By Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN
Decades ago Urdu poet Allama Iqbal, in a beautiful couplet, expressed his exasperation at an imam’s inability to lead: Qaum kya cheez hai qaumon ki imamat kya hai/Isko kya jaane bechare ye do rikat ke imam
(What is nation and what’s the nation’s leadership/The poor prayer leaders cannot understand it).
Iqbal’s pithy portrayal perfectly fits Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. But though myopic like the imam in Iqbal’s timeless couplet, Bukhari is not a bechara. A rabble-rouser who has consistently misrepresented Muslims, Bukhari lived up to his reputation once again early this week when he advised Muslims to stay away from Anna Hazare’s movement. Reason? The movement’s slogans-—Vande Mataramand Bharat Mata Ki Jai—are, according to Bukhari, against Islam. “How can Muslims join a stir with a war cry that is against the tenets of Islam?” he asked.
Apart from the communal tinge that Bukhari tried to add to Anna’s secular crusade, he has undoubtedly done a great disservice to the job he holds. Bukhari and his father have thrived on successive governments’ genuflection at their durbar because the family holds a post a king created centuries ago. In Delhi’s notorious durbari culture where politicians pander to every potential vote machine, Bukhari, like his father Syed Abdullah Bukhari before him, has presented himself as the Muslim community’s leading voice.
Like his father, Bukhari is a habitual headline-grabber. “Bukhari has nothing but nuisance value. His influence among Muslims doesn’t stretch beyond the periphery of Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Yet he keeps making controversial statements because they
help him keep in the news,” says activist Firoz Bakht Ahmed. Ahmed grew up in the shadow of Jama Masjid and has observed the rise of the father-son duo when they allegedly amassed huge wealth through rent from innumerable shops around Jama Masjid and commercial parking in the mosque’s vicinity.
So when did the imams of Jama Masjid, since Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s appointment of Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari as the mosque’s first royal imam in the seventeenth century, become the community’s spokespersons? Ahmed refers to a march led by Bukhari’s father to the Delhi Waqf Board’s office in the walled city on February 2, 1975 as the turning point in the life of the Bukhari clan. “He led a protest against alleged corruption in the Waqf Board. It was widely reported. Subsequently, he started using Jama Masjid as his personal property and misused the Friday sermons to make political statements,” says Ahmed. The protest against forced vasectomy during the Emergency only brought more prominence to the senior Bukhari whose rhetoric substantially helped defeat Indira Gandhi in the elections of 1977. Thereafter, the Janata Party leaders courted the cleric, coining an evocative anti-Congress slogan designed to catch Muslim votes: Congress laye filmi madari, hum laye Imam Bukhari.
For years Ahmed Bukhari remained in his famous father’s shadow. As the senior Bukhari’s failing health in the late 1990s confined him to the courtyard of Jama Masjid, Bukhari’s ambitions soared. He styled himself as the leader of the Muslim community and spewed venom against “anti-Muslim elements”. Over the years Bukhari has cultivated himself as a Muslim Bal Thackeray. In in the late 1980s he helped his father create the Adam Sena, a body supposedly meant to protect the minorities from communal outfits. “He abandoned the idea when very few Muslims volunteered,” says the Delhi-based Urdu journalist Wadood Sajid.
Soon after his coronation as the Shahi Imam in 2000, Bukhari announced that he would float a political party because, as he had declared then, “We are not here just to cast our votes and then suffer till the next election.” The party remains a promise to date. However, like many other Muslim leaders, Bukhari has acted as a dealer of Muslim votes for various parties. But he has never delivered much on the promises made to either the political parties or the community.
So, was it perhaps a new “deal” with the Congress, currently on the back foot because of the Anna-led agitation that forced Bukhari to advise Muslims to stay away from Anna’s movement? “Yes,” says Sajid. “The grapevine in Delhi says that a senior Congress leader approached him to say this.” Delhi-based human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi adds that given Bukhari’s reputation, she would not be surprised if that were the case.
But a question remains: Are slogans like Vande Matram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai really un-Islamic? “There is nothing wrong in uttering Bharat Mata Ki Jai as it means Mother India zindabad. The word vande too can be translated as either worship or salute. Educated and informed Muslims use it in the meaning of salutation to the nation, not worship,” explains liberal scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, who is also pained that Bukhari dragged up the raising of these slogans to create discord among communities.
Bukhari’s ploy failed. But unfortunately his questionable methods remain.
Source: Times News Network