By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
22 November 2019
Writing in these pages, I had suggested that in all probability, the all-important judgment in decades will be in favour of the temple. The reasons for this was certainly not that the Muslim claim rested on a weaker premise, but that given the recent judgments of the highest court on the finer points of personal liberty, it was becoming increasingly clear that there was a certain worrying closeness between the government of the day and the highest court of appeal in the country. Therefore, in its essence the judgment was an act of political management rather than that of legal jurisprudence. Even those who are sympathetic to the right wing Hindu ideology are having difficulty in justifying the judgment. But then this article is not about the Supreme Court or the ruling party, rather it is about the Muslim response to the whole issue.
Ever since the matter was in the SC, we Muslims have consistently maintained that we will respect the verdict, irrespective of the outcome. So what has happened now? Why is it that we are reneging on our promise of respecting the SC judgment? Or was it that we were supremely confident that the SC judgment will be in our favour? This would certainly mean that our faith in the judicial process was a mere strategy and not a principled stand. Now that the judgment has gone against us, there is a growing clamour that we should file a review petition.
Now, it is no body’s case that review petition cannot be filed. Any aggrieved party is well within its rights to do so. The point fundamentally is what purpose is it going to serve when in an overwhelming majority of cases; the SC does not entertain review petitions. But perhaps that is missing the point. The point of the review petition may not be upholding the idea of justice but is only meant as an exercise for some Muslim faces to remain politically relevant. Which brings us to the most important question: who are these people representing us and filing petitions on our behalf and what are their reasons for doing so?
The original litigant in the case is the Sunni Waqf Board and there are conflicting reports whether it wants to file a review petition or not. However, there are other players which have made themselves as ‘stakeholders’ and have anointed them as spokespersons of the community. The foremost amongst this cabal is the AIMPLB. This rump, consisting of rag tag Ulama, many of whom cannot get elected from even their respective hometowns, has been around since 1973. Needless to say that the Board came into existence with the benign indulgence of the congress party which wanted pliable intermediaries through which it could control the Muslim community. In its philosophy, the Personal Law Board treats the Quran and the Sunnah as the fountainhead of Muslim cultural life (not just religious) and the safeguarding of the laws that flow from these texts is supposed to be the prime duty of every Indian Muslim.
Comprised largely of Deobandis and reformed Sufis, the Board has largely been regressive when it has come to women’s rights. There have been moments when it has rejected secularism as an interference in their personal religious matters. And yet the same Board today wants to uphold secularism in this country. The Board came into prominence during the Shah Bano agitation when it largely argued that the supreme court of the country had no authority to pronounce a verdict on matters of Muslim personal law. In short, much like the right wing Hindu parties of today, it argued that its faith was above the constitution of this country. Some members of the Board at that time had even argued that a Hindu judge cannot pass a judgment on matters relating to Shariat. It is rather strange that today we are aghast that a Muslim professor is being stopped from teaching Sanskrit at a leading university in India. The genealogy of hate runs deep in this country and we Muslims have certainly played our part in its dissemination. Its second moment of fame came during the Imrana rape case, where a father in law allegedly raped his daughter in law. In its divine wisdom, the local Ulama asked the victim to marry the rapist and decreed that the earlier husband had now become a son of the raped woman. The AIMPLB wanted to correct the ‘Muslim image’ which had received its fair share of criticism and therefore constituted a fact finding team. But rather than giving justice and relief to the woman concerned, the AIMPLB argued that no rape had happened at all.
And of course, the Board’s ridiculous affidavit in the matter of triple Talaq is too fresh in memory to be recalled for its absurdities. The Board, although talks of inclusiveness but till date does not allow Ahmadias to be represented in the Board. Before fighting the right wing Hindus for their exclusivism, how about the Board teach itself some lesson about inclusivism. But then that is too much to expect from them.
Then, there are other interesting characters. The Jamaat e Islami is there too. And it is an organization that wants the creation of ‘Islamic system of governance’ in India. Its spokesperson recently fought an election from West Bengal where he could barely save his deposit. But the more important to ask is how such an organization (which wants to bring Allah’s laws on earth) can fight for secular constitutional principles. We need to ask these Islamists how they find their Nizam e Mustafa compatible with our secular laws.
Then there are the Barelwis (or whatever is left of them since they have their own personal law board now) and the reformed Sufis. They have been always opposed to any reasonable expression of dissent or critique within the Muslim community. They spearheaded venomous campaigns against Muslim women who were campaigning for the abolition of instant triple Talaq. They called them names and even stooges of the ruling dispensation when in reality; all that these women were asking was a minute reform of the Muslim personal law. That fight is still going on. But for these self-seeking Ulama, any expectation that they will change their stance is hoping for too much. They are demanding rights from the state as minorities but they will never extend the same rights to the minority within the minority.
Also on board is the emerging and extremely popular leader from a political party in Hyderabad. For some time now, he has been speaking for Muslims, demanding their rights within the Indian constitution. However, couching everything in Islamic terms is not going to take him too far. Moreover, when he is not demanding these rights for Muslims, he is doing exactly the same things which he accuses the Hindu fanatics of doing. Lest we forget, his party organized the boycott of Taslima Nasrin’s talk in Hyderabad. Not just that, his MLAs threw power pots at her while she was speaking. So when Mr. Owaisi laments that there is no freedom of speech for Muslims in this country, is he willing to extend the same courtesy to those who are critical of Islam? Perhaps not as he has hardly learnt any lessons. Just before the recently concluded Maharashtra elections, he forced his MLA candidate to apologise simply because the said candidate had visited and prayed at a Hindu temple while campaigning. Certainly Mr. Owaisi would not like to be reminded of these episodes while he criss-crosses the country complaining of Hindu intolerance.
Hypocrisy does not lead us anywhere. We need to reject these leaders not just because they have failed us time and again but because they are deeply regressive. Muslims need enlightened leaders who talk about education and employment. More importantly, they should also talk about reforming certain aspects of the personal law which have a tendency to create a negative stereotype in the minds of the majority community. It is time perhaps that some Muslims went to court and argued that these so called stakeholders do not represent us. They just represent themselves and their myopic interests.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com