Why did Maulana Vastanvi face enormous calumny and fierce resistance at Deoband
By Shakil Khan, NewAgeIslam.com
26 Jan 2011
And so the hapless and beleaguered Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi has at last been forced to submit his resignation as rector of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, hardly a fortnight after he had been appointed to the post. Honestly, I knew it was coming sooner rather than later, but I had desperately hoped that my fears would prove wrong. After all, like many others, I felt that Vastanvi was somehow different from the other contenders for the post, that he was certainly less doctrinaire and backward thinking than them and considerably socially-engaged and enlightened, and that his presence might work wonders to bring in badly-needed reforms in India’s most influential madrasa, which is also one of its most conservative.
But now, knowing of the enormous calumny and fierce resistance he has had to suffer immediately after being appointed as head of the Dar ul-Uloom, I believe that, in any case, he would have woefully failed to usher in the reforms that his supporters had hoped he would be able to bring about. The arch-reactionaries who hold the strings of power at Deoband would have had his hands bound up and his voice fully gagged, and he would have had to operate under their close surveillance even if his initial entrance into Deoband had been smooth. He would have been forced to shut up and a wave of opposition to him, branding him, as he has now been, as an ‘RSS’ or a ‘Hindu’ or even a ‘Zionist’ agent, would have been engineered against him even if he dared to offer the slightest hint of promoting any sort of sensible change in the madrasa. In other words, if he showed any sign of departing from Deobandi tradition, as his supporters had excitedly expected, he would have been toppled from his seat sooner or later. Perhaps, then, it is a blessing in disguise for that much-maligned and possibly well-meaning man that he has been saved that embarrassment now, rather than later, so that he can go back to running the chain of forward-looking educational institutions that he oversees rather than having to suffer continued disgrace at the hands of his fellow mullah detractors.
Deafening silence of most Muslim ‘leaders’
The silence of most Muslim ‘leaders’ on the shabby treatment that Vastanvi has been subjected to is deafening, to say the least. Equally scandalous is the role of sections of the Urdu press, that have spared no effort in tarnishing the image of the man, going to the extent of even concocting entirely fake stories to paint him as an anti-Muslim Hindutva or even Zionist agent. Only a few Urdu papers were somewhat balanced in their treatment of the anti-Vatsanvi controversy. One of these, the Delhi-based Hindustan Express, took a bold stand in his defence, and argued, against those papers (such as the scurrilous Daily Sahafat and Hamara Samaj), that the campaign against Vastanvi was actually being engineered by ‘leaders’ among Vastanvi’s own mullah community who wanted to unseat him and put their own pliant agent in his place. Elaborating on what it called this well-planned ‘Beat Up and Expel’ campaign (mar bhagao muhim) that had been unleashed against Vastanvi by his opponents, the paper claimed that the brains behind the agitation had ‘purchased the loyalty’ of two Delhi-based Urdu papers (which it left unnamed) ‘so that this effort to add fuel to the fire reaches its logical culmination.’
These papers were the channel for floating all sorts of rumours and false allegations against Maulana Vastanvi. The rumours (which, reliable sources say are unfounded) claimed that Vastanvi had been planted by the RSS to turn Deoband into a centre for promoting idolatry, that he was in league with anti-Muslim forces, that his educational institutions were mere money making rackets, that he had bought his way into the Deoband madrasa by bribing members of the madrasa’s governing council to vote for him, and so on. Sadly, Vastanvi was unable to counter this massive wave of paid propaganda unleashed against him. He was simply too busy trying to clarify to his irate fellow Deobandis that he had been misquoted by the Times of India as having praised Modi, and that he was not guilty of the sin of idolatry that his critics had accused him of.
The Hindustan Express further elaborated that in order to further radicalize the ‘Beat Up and Expel’ campaign against Vastanvi, the brains behind it were ‘making every effort to instigate a section of the students’ of the Deoband madrasa to create such a climate as would force Vastanvi either to quit or be expelled by the madrasa’s governing council.
The 25th January edition of the Hindustan Express hinted at the identity of the men behind the anti-Vastanvi campaign: The mullahs who run one of three rival wings of the Deobandi mass organization Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind. Without mentioning the man who heads this wing of the Jamiat by name, it indicated his identity by referring to the location of his office: Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. This was a clear reference to ‘Maulana’ Mahmood Madani, who heads his own wing of the Jamiat. Other sources, too, confirmed this suspicion.
Mahmood Madani’s role
The 26th January issue of the Hindustan Express, carried an article titled ‘May God Save the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband’ by a graduate of the Deoband madrasa, presently lecturer at the International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Dr. Atif Suhail Siddiqui Qasmi, which again hinted at Mahmood Madani’s role in the concerted campaign to unseat Vastanvi, although again without mentioning his name. Pained at what he saw as the baseless allegations being heaped on Vastanvi by his detractors, Siddiqui wrote, ‘The arguments being pressed to stoke the opposition to Maulana Vastanvi are weak, fabricated and conspiratorial’. He appeared to obliquely refer to Mahmood Madani’s role in the whole affair by asking, ‘Who does not know that some people have even gone to the extent of buying seats in the Rajya Sabha? Can we forget that he was first in the Congress, then, abandoning it, he joined Mulayam Singh’s party, and then, leaving that, too, joined the Lok Dal? Was this not an attempt to boost his political stature?’ Siddiqui bitterly condemned what he called ‘such political people who sell the interests of the Muslims’ (millat farosh saiyasi log) in no uncertain terms.
