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New Indian Muslim Leaders: Plights and Possibilities

Vastanvi, a new age leader of Indian Muslims, has certainly arrived and sure to make his presence felt and provide the much needed balance.


By M. Singh

August 03, 2011

The Fortress of the Faith, Darul Uloom Deoband, has decided to remove Gulam Mohamad Vastanvi, the controversial rector.

Vastanvi and his supporters have termed the findings of the inquiry committee incomplete along with allegations of internal politics, pressure and interest groups using the opportunity to maintain the their hold over the respected seminary. His supporters are taking legal advice to approach the court as the institute has to comply with the established rules and procedures as per Societies act.

“I have been absolved of two allegations of Modi and Moorti, but they have not investigated who were responsible for the incitements of students and hooliganism.”

When asked about his past controversial comments, he replied by muttering, “No comments please.” He further explained that Draul Uloom is a seminary and there was no possibility of him ushering a new curriculum and modern education.

The controversy has mobilized the community on hereto untouched issue of new approach, like never before, as Vastanvi started getting support of the community at large throughout the country

The moderate leader and an accomplished educationist hailing from Gujarat was appointed in January as Vice Chancellor of Darul Ulooom, Deoband. He immediately found himself in midst of acrid controversies after praising the development underway in Gujarat and its accrued benefits to all including the Muslims. He had also advised Muslims to get on with important issues of education and jobs, rather than living forever under dark shadows of 2002 riots.

One of the primary reasons for Vastanvi's appointment as VC of Darul Uloom, was his ability to get along, as he turned out to be the candidate acceptable to both warring factions. His exemplary track record as an educationist, who might have brought in the fresh air could have been largely an unintended benefit. He has been associated for a decade and been a liberal Donner to Deoband too.

Starting with nothing apart from his zeal and vision from a thatched roof hut with 6 students, he gradually built the huge education infrastructure in 30 years because of his positive approach and hard work, benefiting over 250, 000 students, half of them were provided free education. Unfazed by the controversies, he has gone ahead with his fund raising campaign in west for a new medical college and hospital.

But in highly politically correct, lip service prone India, such achievements and merit have always been immediately scarified for well entrenched political expediencies. If an assessment of response about Vastanvi is made on the basis of online comments made, he has less admirers with in his community, while the appreciation is wide spread amongst the non Muslims.

Echoing the majority views prevailing in the Urdu press, displayed extension of well entrenched biases, some Muslim commentators have even responded with angry criticism of his fund raising in west, and denounced it being an anti Muslim venture. His net supporters have been severally abused and heaped with strings of unprintable names, laced in abrasive religious, caste and racial prejudices.

The critics have lost no time in calling him a pathetic sellout and stooge of BJP, a political party, pursuing right wing Hindu agenda, along with unacceptable behaviour of a Muslim distributing idols of Ram and Krishna in a function. Interestingly, in recent past, even the noted Marxist leader from West Bengal was severely criticized for offering puja and accepting prasad from a Hindu priest, during last parliamentary election.

Boldly combining modern education and ethos with religious teachings, thousands of poor students benefit from scholarships for higher education, under his leadership. Vastanvi has been personally behind construction of about 4500 mosques across India.

His, brainchild Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom plans to double the intake of students in all major courses of management, engineering, teaching, medicine and pharmacy. About 15 institutes being ran in Akkalkua alone are modern campuses of swanky buildings with international look and Internet connections. A 100 Cr (about 23 Million US $) Medical University is coming up in Jalana.

His supporters are convinced that, he is also being punished for displaying a new vision and imparting modern education to the student, an age old anathema to old guards of Indian Muslims Leaders, who abhor changes and love old ways.

Other the other side, even during last January when the controversy exploded, influential old boys' forum of Deoband announced that they would come out in strong opposition of the Shura Council if it decided to press for Vastanvi's resignation.

