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Indian Muslims Increasing Resistance to Wahhabi Incursion by Irfan Al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz « Islamic Pluralism

http://w w w .islamicpluralism.eu/WP/?p=2166 November 4, 2011 Mahapanchayat, Moradabad, 2011 — Photograph by AIUMB. On October 16, 100,000 Indian Musl

http://w w w .islamicpluralism.eu/WP/?p=2166 November 4, 2011
Mahapanchayat, Moradabad, 2011 — Photograph by AIUMB.
On October 16, 100,000 Indian Muslims gathered for a
“mahapanchayat“—a mass assembly of local council leaders
—in Moradabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s leading
state in population, with about 200 million people, a majority of
them Muslim. At a press conference announcing the
convocation, Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchhwi,
general secretary of the All-India Ulema and Mashaikh
Board (AIUMB)—a body of moderate clerics and spiritual Sufi
leaders—spoke out boldly against fundamentalist Wahhabism.
Kichowchhwi denounced the radical doctrine inspired by
Saudi Arabia as “a virus for society” and assailed Wahhabis he said had gained control of India’s
Muslim communal institutions.
Moradabad — Photograph Via Wikimedia Commons.
“The majority of Indian Muslims do not accept them as their
religious leaders,” said Kichowchhwi, the head of a
prominent Sufi shrine, Kachhochha Sharif, about 300 miles
southeast of Moradabad in Faizabad, also in Uttar Pradesh.
He elaborated, “the flag-bearers of Wahhabism . . . do not
lead the 80 percent Sunni and Sufi Muslim population of
India.” (India’s Muslims—some 150 million, or 14 percent of
its citizens—are the third largest Islamic community in the
world, after those of Indonesia, 215 million, and Pakistan,
160 million). Kichowchhwi accused functionaries from the All-
India Muslim Personal Law Board, which supervises the application of Islamic family law among
Muslims, of joining the clerics and teachers of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband sect, which inspires the
Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in “promoting the imported ideology of Wahhabism from the
Arab world.” His blunt language shocked India’s Muslim media.
Ajmer Sharif Shrine, 2010— Photograph by
Shahnoor Habib Munmun, Via Wikimedia
The outspoken position of Kichowchhwi was
endorsed by 13 other keepers of Sufi sites,
including Syed Shahid Mian Chishti and Syed
Mehdi Mian of Ajmer Sharif, India’s outstanding Sufi
monument, which was bombed in 2007 with two
people killed and 20 injured. Ajmer Sharif is the
mausoleum of the 12th- and 13th-century figure
Moinuddin Chishti, the most beloved South Asian
Sufi, and like other Sufi sanctuaries, is often visited
by non-Muslims. The Ajmer Sharif attack was one in
a series of brutal assaults against Sufi institutions
carried out across Pakistan and India since 2005 by Islamist extremists who, as Kichowchhwi
pointed out, condemn Sufis and ordinary Muslim believers for memorial recitations from the Koran,
“sending blessings to the saints and our ancestors,” which the Wahhabis prohibit as alleged
polytheism and an unacceptable innovation forbidden in Islam. The Wahhabi argument against
these long-established Muslim customs, which are present in every Islamic country, often holds that
they imitate Christian devotions
Kichowchhwi has warned Indian Muslims previously of Wahhabi infiltration of their institutions. Early
last year he called on moderates to “liberate our properties”—referring to 10,000 shrines,
mosques, and madrassas invaded successfully by the radicals in Uttar Pradesh. In his latest
statement, he described the Wahhabi literature distributed for free or at reduced prices as “nothing
but propaganda.”
Now, the AIUMB leaders have gone further in their censure of Wahhabism. According to
Kichowchhwi, the Wahhabis have usurped and are stealing the assets of the Islamic endowment
(waqf) boards in India, “and for them it is justified to loot property.” He claimed that since the radicals
have never established or contributed to any such pious foundations in India, they have no right to
direct them. He pointed to the systematic Saudi devastation of the Islamic architectural heritage of
Arabia as a precedent for the seizure and destruction of Sufi shrines in South Asia.