It appears now that the alleged role of Mahmood Madani in stoking the anti-Vastanvi movement is being much talked about in Muslim circles, although this has been little reported in the Urdu press. Pathetically seeking to defend Madani, the Daily Sahafat, which is in the forefront of the campaign against Vastanvi, retorted that Madani was ‘a popular Muslim leader who is deeply concerned about the Muslims’ and that despite being a Member of Parliament, he ‘never forgets to respect one and all, whether high or low.’ That was quickly dismissed as laughable nonsense by Madani’s critics.
For those who do not know, Mahmood Madani, member of the Rajya Sabha, he is son of the late Syed Asad Madani, who was styled by his followers by such bombastic titles as amir ul-hind (‘head of India’) and fida-e millat (‘lover of the [Muslim] community’). Asad Madani held the reins of power at the Deoband madrasa till his death in 2006. Having served as Congress MP for many years, he was responsible for a crisis in the Deoband madrasa even more serious than the current one. In the early 1980s, backed by Indira Gandhi, Aasad Madani and his followers among the Deobandi mullahs staged a veritable coup in the madrasa, forcing its then rector, Qari Tayyeb, to flee, and then filled the madrasa with Madani’s cronies. The hapless Qari Tayyeb, who was literally driven out of the Deoband madrasa by Asad Madani and his goons, with Congress backing and the willing assistance of the police, who were called into the madrasa, was then forced to set up his own separate madrasa, the Dar ul-Uloom (Waqf). After that, the Madani family, in the words of its critics, seems to have been treating the Deoband madrasa as their own ‘personal fiefdom’. The family has been accused by critics of making a vast fortune by dabbling in politics, all in the name of the Islamic and Muslim cause, using the Deoband madrasa and Deobandi frontal organizations that they control for this purpose.
Mullah’s irrepressible lust for power
The mullahs never tire of stressing the need for ‘Muslim unity’, but Madani mullahs, however, are notorious for their sinister political machinations, thriving on creating divisions and disunity, no matter what damage all of this does to the common Muslim, simply in order to feather their own nests, as the sordid anti-Vastanvi controversy so tragically illustrates. They seem to care nothing at all for the immense damage their irrepressible lust for power has done to the Muslims, whom they treat as their subjects, and to the name of the religion they so passionately claim to follow and defend. Soon after Asad Madani’s death, his brother Arshad Madani (whose son is married to Vastanvi’s daughter, and who is close to the Congress, as his brother was), and Asad Madani’s son Mahmood Madani, both dyed-in-the-wool Deobandi mullahs, fought a bitter struggle for control of the Deobandi mass organization Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, each claiming to be its head, and, through it, the leader of all the millions of the Muslims of India. And so, like in the case of the Deoband madrasa in the early 1980s, the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind split into two rival factions, both of which continue to be at stiff loggerheads with each other while simultaneously claiming the mantle of the original Jamiat. (Besides these two groups, a third rival Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind was established by one ‘Maulana’ Fuzail, another Deobandi mullah, in the 1990s when he revolted against Asad Madani).
Most despicable politicking
The same sordid story, of the most despicable politicking by the Madanis, now seems to have repeated itself in the present controversy, if the Hindustan Express and other sources are to be believed. As Mufti Abdullah Patel Mazahari, a senior Deobandi scholar from Gujarat who heads the influential Jamia Mazhar al-Sadat in Hansot, told the Hindustan Express, the controversy that had been engineered against Vastanvi has ‘forced the heads of the ulema to bow down their heads in shame’. He claimed that Vastanvi’s election as head of the Deoband madrasa had been widely welcomed by a vast number of well-wishers of the Dar ul-Uloom, but that ‘in line with an organized conspiracy, a terrible attempt was being made to spoil the madrasa’s honour and image’.
The viciousness with which Vastanvi’s opponents went about unseating him, unleashing all manner of abuse and insult, concocting fake allegations against him, such as accusing him of being a ‘Hindu’ agent (and thus insulting the Hindus as well), and inventing all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories only shows their moral and intellectual bankruptcy. It exposes the depths of depravity that they are willing to stoop to, not hesitating to lie and slander and instigate hate (all cardinal sins in Islam) simply to pursue their single-minded purpose of grabbing power and pelf, even if that means giving Islam, Muslims and supposedly ‘revered’ religious institutions, such as the Dar ul-Uloom, a bad name. All this, of course, they have done in the name of Islam and Muslim honour, a clever rouse, as always, to whip up Muslim passions and stir hate against chosen targets.
Shakil Khan is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com.