Deoband has never been free from such fierce inner wrangling, but a new bench mark has been established. During the controversy, dissensions were also hotly debated among the ordinary’ Muslims, unlike in the past, when these issues had remained largely limited to the insular clerics themselves. His appointment and removal is internal matter of Darul UIoom as well as an indicator of how the Indian Muslim community is grappling with the visible change in the leadership.

If we view the related events and discourse in the larger prospective, a welcome shift is indeed visible. The new breed of Indian Muslim leadership is bursting out and trying to redefine, the popular but highly dysfunctional, divisive, age old cast iron narrative built and nurtured on perennial angst, conflicts and pains of past.

If his elevation as rector, a consensual candidate, though part of an on going internal power struggle, was seen as significant development, signalling the belated arrival of new leadership. The eviction showed that the old guards were deft in exploiting the opportunity to revive their hold. Elevation of Vastanvi was also seen as result of an attempt to deftly blunt and gradually remove the six decade hold of Arshad Madani and his family.

Being the first outsider to head the important institution, liberal Vastanvi is also the first non north India, non Sayed and non Shaikh person to head the seminary. Many students, who remained his silent supporters, were hoping that he would some how be revamping the old, uninspiring syllabus and make it more in tune with demands of time.

Many Liberal Muslims intellectuals, have reported to have privately lambasted the well known political mechanization, intrigue, culture of malice and antagonism of Arshad Madani to maintain and regain the hold over the institution; he fancies as his own family heirloom.

The struggle is with in family too, as he is closely related to Arshad Madani. With out naming his relative and rival, Vastanvi has expressed strong views against treating a community asset as own for personal benefits.

The Urdu press has vehemently opposed Vastanvi for the unpardonable, cardinal sin committed by praising the on going development in Gujarat and its accrued benefits to Muslims. The collective print media onslaught is believed to have been engineered by supporters of Arshad Madani.

Few Urdu newspapers who praised Vastanvi are being severely ridiculed for their Qadiyani behavior, and his supporters are termed as Saffron minded moderates.

Veteran journalist M. J. Akbar has called Vastanvi a remarkable person, who has demonstrated ability and skills to address problems of the community.

Ameer Raza Husain, the noted theatre director wanted the freedom of speech be respected and appealed for a reasonable response.

Barbara Metcalf, writer of Deobandism and author of the brilliant A Concise History of India, opined that arrival of Vastanvi on stage signals a ‘breath of fresh air’ to counter the traditional scholars, or the ‘old guard’. She has acknowledged his credentials and skills in addressing what the new generation of Indian Muslims have been saying are their real interests: education, employment and integration into the mainstream.

Anwar Ali, an advocate has expressed his support in followings words on Milli Gazette:

“The importance of ‘difference of opinions’ and ‘principled or constructive opposition’ is something else but dirty and stinking politics based on selfishness and malice is distasteful to every one. The words and sentences too that are used for Vastanvi Saheb are below the level of decency. They are in negation of all canons of civility and ethics. As a lawyer, I would advise Vastanvi Saheb to file a criminal case of contempt against all those people in a civil court. Those leaders and ulama who are collecting wealth from within and outside the country and monopolizing Darul Uloom Deoband do not want to see Molvi Vastanvi as its rector.”

Rehan Ali and his brother Mavi Ali scions of an old zamindar family from Deoband , said they will file a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court against Vastanvi's dismissal and get well known lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan to contest the case.

Supporters of Vastanvi are becoming hot potatoes for the political parties, who have played minority card and vote bank politics . As a result Mavi was immediately thrown out from Samajvadi Party after he criticized Vastanvi's rival Arshad Madni and reposing faith in the liberal-reformist Gujarat cleric.

But the well known old guards and perennially angry Marxists were quick to mouth age old angst and anger along with total agreement that this MBA-Facebookwala is not the right man to head the respected seminary.

Kamal Farooqi ridiculed the repeated mention and importance given to his MBA degree by the media and found his removal justified.

Marxist Shabnam Hashmi breathed fire and strongly denounced him and his misdeeds

Prof J S Bandukwala, president of the Gujarat People Union for Civil Liberty, welcomed the move. “I am glad that Vastanvi is no longer heading the Darul Uloom”.

Website Bismillahnews has reacted with following words::

“Heartening is the decision by Saudi Arabian Newspapers particularly Arab News and Saudi Gazzate to ignore the News of Vastanvi totally,there was no coverage in major Arab Newspapers.The main business of Vastanvi Inshallah of collecting donations from Muslims countries will also be immensely effected because of his nexus with BJP an anti-Muslim,anti-Madrasa education party. Madrasa’s in India exist with Allahs blessing and Inshallah would continue to flourish,despite the agents of Hunood, Yahood and Nasara trying their best with money power to change the curriculum of these madarasa’s to suit hunood,yahood and Nasara. May the enemies of Madarasa’s, maloon, mardoods, in the name of producing Engineer’s,Doctor’s,MBA’s be cursed by almighty Allah for distorting Quranic teachings and Allahs deen.Ameen.Summa Ameen.”

In recent past the seminary has found itself embroiled in controversies about extension of regressive beliefs and biases along with new emerging threats.


Last year, the seminary has been criticized for turning itself in to a fatwa Factory, promoting the most regressive ideals and thereby ruining countless marriages along with a sense of fear among women. Darul Uloom opined that even if a person has uttered the word ‘talaq’ thrice and his wife couldn’t hear it, the divorce takes place.


Early this month, Darul Uloom has asked the Saudi Arabian government to ban Ahmadiyas (Qadiyanis) from visiting Makkah and Madinah to perform Haj and Umrah (mini-Haj). The seminary's vice-rector has alleged that many Qadiyanis from India disguise themselves as Muslims, they are misguided and may mislead other Muslims.
Qadiyanis have been declared non-Muslims in countries like Pakistan from times of ZA Bhutto and face severe prosecution, oppression and cyclic massacre .

Tahreek-e-Taliban Hindustan:

There is an email message floating on net from a so-called Tahreek Taliban Hindustan, using the Darul Uloom Deoband insignia, circulating the following message:

“This Country ‘India’ was never a nation of Hindus. It was ruled and governed by Muslims for hundreds of years. And we the students of Tahreek-e-Taliban-Hindusthan, demand that the Muslim majority areas should be and must be ruled according to the Sharia Law. Therefore we pass This verdict from today onwards that all the non-Muslim living in Muslim majority areas should start paying ‘JAZIYAH".You have only three choices: (1) Convert to our great faith ‘Islam” and u will be safe. (2) Or pay the Jaziyah on our terms and conditions and live. (3) Or accept our challenge and fight us on the battle field.”

The seminary has quickly distanced itself and denounced the mischievous email and its lunatic message. The mischief mongers or a radicalized fringe group of Indian Muslims could be behind this attempt to create fear and communal disharmony in India.

According to an article in The Economist, These days Gujarat accounts for 5% of India's population but 16% of its industrial output and 22% of its exports. Its growth has outpaced India's and it wins accolades from business people. A recent comparison of Indian states by McKinsey, a consultancy, waxed lyrical about Gujarat. It might yet play the role of industrial locomotive for the country, as Guangdong province did for China in the 1990s. There is lots of excited talk about exporters switching from China to India. Sanjay Lalbhai, the chairman of Arvind, a textiles maker and clothing retailer based in Ahmadabad, says such a move is "imminent" in his industry.

A new age leader of Indian Muslims, has certainly arrived and sure to make his presence felt and provide the much needed balance during important future discourses or conflicts. He can not be a lone passenger in his torturous journey from obscurity to prominence and there are others with same vision and zeal to address the myriad problems.

Vastanvi has thundered, “I am not some one be taken lightly, as no one can dent my resolve to be truthful and do the right work for the community.”

Having achieved the prominence and firing the imagination, it is yet to be seen, how he conducts himself and guides his swelling vocal and silent followers towards the lofty goals.