By Tufail Ahmad
24th November 2014
Syed Ahmed Bukhari has anointed his son to succeed him as the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, despite the Delhi High Court asserting that he has no legal right to do so. To assume this hereditary role, the only qualification needed is Nutfa, or spermatozoon. In biology, Nutfa plays a vital role in reproducing the next generation of species. For humans, it also shapes history and politics, causes successions and assassinations. In history, it has been a vehicle for transfer of power from kings to their next generations.
In some ways, Nutfa cannot be the only criterion; it must also originate from Syed Ahmed Bukhari before the reproductive outcome qualifies as a spiritual heir. This too isn’t enough: the outcome must also be a male to lead Islamic prayers. The character of Nutfa is anti-democratic: it disqualifies nearly 180 million Indian Muslims from becoming the imam of Jama Masjid. This hereditary power is an assault on India’s Constitution, the source of egalitarianism in our national life.
Bukhari invited 1,000 Islamic leaders to the event concerning the anointment of his son Syed Shaban Bukhari. In this case, the spermatozoon is just 19 years old; excluding about nine months after it began its journey. This lineage has continued from the mid-17th century when the Jama Masjid was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who in search of purity could not find an imam in India and imported Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari from Bukhara in Uzbekistan. Indians love imported goods. The import continues to exert outsized impact on India’s political life.
Muslim groups are angry for being subjugated under this hereditary imamate not permitted in Islam. Journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted that she doesn’t “know a single Muslim who thinks the Shahi Imam represents them”. But thousands of Muslims follow the imam and offer prayers behind him five times a day, 365 days a year. He exercises spiritual influence and occupies the Jama Masjid that is not his property. In history, imams have legitimated the coronation of kings and they are sought for the same purposes in modern times, most recently by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Nutfa can offer prescriptive opinions on human freedom. Barkha Dutt also tweeted that on her television show Bukhari once ridiculed acclaimed Muslim actress Shabana Azmi, describing her as a “Naachne Gaane Wali Tawaif” (a dancing singing whore, the meaning understood by Bukhari and others in Urdu). During the decadent glory of Lucknow, a Tawaif was respected not only as a dancer but also for her impeccable manners, captured in the Urdu novel Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa and reproduced as a movie several times. But the Nutfa lacks the manners of a Tawaif, not even when it appears on national television.
In the Qur’an, the word Nutfa occurs a dozen times. According to the verses 53/45-46, Allah creates two mates from a single drop of Nutfa. In the Qur’anic meaning, Nutfa is a non-gendered concept. The Bukharis have daughters. It could be a revolutionary act to anoint one of them as the next imam. But in its non-Qur’anic meaning as understood by the Bukharis ever since Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari became the first Shahi Imam on July 24, 1656, the Nutfa must be a male to be a successor. This inheritance is denied to the Bukhari daughters because they are girls. The Shahi Imamate is a state of mind, a body of ideas, an anti-women ideology.
Outside the biological world, Nutfa understands ideological politics and international relations. As part of the ceremony, Bukhari planned several dinners: one for 3,000 worshippers; another for hundreds of clerics and an one on November 29 for diplomats and politicians. The Shahi Imam has something big in his ideological mind: he invited Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, injecting a contentious debate in our politics by not inviting India’s own prime minister.
“I have not sent invitation to prime minister Narendra Modi as Muslims have not forgiven him for the Gujarat riots,” the Shahi Imam roared, no matter if the Supreme Court hasn’t implicated Modi. The spermatozoon speaks for all Indian Muslims; their consent is unnecessary to speak for them. It knows instinctively how to insult our prime minister. Modi should better clean our streets. Bukhari’s invite to Sharif reinforces this argument: secularism in India is viewed in its essential kinship with Pakistan. The imamate is an anti-national force.
Agra-based social activist Gyas Qureshi demanded: “End the title Shahi Imam as the country is now a democracy, not a Mughal domain.” Monarchies reform. In 2013, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II signed a law, ending the 300-year-old practice of first-born male to be the heir. In 1936, Edward VIII of England renounced his kingdom to marry his love. Syed Shaban Bukhari, who studies a meaningful subject like social work at Amity University, was born in India’s liberty; a conscientious act by him to renounce the imamate could herald a golden age of Islam.
The Shahi Imamate frequently assaults the Indian mind for political purposes. Muslim groups outside Old Delhi detest this Mughal era relic. Political parties will get unprecedented support if they call for an end to the biological imamate. In the Qur’anic meaning, Nutfa has another connotation: Adam, who was the first man, was also the first prophet. Every individual is a prophet with the power to use thoughts and actions as tools of liberty. Every Muslim must become a prophet, like Benazir Suraiya of Bhopal who turned out to campaign for a vegetarian Eid Al-Adha.
Spermatozoon must be respected for its role in human survival and in tune with the democratic age the time now is to empower every spermatozoon—not just that of Syed Ahmed Bukhari. For an intolerably long time, Indian Muslims have allowed Syed Ahmed Bukhari to masquerade as their leader. As per a 2005 High Court order, the Jama Masjid is the property of the Delhi Waqf Board and Bukhari its employee; he should be fired for transferring his job on the basis of Nutfa.
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC