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Islam and Sectarianism ( 12 Jun 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sectarian clashes in Bengal and Bihar: Removing imam from a mosque and preventing the burial of a Muslim on sectarian lines lead to violence

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

 June 13, 2015

Two recent incidents of sectarian clashes, one in Kolkata, West Bengal and another in Muzaffarpur, Bihar are indicative of serious growing tentacles of sectarian virus among Indian Muslims. In Kolkata, two days ago Muslims belonging to different sects clashed in a mosque on Friday after the Friday prayers. The police had to be called and the atmosphere is tense after a number of them were injured in the clashes.

The reason of the clash between two warring sects was the removal of an imam from a mosque in Kela Bagan in Kolkata. According to reports, the imam served in the mosque for about thirty years and all of a sudden he was replaced by another imam by the committee.

 At present, renovation of the mosque is on and taking this as an opportunity, the imam of the mosque was removed. This created tension among the Muslims of the locality who saw this as a sectarian move by the committee. 

After the Friday prayers, Muslims clashed with each other injuring about a dozen. The condition of some is said to be critical. The local people said that the committee did not take the people of the area into confidence before removing the imam who had served the mosque for about thirty years.

Another incident of sectarian nature occurred in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. A man called Muhammad Yusuf died in Manikpur village in Muzaffarpur district and some people of his locality sought the fatwa of the local Mufti Mutiur Rahman if the deceased could be buried in the local graveyard as he was a bad aqeeda person (a person of the ‘other’ sect). The mufti had reportedly said that he could only be buried in the farthest corner of the graveyard. This had given people a hint that he should not be buried in the graveyard. A section of the people there tried to stop his body to be buried in the graveyard. This created a controversy in Muzaffarpur town as general people expressed their anxiety at the fatwa as it was the first time that such a fatwa had been issued regarding the burial of a Muslim. 

Some religious scholars and intellectuals of Muzaffarpur condemned the fatwa by Mufti Mutiur Rahman. Reacting to it, Mufti Mutiur Rahman called a press conference in which he clarified that he gave the fatwa only for burying the dead in a corner of the graveyard and did not bar him from being buried in the graveyard. He further explained that he issued the fatwa in the light of the beliefs of his own sect and according to the books of his sect. He said that he said what the Shariat says about a bad aqeeda person and the villagers followed his fatwa. He said that his fatwa was not sought on any Wahhabi or Deobandi but only on a bad aqeeda person and so he did not mention the word Wahhabi or Deobandi. However, he questioned the basis of the statements of those who criticised his fatwa. “Since when have they become muftis?”he asked.

Mufti Mutiur Rahman insisted his fatwa was right on the basis of Shariat. There were other like-minded ulema in the press conference. In the conference, a twelve-point resolution was also passed. One of the resolutions was that the Sunni ulema and intellectuals who condemned his fatwa and criticised him should withdraw their statements otherwise a mass boycott would be ordered against them. 

On this occasion, he severely criticised the town Qazi of Muzaffarpur and senior religious scholar and demanded his removal. Maulana Rahmatullah Siddiquee of Mumbai, Maulana Qamruzzaman of Patna, Mufti Hamid Qadri, Sufi Abdullah, Mufti Imran, Maulana Hashim Raza and others were present in the press conference.

According to reports, after the fatwa, people had prevented the dead body of Muhammad Yusuf from being buried. After the administration’s intervention, the dead body could be buried after hours of effort at persuasion.

These two incidents are a hint of worse days to come. The sectarian divide is getting wider by the day and threatening the peace and harmony of the Muslim society. 

In West Bengal that has relatively been free of sectarian divide or the divide between the Ashraf and Ajlaf that is practiced so widely and openly in Bihar and UP did not simply exist as also the caste system among the Hindus of Bengal was not much at work because of the progressive nature of Bengal’s collective psyche. 

But in recent years, particularly with the growing influence of Tablighi Jamaat that is affiliated to Deobandi School, there has been a reaction from the Bareilvi sect as they feel insecure and threatened. As a result, they have intensified their campaign against the Tablighis and Deobandis, holding conferences or jalsas against the ‘Wahhabis’. 

People are persuaded not to have any social relationship with them, to not have water or food at their house or not to attend the funeral prayer of followers of Wahhabism. So, clashes erupt when one group tries to ‘capture’ a mosque by appointing an imam of the same sect. 

