less coverage of the
event. Syed Babar Ashraf commented on the role of the Urdu media, stating that “a large section of
the Urdu press has boycotted us. They are controlled by hardliners.”
According to another report in the secular daily The Hindu, the convention “appeared to have been
boycotted by the influential Urdu press.” A week before the convention, when the AIUMB held a
press conference in New Delhi, Urdu journalists were openly hostile to the organizers, arguing that
the AIUMB was trying to divide Muslims.
In its reports, the Urdu language newspapers generally avoided highlighting the clerics’ calls against
Wahhabi Islam and Saudi Arabia.
Clerics’ Message Lauded by Indian Commentators Arshad Alam, a professor at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University who also spoke at the grand convention in Moradabad, noted that the Deobandis aspire to an Arabian model of Islam which obliterates the ethnic identity of Indian Muslims.
Alam, who has authored a book on madrassas in India, commented on the message of the clerics,
stating: “This movement is articulating the ethnic roots of Islam in India. It’s not just about a religious
identity but placing this identity in the national context.”
C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based commentator, assessed the importance of the clerics’ call for
eradicating the influence of Saudi Arabia and Wahhabi Islam in the post-9/11 world. He stated, “The
unambiguous stand taken by the AIUMB which represents almost 80 percent of India’s Sunni
Muslims – who in turn are the majority faction of Indian Muslims (the Shia, Ismaili and Ahmadiyya
amongst others are estimated to be less than 30 million in all) – is a very significant development in
the ongoing contestation about the interpretation and practice of Islam.”
Bhaskar noted the growing Wahhabi influence among Indian Muslims in recent years and lauded
the message of the Moradabad convention, stating: “In recent years, the hardline Islamic factions
that have an Arab-Wahhabi texture to them have been gaining ground in India and many subtle
changes have been evidenced. For instance, the common greeting in the sub-continent, salamalekum,
has gradually transmuted into khuda-hafiz, and has now become allah-hafiz. The word
khuda has been dropped, since it is of Persian origin and is also seen to be preferred by the Shia
“Predictably, women have become the target of such imposed conformity, and the new advocacy of
groups like the Tablighi is that a purdah (veil) to cover the face is not enough – young Muslim girls
are now advised (firmly) – to keep a purdah on their voices. To be barely seen and remain
submissively within the family fold, in a silent mode, is the prevailing Wahhabi-derived prescription
for the young Muslim girl – a template that the Taliban and their adherents in Afghanistan and
Pakistan ardently support.
“The post-9/11 global challenge to quarantine and shrink terror predicated on a distortion of Islam
cannot be won by military means alone. The greater war is that of resisting toxic interpretations of
the Quran and insidious narratives that serve pernicious political ends.
“The Maulanas [clerics] in Moradabad have picked up the gauntlet. This denunciation of the
distortion of Islam and the hijacking by the Wahhabi school is to be globally commended and calls
for many debates within the Muslim fold – with women and girls being allowed to voice their
opinions about what constitutes a gender-equitable interpretation of Islam. The White House, with
its empathetic incumbent
Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI’s South Asia Studies Project (www.memri.org/sasp).
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