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Feud in Ajmer Dargah: Is It An 'Apostasy' To Speak For The Ban On Cow Slaughter And Triple Talaq?

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

06 April 2017

The prime Sufi shrine in India, Ajmer Sharif has been dragged into politics after the Dargah's Diwan (hereditary head) Syed Zainul Abedin issued his statement in favour of the beef ban and the abolishment of the triple Talaq. In his speech on the occasion of Urs, Abedin took a resolution that 'he and his family would never have beef for the rest of their lives'. Following this statement, Abedin has been 'sacked' by his younger brother Syed Alauddin Alimi who appointed himself as Diwan of the Dargah lambasting his brother with the charge of 'blasphemy' and dubbing him a "non-Muslim."

In an earlier article, Is Eating Meat an Obligatory Act in Islam?, this writer has illustrated with substantial theological evidence that beef consumption is neither desirable, nor mandatory in Islam.

One could only marvel at the sagacity of the several Sufi shrines' heads who endorsed the beef ban at the Ajmer Urs anniversary. They seemed to be more concerned with the restoration of communal harmony and religious syncretism in the country instead of showing the skewed religiosity.

More to the point, not only these Sufi hereditary heads who profess the Sunni Islam but also the Shia Personal Law Board sought a blanket ban on the cow slaughter. At the fifth meeting of its executive, members of the body raised the issue of cow slaughter and concluded that given the growing tensions between two communities, it is in the interest of communal harmony that the government bans the bovine meat. They too consider the slaughtering of the cow against the tenets of Islam, as detailed in this report. (

But the news about the Dargah Diwan being charged with 'heresy', 'apostasy' and being even castigated as 'anti-Islam' unravels the deeper malaise in the community. The hegemony of the priestly class--the Maulvis and muftis--in the Muslim society is crystal clear from this incident. Several news media outlets like the NDTV quoted Alimi as having said this:  "After I read my brother's statement in newspapers, I discussed with some Maulvis and Muftis who verbally told me that he has now become a non-Muslim due to his statement against the Qur'an. He has no right and authority to remain the Sajjadanashin. I then called an urgent meeting of the family and declared myself as the new Sajjadanashin". (

The abhorrent practice of Takfirism (declaring anyone Kafir or 'non-Muslim') is an acute problem in a large religious section of the community. The only panacea for this disease is that Indian Muslims come out of the priestly dominion of the clergymen who run the fatwa factories across the country. At the same time, it is about time that the derogatory terms like Kafir and Murtad (apostate) are removed from the common parlance, as they inevitably lead to the irreparable social damage to the accused. This often becomes the religious justification for the fanatics willing to take someone's life. In countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the accusation of Kufr or apostasy is like a 'hanging sword' in the society.  Therefore, several progressive Muslim countries including Egypt and Tunisia are trying to criminalise these terms declaring the law of apostasy as 'source of faith-based crimes'.

The 'grave sin' that Syed Zainul Abedin, the Diwan of Ajmer shrine, has committed is that he pledged not to have beef for the rest of his life with an aim to honour the religious sentiments of the Hindu community. He announced on the occasion of the 805th Urs of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Chisti that Muslims should give up eating beef, as it would be in sync with the principles of the Sufi saint who all through his life strived for peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims.

But in the same eve of the ongoing Urs ceremony, when Abedin was performing the shrine's rituals at the sanctum sanctorum, his younger brother occupied the seat of the Diwan and imposed himself as the new Diwan of the Dargah.  In his justification of this deed, Alimi asserted speaking to Firstpost: "I became the Diwan from Wednesday. The government does not appoint the Diwan since the designation of the Diwan is a spiritual one. Hence, traditionally our family has always taken a decision on these things and on Wednesday, when he made those statements against triple Talaq and in support of beef ban, I approached a Muslim scholar. The mufti said that everything the Diwan said is against the Sharia law and he is no more a Muslim. So we called an urgent meeting among our family members because a non-Muslim cannot retain the post of a Diwan. That's when the decision was taken to remove him and a fatwa will be issued against him." ( -sacked-by-brother-tagged-anti-Muslim-for-supporting-beef-ban-3368808.html)

However, the CEO of the government-appointed Dargah Committee avers that Abedin continues to be the Sajjadanashin as per the provisions of the Dargah Khawaja Saheb Act, 1955. He says that "this is a dispute between two brothers and the Sajjadanashin cannot be sacked or removed by such a move," as reported in The Indian Express. (