An imam is the pivotal person that gives the mosque its ‘colour’. If the imam is a Bareilvi, then the mosque will be a Bareilvi because the imam will ensure that the Barelvi practices are followed. Similarly, if the committee of is governed by people of Deobandi (Wahhabi) school, it will try hard to appoint a Deobandi or Tablighi imam. This is the time when people object and clash as they fear that with change of the imam, the nature and colour of the mosque will change and so will their faith for the worse or for the better.

The prevention of burial of a person of ‘another’ sect in a graveyard may mean that more such incidents will come to appear as sectarianism is contagious; it creates reaction from another sect. 

Even in West Bengal, there are other ahl-e-hadees groups that believe that those who do not offer five time prayers or do not grow beard should not be allowed to be buried in the graveyard of Muslims. 

Though these forces are not so powerful at the moment, but going by the trend, the day does not seem to be far when Muslims will generally be refused burial on account of sectarian aqeeda (faith) or perceived lack of it. 

This has become a cause of concern for general Muslims who think that a Muslim should not be prevented from being buried  in a Muslim graveyard as long as he professes La ilaha illa Allah Muhammadur Rasul Allah. His actions and deeds are for God to decide. Renowned journalist and resident editor of Asian Age Kolkata once said, “We are really very concerned at this trend. Whether one offers five times prayers or not is his personal matter and he should not be barred from being buried in a graveyard on this basis.”

This dangerous trend is not restricted to Bengal and Bihar but is growing in other states of India as well. 

Earlier, in 2008, a clean shaven Muslim called Muhammad Iqbal was beaten up in a village in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh for calling takbeer before iftar in a mosque as clean-shaven men were not supposed to do so according to the mullahs. As he left the mosque and ran inside his house, fundamentalists pelted stones and in the ensuing violence, his seven year old daughter was martyred.

South of India is not immune from this growing extremist virus either. The body of a 36-year-old Ahmadi woman (‘non-Muslim’, according to Mullahs of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat group of Sunnath Jamaat), which was buried in a graveyard in Chennai was dug up and removed on 1st of May 2012. 

A brief summary of media reports follows: The relatives of the deceased Mumtaz (36) of Alandur were denied permission by local Mullahs to bury the body in graveyards in Alandur, Royapuram and Aminjikarai. But she was buried by her family members in the graveyard on St Peter’s Road in Royapettah. Tension ran high with a huge Sunnath Jamaat crowd gathering outside the graveyard. Around 3.30 pm, the Sunnath Jamaat members dug up the body. It was taken in a corporation ambulance to Krishnampet cremation ground and buried there. 

This is the first time, something like this happened in Tamil Nadu where Ahmadis have continued to be buried since the inception of this sect in the town of Qadian in Indian part of Punjab in 19th century. 


The irony is that common Muslims do not support such extremist sectarian beliefs and are confused when mullahs like Mufti Mutiur Rahman issue such fatwa which they think are against the tradition. However, they feel helpless because they think that since these extremists are  called ‘ulema’ they may be right. And when the so-called ulema refer to ‘this’ or ‘that’ book, general Muslims fall silent so that their opposition to holy books may not border on kufr. 

It is the sectarian mullahs backed by petrodollars who are dividing the Muslims on sectarian lines. To thwart their sectarian teachings, intellectuals and real scholars of the Quran have to come forward and fight these enemies of Islam to purify Islam of sectarian virus, at least stop dividing the community in such a dangerous way. 

The process of changing of ulema from traditional Barailvi to Deobandi and Wahhabi started about 20 years ago in Pakistan and about a decade ago in India. In many places it took place without resistance as those wanting change were influential people with the power to get people jobs in Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Gulf. But as the pro-changers are becoming more and aggressive, a resistance is also growing. This has led to violence in several places in Bengal, Bihar and UP. in the last few years, though they generally go unreported in the media. 

It’s time community leaders came forward and reined in the aggressive ulema who want to replace Barailvi imams from mosques that cater to people who used to be overwhelmingly Barailvi until a couple of decades ago. 

Muslim graveyards should be available to all Muslims, regardless of sectarian beliefs or faith (aqeeda). No Mullahs have the right to decide who is a person of good aqeeda or bad aqeeda or practicing or non-practicing. Barailvi ulema too should be stopped from following their regressive and reactionary politics, damaging the society further, already reeling under a militant fundamentalist onslaught. 

Indian Muslim society should not be following regressive trends in Pakistani society while we have not followed progressive trends from Pakistan as in the case of change in Personal Law which used to be the same Anglo-Mohammedan law in the sub-continent before  General Ayyub Khan’s reforms in Pakistan. 


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