Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
30 October 2014
(This open letter to the so-called Shahi (Royal) Imam (prayer-leader) of Jama Masjid, Delhi, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, first appeared in The Hindustan Times on March 12, 2001. I was reminded of this today with the Imam deliberately creating a controversy by inviting the Prime Minister of Pakistan but not the Prime Minster of India for the ceremony to anoint his son as the Deputy Imam and his successor. He apparently did this to remind the country of his existence.
The real tragedy, however, is that this comical imam is taken so seriously by politicians as well as media. It is this that has made the man delusional. He can't even get a family member elected as a municipal corporater from the Muslim-dominated Jama Masjid area. But he is treated by political parties as royalty, as if he were the leader of the entire 150 million Muslims of the country.
It's time the government of India realised that the Mughal rule is over and there is no role for hereditary transfer of imamship agreed to by Mughal kings for their own funny reasons. We are supposed to be ruled by the constitution of India which has no place for hereditary succession to any post. Islam, of course, has very clear rule for the appointment of imams and from all accounts, members of Bukhari's family do not qualify in the presence of reputed scholars living in the area from where namazis to that mosque come.)
Dear Imam Saheb,
I am glad I did not go to the Jama Masjid for my Eid-al-Azha prayers. I would have had to walk out before the prayers. Muslims are supposed to follow in prayers an Imam who is the most pious and the most learned scholar among them. The Holy Quran is very specific on this point. With your Khutba (sermon) seeking to justify outrageous Taliban vandalism against a common human heritage, you proved that you are merely taking off in demagogy from where your father left.
If Indian Muslims were not sleepwalking through life as they are now, they would have thrown you out of the masjid before you finished denigrating Islam in your Khutba.
You sought to present the criminals and the lunatics who rule most of Afghanistan today as the biggest defenders of Islam. Had you studied Islam you would have known that there is absolutely nothing in the Holy Quran that can provoke Muslims to demolish the idols worshipped in other religions.
You conceded that Islam did not allow hurting anyone's religious sentiments. But you "could not denounce" Taliban mischief because their representative conveyed to you that "the Buddha statues are being destroyed as a reaction to the Babri masjid demolition". In other words, you are saying that while Islam does not allow desecration of holy places or relics belonging to other religions, it allows the same in retaliation for similar vandalism committed by followers of that religion. This, of course, is utter nonsense.
But even going by your logic, do you realise that the destruction of Buddha statues has hurt the sentiments of the entire humanity including the Muslim world? In any case, even taking into consideration your pusillanimous view of the world and faith, one could remind you that the miscreants who demolished the Babri masjid did not claim to be Buddhists. This merely shows what irreparable harm Shah Jahan did to Indian Islam when he agreed to make Imamship of the Jama Masjid hereditary, violating several specific dictates of the Holy Quran, making it possible for louts like you and your father to occupy the high office of the Imam of a mosque where Muslims from all over the country pray every day.
According to clear Islamic directives, only the most pious and learned of the ulema of the area from where a mosque draws its membership should be made the Imam. As Jama Masjid attracts Muslims from all over the country - if not the world - the Imam of Jama Masjid should be the most pious scholar of Islam within the country. Let me remind you of the circumstances that have led to Muslims being saddled with ruffians like you as Imam. Shah Jahan violated the Qur'anic system for the appointment of an Imam for personal reasons. His imperial ego was hurt by the fact that no matter what he tried he was forced to face the back of three people - the Imam of Jama Masjid, the Imam of Moti Masjid and Eidgah and the mahout of his elephant.
He thought it would be better to face the back of these people if they were imported from an Islamic centre of repute like Bokhara Sharif rather than face the back of desi imams for whom he obviously did not have much respect. To solve the problem of facing the lowly mahout, he wanted an imported Aalim to sit between him and the mahout. When he approached the Islamic scholars of Bokhara, they made it a condition that the post should be made hereditary. So much for the Islamic scholarship of Bokhara! This was a patently un-Islamic demand, though it may have been inspired by the natural insecurity of a man going abroad to face an uncertain future. In any case, Shah Jahan agreed.
The result is that we are still saddled with the oafs and thugs born in these families. When your father, the last Imam, resigned after making a seditious statement on Kashmir, we heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that born in the age of modernity you would be somewhat different. But we should have known better. After all, you come from a family of imams who had bargained with Shah Jahan and forced him to accept a patently anti-Islamic demand.
I am told, Imam Saheb, that unlike your father, you can read and understand a little bit of English. If so, please have a look at the March 8 edition of the Times of India that has published reactions of the spiritual leaders of other faiths. Maybe you could get some inspiration. There is Lama Doboom Tulku, a Buddhist, who is deeply hurt with the destruction of the Buddha statues, but asks people to treat even the vandals in Afghanistan with compassion. Compassion is after all the essence of all faiths.
There is Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu Aalim, and Valson Thampu, a Christian priest, who are in a self-critical mood and say that though we Indians are justified in criticising the Taliban thuggery, we should remember that our own record is not spotless. They, too, are referring to the destruction of the Babri masjid, among other incidents. But, of course, there is a difference in being self-critical and confrontationist.
You might also profit from reading the March 8 edition of the Hindustan Times. In a mood of compassion, its editorial concludes that we Muslims deserve a better Imam than you. I disagree.
We will have to prove that we deserve better by throwing you out of the Jama Masjid. But what I don't understand is why the government has to recognise you going by Shah Jahan's edicts even today. Don't they know the Mughal rule is over?
Courtesy: The Hindustan Times, March 12, 2001