The bigger reason that landed Syed Zainul Abedin in this feud is his categorical statement that "Muslim men should end the practice of triple Talaq, which goes against the spirit of Quran".  In the presence of heads of various Sufi Dargahs of the country who gathered at the 805th Urs ceremony of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, the Ajmer Dargah’s Diwan condemned the practice of triple Talaq and its prevalence in the Muslim community. He stated: “It is inhuman, anti-Islamic and against the gender equality. Therefore, it should be shunned without any further delay".  Abedin also asked the question as to why some people in the community are reluctant to give up the practice which Quran and Prophet Mohammed never approved. "It is beyond the comprehension of a reasonable section of Muslim. Time has come to eschew the practice that victimises our sisters and daughters”, he said.  (

For holding these opinions against the cow slaughter and triple Talaq, Abedin has apparently been “sacked” from the post of Diwan by his younger brother, who not only imposed himself as the new Diwan but also declared Syed Zainul Abedin as “anti-Muslim” who is beyond the pale of Islam. In his justification of the Takfirist pronouncement, Alimi offered this argument: “By declaring triple Talaq as anti-Islamic, he (Abedin) has ceased to be a Muslim. He has lost the right to continue as the Diwan of Ajmer Dargah because one needs to be a Sunni and Hanfi Muslim for that”, as reported in Hindustan Times. (

An Ajmer-based journalist has reported that around 10-12 Muftis have been approached to seek the fatwa against Abedin. ( Inevitably, Alimi is now hell bent on considering his elder brother 'non-Muslim' and even 'non-Hanafi' (one who does not follow any of the four Islamic schools of jurisprudence). Although such pronouncements may not easily dismiss the Diwan of Ajmer Dargah form his position, but they shape considerable opinions in the legal decisions. To be appointed as the Diwan of Ajmer Dargah, one has to be a Sunni-Hanfi Muslim, as Alimi himself is reported to have said justifying his move. But the question is who decides who is a true 'Hanafi' or 'Sunni' Muslim and who is not? This family feud between Abedin and Alimi over the self-appointment of Diwan has turned serious with an ideological repercussion.  It reminds us of the harsh reality that the Takfirist trail of Islam which stemmed from Saudi Arabia has deeply penetrated in India now expanding to the Sufi shrines and Khanqahs. Only last year, the Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh castigated the Iranian Shiites as 'non-Muslims' as part of the political rift between the Saudi-Wahhabi kingdom and the Shi'ite revolutionary power in Iran.

But in India, Islam was never known for declaring a Muslim as 'non-Muslim' and for the castigation of people on the accusation of Kufr or 'apostasy'. In fact, the Sufi saints like Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, to whom the Ajmer Dargah is dedicated, is not known to have discriminated against anyone on the basis of religion or sect. But to the utter surprise of everyone, the very place of pluralism is turning out to be the battleground for a turf war between the self-imposed Sajjadanashins (descendants of the saint). Most regrettably, the Saudi-Wahhabi style of the Takfirist castigation is being replicated in India's Dargahs today.

One can only howl in pain to see this sorry state of affairs in the largest Sufi shrine in India. The grave threat of Takfir which loomed large only in the clerical circles so far has terribly caught the Dargahs like Ajmer Sharif which historically epitomised the harmonious living of the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Even the adherents of Sunni and Shia sects shared the spiritual values in Ajmer as a result of this syncretic culture. Throughout the post-independent Indian history, Ajmer never witnessed any incidents of intolerance among the followers of different faiths or sects. A high-level of religious tolerance has always been reflected in the city. But the peaceful and pluralistic legacy is at stake now when a self-imposed Sufi Diwan declares his own elder brother beyond the pale of Islam. 

To delve deeper into this feud, this writer talked to another Gaddi Nashin at the Ajmer Dargah, Haji Syed Salman Chishti. He briefed that "Abedin's statement might be politically motivated, as he is accused to be on the lookout for the media limelight. But for the last 800 years, Ajmer Dargah has served only vegetarian food at the Langar which is served to thousands of people. Let alone the beef consumption, even the chicken has never been served inside the Dargah. This tradition was built by our predecessors in the shrine who ensured that everyone is welcome in the Dargah with no distinction of faith and creed. Hindus brethren must feel that they can also eat at the Khawaja’s Langar. Thus, this place has set a remarkable example of religious syncretism in India”.

As a matter of fact, much like the Bhakti tradition in Hinduism, Sufism in Islam has always been a glue for harmony and social affinity in India. As long as Hindus and Muslims followed the universal values and the essential ideals of Sufism or Bhaktimat, religious discord did not prevail in the country. But both seem to have lost their spiritual paths under the influence of the political motives.

Related Article:

Is Eating Meat an Obligatory Act in Islam?,-new-age-islam/is-eating-meat-an-obligatory-act-in-islam?/d/104709

A regular columnist Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, is a scholar of comparative religion, classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication Studies.


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