Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Aligarh Muslim University and the Growing Intolerance for Dissent

By Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
06 December 2019
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is among the pioneering Muslim Educational institutions in India. AMU was established in 1920 and was based on the vision of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Sir Syed was an enlightened soul, a reformer with zeal who involved himself in social reform through Ijtihad. He was aware of the fact that Muslim reform can be made possible through religious and educational reform so he chose both these as fields for his activism and writing. His efforts did bore fruit as the university is still functional but his Ijtihad, educational program and religious opinions were diluted, pushed into oblivion, altogether rejected or hijacked. It was done by those forces that still are inimical to the legacy and reforms of Sir Syed. Those who have appropriated Sir Syed are the same forces against whom he struggled throughout his whole life.
These very forces with cult following and herd instincts have sabotaged every effort to get Sir Syed’s exegesis of Quran published by AMU. His books are not found in most departmental libraries of AMU. His exegesis of Quran is something taboo for most academics including those associated with Sunni, Shia theology, Arabic and Islamic studies department. Sir Syed continues to remain a stranger in his own bastion. His real message has been hijacked and appropriated by exclusivist and intolerant mullahs, against whom Sir Syed fought during his whole life.
No dissent, academic debate or intellectual stance on issues of public concern is taken by the academics of AMU. AMU has been retrograded to an institution where no Ijtihad in the spirit of Sir Syed is undertaken, instead it is desisted. Those who intend to undertake it are vigorously silenced. The latest victim of this campaign is the renowned Islamic scholar, ideologue, reformer and prolific writer Dr Rashid Shaz. He was heading the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims in India (CPECAMI) that runs the Bridge course. The course since its inception in 2013 has been running successfully and producing marvellous results. It enrols madrasa students after they clear the written exam and interview phase and trains them for one year in English language, computer skills and social sciences.
On successful completion of the course they are provided with 10+2 (HSE Part II) certificate. It makes them eligible to apply for undergraduate courses in various social science streams including media and law too. Hundreds of Bridge course students are now completing their undergrad courses at AMU and other institutions. Earlier the educational choices for madrasa students remained confined to vernacular languages and Islamic studies only. But Bridge course offers them wide variety of choices that has helped open new vistas career prospects. Another important aspect of Bridge course is the fact that it has helped to detoxify the madrasa graduates from their sectarian outlook and westophobia.
 Every madrasa student is fed and brought up on a strong sectarian diet and except for his own sect (Maslak) every other Maslak is a deviated group. But at Bridge course during the Inter and Intra Faith classes and Saturday debates that were conducted by Dr Shaz students are offered a different perspective. It helped them overcome the rabid exclusivist sectarianism. I have been keenly involved with the analysis and positive outcome of the Bridge course since its inception. My report about the Bridge course is available for free access on this link
The Bridge course was opposed since its inception by all those elements who felt threatened by the empowered madrasa students who have the potential to challenge the mullahs, their positions and interpretations of Islam. Rashid Shaz as the Director of the course was always in the eye of the storm. He as an independent scholar has already produced a corpus of literature that makes him stand apart from all. He is involved in Ijtihaad that the muslim mullahs so much desist from. Now recently he has been removed as a Director by the current Vice Chancellor Tariq Mansoor. His removal comes in the wake of a speech that he delivered at Bridge course regarding the Supreme court verdict on Babri mosque. Dr Shaz has been speaking and writing on issues of public concern as he is not some arm chair academic who follows the dictation from his boss and carries it out in letter and spirit. He is a public intellectual and long before he joined AMU as a Professor, he maintained a public life. He has been critical of the government policies if they were unjustified and condemned the Muslim clergy all through in his writings.
An objective analysis of his speech makes it clear that he did not use any provocative language to make his point. He further dispassionately makes the listener understand about the ground realities of Indian Muslims and the wrong policies of its leadership that have resulted in the current crisis. In the same verve of Justice Markandey Katju he says that the verdict was not based on justice and real injustice has been done to the conscience of Hindus as the future historian will write about this decision. At the same time he is critical of Muslim leadership about whom he laments that they still think that they are living in Mughal India and the madrasas have not overcome the crisis that led to their establishment in 1857 in which they were supposed to protect the faith from British and European onslaught.
Dr Shaz also decries the fact that Muslim leadership since 1987 played the Hindu versus Muslim card that led to the growth of animosity among the two communities. Quoting examples from Islamic history Dr Shaz emphasizes the fact that Muslims being the repositories of the last Divine message of God, have the responsibility to carry it forward to other Non Muslims but the Babri Masjid issue and its handling by Muslim leaders failed any such efforts as they prioritize community and Ego issues over the responsibility of reach out to the Non Muslim brothers. Further Islam does not permit to establish a mosque through spilling blood and whole world is a mosque for Muslims, so confining and declaring that mosque cannot be relocated is speaking in religious terms utterly wrong. Shaz then questions the Muslim leadership about their hypocrisy that if Babri mosque was a religious issue then how come non Muslim judges were acceptable to the leadership for deciding a religious matter?
Dr Shaz observes that after the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992 the Muslim leadership was left with no work so All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) jumped the bandwagon and through Babri issue the failed leadership found a new refugee. He calls this leadership as Kaapu who just work to intimidate Muslim masses from an unknown, perceived or constructed fear of Hindus or government onslaught. This Kaapu leadership, their families, cults enjoy a direct relationship with the government and in every case they remain safe from anti Muslim policies if the government enacts any. This leadership has always supported Congress that has led to the current dismal state of Muslims. So Shaz calls AIMPLB as a group of culprits because they have always failed to address the real issue and compromised over truth. It is evident from their stance on Triple Talaq because they supported it though Quran out rightly rejects it.
At the end Dr Shaz concluded with the hope that there should be a paradigm shift and a new innovative strategy to address the issues that Indian Muslims are baffling with. So for these views that call for an introspection of Muslims he was removed by the V.C who is alleged to maintain close ties with the ruling elite. If universities are not the places where issues are to be debated academically, then through which avenues we have to discuss, deliberate and articulate the alternative views? AMU after Sir Syed has been an institution that did not academically engage with factual realities on ground. Its most research has been quite disconnected with the society.
 It never challenged those in positions of power and rarely incorporated the voices of the downtrodden. Its culture has been hijacked for long by intolerant mullahs and pseudo seculars who continue to read and produce books but have stopped creative thinking long back. The unceremonious and unjustified removal of Dr Shaz points towards the fact that something is gravely wrong with Muslim minority educational institutions. 
M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at

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