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Islam and Pluralism ( 30 Jan 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why Akkalkuwa, its students rooting for ‘Bade Hazrat’

By Ayesha Khan

Jan 31 2011

Akkalkuwa (Nandurbar) : All Roads lead to this non-descript Gujarat-Maharashtra border town. Everybody wants to meet him — the devout from the interiors of Maharashtra to some from South Africa, journalists seeking to know his views on issues ranging from the Ishrat Jehan encounter to jehad, to even the Gujarat president of the RSS-backed Rashtravadi Muslim Morcha.

In the dust-up over his election and demands for his resignation as the Deoband Darul Uloom’s Vice-Chancellor, Maulana Mohammed Vastanwi has become a much sought after man.

Few spare a glance for the Jamia Islamia Ishataul Uloom in Akkalkuwa, started originally as a seminary, that mentors an unusual educational experiment. Melding Islamic teachings with mainstream education, it takes care of the needs of 1.7 lakh students across India and even bordering Nepal. Vastanwi, or Bade Hazrat, as they call him, is central to this initiative.

Many quietly point out that in the scale of operations, it is the Akkalkuwa seminary which is larger, while Deoband’s is important for historical and religious reasons. “There are 3,000-odd students at Deoband, but here we manage 1.7 lakh students. Deoband’s importance lies in its historical influence,” says one of Vastanwi’s confidantes.

Some say that a North Indian clique, which has traditonally held sway over ulema politics in India, has now been challenged by a rank outsider — Vastanwi.

“Vastanwi has two qualities — first, his relations across India and abroad with all important seminaries and ability to collect funds; second , he is open minded, emphasising on both kinds of education, religious and mainstream,” says Maulana Habibur Rehman Matadar, who taught with Vastanwi at the Kantharia seminary.

Unlike his peers at Deoband Darul Uloom, Vastanwi does not claim any historical or academic lineage. Most of his family members in his native village of Vastan, 125 km from Akkalkuwa, are farmers. The lone Muslim family in the village, he took on the village name after he adopted Islamic education as a career.

“Our father wanted one of his sons to become aalim (theological equivalent to a post-graduate). Hazrat fulfilled that desire. He studied at Tadkeshwar Darul Uloom after his Standard 7. And now he has made it a must for every madrasa to have a primary school,” says cousin Ibrahim.

The only new buildings in the tribal town belong to engineering, pharmacy and medical colleges, and also residential complexes for students, teachers and staff of the seminary. His son and other relatives, along with orphans and children of lower middle-class Muslim families who cannot afford schooling, now study at various institutes here.

“We receive no government grant, 70 per cent of the cost is taken care of by donations, barely 25 per cent is fees from students. Donors fund the lodging, boarding, all the costs here,” points out Akbar Patel, the campus coordinator.

Explaining how he came to settle in Akkalkuwa, Vastanwi says: “While I was the Arabic teacher at Kantharia (in South Gujarat) some of my students called me to Akkalkuwa. I found Muslims here to be poor materially as well as spiritually. Elders and ulemas advised me baith jao, baith jao. And this is how I am here.”

The Akkalkuwa seminary began from a small hut in Makrani Mohalla, with Vastanwi’s elder brother Hafiz Issac starting with six students. It was in the eighties that Vastanwi shifted base from Gujarat to this Maharashtra town and has stayed put ever since.

The Deoband connection is talked about cautiously, though Vastanwi has been Darul Uloom’s governing council member for a dozen years.

The family is also cautious about another less-known connection: that Vastanwi’s daughter is married to Maulana Arshad Madani’s son. Among those Vastanwi defeated to become Darul Uloom vice-chancellor was Madani.

“Family is family. My daughter is very happy and this has nothing to do with it,” laughs Vastanwi. His relatives are more circumspect, explaining how they were opposed earlier to his move to marry his daughter to an “outsider” — meaning a North Indian. Others attest that Vastanwi preferred his son-in-law due to his education and background.

On the campuses, where there is not a single TV set, staff members, students and families catch up on the latest on Vastanwi, and express their growing exasperation with what’s happening, on computers with a broadband connection.

“My family called me up after the controversy, but we know him as a great teacher. Sometimes he drops in to teach us. This is a nice, quiet place with all amenities to learn in peace,” says Imtiaz Mohammed, who has come all the way from Poonch.

The mainstream colleges mostly have students from across Maharashtra and Gujarat, who admit that their families could not afford the fees in other regular colleges.

Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi