Wahiduddin Khan, the Maulana who brought about a revolution in the Muslim world, dies of COVID-related complications

Published : April 23, 2021 16:02 IST

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan with BJP leader L.K. Advani in 2009. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

For generations of Indian Muslims, he was the man who retrieved the Quran placed respectfully on the top shelf away from easy reach, meant to be read during Ramzan and on the death of near and dear ones, and placed it in the hands and even pockets of people as a source of guidance. Tens and thousands of Muslims used to read the Quran in the Arabic original without understanding a verse; the aim always was to gather points on the piety scale for afterlife. Then he provided easy to follow translations of the Quran's meaning in Urdu, English, Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Malayalam and other languages. It changed the way the community looked at the religious book. The Quran, people started believing, was meant to guide them in everyday life. Priced between Rs.25 and 35, he retained no copyright over the publication, making the books both affordable and legally printable anywhere. This was a revolution in the community. Until less than a couple of decades ago, the Quran used to be published in thick, unwieldy volumes, making reading a challenge. Then Maulana Wahiduddin Khan changed it all. Religion was not about intellectuals or clerics. It was about improving the common man’s life, he believed. With this belief, quite opposed to the thinking of many Muslim ulemma, he brought about a revolution in the Muslim world. The Maulana passed away from COVID-related complications earlier this week. He was 96

Unlike others, for him faith was not about didactics. He never gave those high-pitched sermons, never pontificated. Instead, he gave persuasive arguments. He believed in the power of reason even when his views were contrary to what the majority in the community believed. He denounced terrorism, he opposed separatism in Kashmir, and firmly stated that Islam had no room for terrorist activity. He believed in Kashmir’s integration with India and advised the Kashmiris to stay with India as it was in their interest. It did not endear him to many Kashmiris who believed he had become the mouthpiece of the Indian establishment.

For the Maulana it was not a new experience. Often he had to face such accusations. When at the heights of the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy, he advised Muslims to give up their claim on the masjid in respect to Hindu sentiments. The community branded him a ‘BJP maulana’, forgotten was his advice to the Hindu community too that they should not insist on any other mosque in Kashi and Mathura. Neither community listened to the soft-spoken Maulana.

He met with the same fate when he supported Salman Rushdie at the time of the Satanic Verses controversy, or later, when Rushdie was supposed to grace the Jaipur Lit Fest. While many Muslims wanted to boycott Rushdie, the Maulana believed that one should engage with him, have a dialogue with him. Predictably, it did not endear him to many.

Always dressed in a white kurta-pyjama or lungi with a loosely tied turban and thick spectacles, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan was among the early Muslim scholars to pitch in for family planning. He did not shy away from supporting the BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, known as a moderate in the party. He formed a Vajpayee Himayat Committee in 2004 to support Vajpayee in his political ambition. Yet again, he came in for much criticism, but he did not respond to the darts that came his way. Instead, he concentrated his energies on the Centre for Peace and Spirituality, which he had established.

Earlier this year, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, a landmark achievement at a time when the community often found itself under the siege. He is survived by two sons, including Zafarul Islam Khan, who was until recently the chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission.

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