In his recent commentary, Kichowchhwi departed from his previous theological polemics against
Wahhabism to promise earnest loyalty to his country. “Indian Muslims will never tolerate anyone
indulging in anti-national activities,” he said. “If ever any Muslim is found indulging in such activities,
it must be assumed that he is guided by the Wahhabi ideology. Sufi and Sunni Muslims are
nationalists and are always ready for any kind of service to the nation. . . . Sufi and Sunni Muslims
who constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India respect humanity and can never be
traitor[s] to their nation.”
This pledge repeated language employed by the AIUMB’s national secretary, Syed Babar Ashraf, in
publicity for the Moradabad event. Babar Ashraf wrote, “Wahhabi extremism is sweeping across
the sub-continent. And after Afghanistan and Pakistan, the radical Wahhabi ideology is
aggressively engaged in the radicalization of a few Indian Muslims. It is time for the silent majority to
speak up and take the center stage. A vast majority of Muslims in India are Sunni Sufi Muslims who
are nationalistic, patriotic and followers of the Sufi saints.” He accused the Wahhabi hardliners,
“through charities and capturing mosques/madrassas” of “indoctrinating innocent Muslims and
spending billions of dollars to hurt the democratic and secular fabric of the country.” Babar Ashraf
challenged Wahhabism as “a big threat to entire humanity as well as the internal security of our
nation,” adding that the AIUMB “wants to send a message to the present government that moderate
Muslims will not allow [the Wahhabis] to grab the Indian soil . . . for spreading terrorism.”
The AIUMB has submitted a sheaf of memoranda to Indian authorities calling for changes in
religious affairs, including enhanced protection of Sufi shrines, and auditing and monitoring of
religious endowments. They demand reform of madrassas to encompass modern education
alongside traditional religious instruction, as outlined in proposed legislation to establish a Central
Madrassa Board for India, with Shia as well as Sunni participation. The moderate group
emphasizes the need for “quality modern education centers” in districts where Muslims are
concentrated. They asked for more girls’ schools and colleges as well as employment incentives for
women, with at least one girls’ school in each local district, and at least three in every local
jurisdiction with a Muslim majority.
In another heartening development, the AIUMB proclaimed its solidarity with Indian Christians,
whom the Sufis noted had been targeted in a little-known outbreak of violence on August 25-28,
2008 in Kandhamal, a Hindu-majority region in India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa. There,
Christian settlements were torched, 25,000 Christians fled, and at least 28 people were killed. The
Sufi group additionally protested against Christians having been obstructed bureaucratically from
erecting churches, and “illegal occupation” of Christian properties. In May 2011, the monitoring
group International Christian Concern reported that a 17-year-old Christian female, Nirupama
Pradhan, had been raped and murdered by Hindu militants in Kandhamal, and charged that “serial
murders against Christians” were ongoing there.
South Asia obviously has no lack of opportunities for sectarian violence—the AIUMB also recalled
the massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. But in contrast with Pakistan, where
moderate Muslim religious figures as well as secular politicians appear faint-hearted in the face of
the extremist offensive, Indian Muslims, guided by Sufis like those in the AIUMB, are fighting back.
Illuminated mosque in Kerala, 2009 — Photograph
by Challiyan at ml.wikipedia, Via Wikimedia
In the southwest coastal Indian state of Kerala—
where Muslims first appeared in the subcontinent,
but also home to a significant Christian community
—axe-wielding Islamist fanatics last year sliced off
the right-hand palm of T.J. Joseph, a professor at
a Catholic institution, Newman College. Joseph
allegedly insulted Muslims by including the name of
Muhammad in an examination testing students on
grammar in the local Malayalam language. Twentyseven
Muslim men were arrested in the incident, and Joseph’s hand was reconstructed through skin
grafts. Nevertheless, the Christian professor was arrested for allegedly inciting communal discord.
He was released but was dismissed from his employment at the college. The detained suspects
were charged with rioting, suppression of evidence, and similar non-terrorism charges, in January
of this year. Their case is pending. But in response to the atrocity, young Muslims came forward to
donate blood to Joseph, and the Sunni Students Federation of Kerala has organized a campaign,
like that of the AIUMB, to educate its members on the dangers of Wahhabism