Interview: Arshad Madani

Arshad Madani: ‘We will work for nation’s integrity’

Print edition : November 08, 2019

Arshad Madani. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Interview with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind president Arshad Madani.

THE Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has been trying for several years to build a strong social bond with other communities. The organisation believes that the fate of Muslims in India is intertwined with the fate of their fellow countrymen and that the struggle against Hindutva forces has to be waged by all communities. The Jamiat, which has entered its 100th year, continues to believe in the power of persuasion, prayer and petition. Its president Arshad Madani spoke to Frontline about the organisation’s accomplishments in the past hundred years.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you look at the accomplishments of the Jamiat from 1919 to 2019?

The Jamiat today is different from the Jamiat before Independence. Then our struggle was to drive the British out. At the same time, we worked to bring all people, irrespective of their religion, onto a common platform. We united Indians at a human level. When ‘Sheikh-ul-Hind’ Maulana Mahmood Hasan [an important figure in the freedom movement] came back from Malta, where the British had incarcerated him, he continued working towards achieving India’s Independence. He did not live long though. He said, “Independence cannot be achieved till the time Hindus and Muslims unite, and if the Sikh brothers, known for their bravery, could be roped in, it will be even better. However, this will be accomplished only when people stop interfering in each other’s religion.” He came back in 1920, but the foundation was laid by Maulana Kifayatullah in anticipation of his arrival. The Jamiat was formed following a conference in December 1919 in Amritsar.

The Jamiat played a key role during the Khilafat agitation.

Yes, it did. Jamiat leaders believed that to defeat the British, it was necessary to make India free of colonial influence. They understood that they had to protect the Caliphate and asked Muslims to join the struggle against the British.

The freedom struggle changed with that. Muslims joined the freedom struggle in a major way.

Yes, that was the case. But, before the Congress was formed in 1883 [the first session of the Indian National Congress was held in 1885], a fatwa was issued on the formation of the Congress and Muslim participation in it. People asked if it was proper for Muslims to join the Congress. Hazrat Gangohi remarked that just as Muslims worked in partnership in business, Muslims and Hindus could join hands as long as their faith was not affected. The fatwa, known as Nasratul Abrar, was shared widely. Interestingly, the ulama gave a fatwa for participation in the Congress, but did not join the Congress. The ulama had fought against the British earlier. On the other hand, the Congress did not aspire for complete Independence. It sought to bring about greater cooperation with the British in the initial years. For the Jamiat, nothing short of Independence was worth aspiring for.

Was Jamiat not the first body to give a call for freedom in 1924?

Not just in 1924, even much before that. In 1803 when the British said, “The nation belongs to the Emperor, the people to Allah, but the command belongs to East India Company,” Shah Abdul Aziz, son of the great saint and scholar Shah Waliullah, declared that India was now enslaved and it was the duty of every Muslim to fight the British. At that time, nobody could stand in front of the East India Company. Because he took such a stand, he was poisoned; but he did not give up his stand.

In the 20th century, we are told that when the Simon Commission came, the Congress opposed the British. The Jamiat is not mentioned anywhere.

It was part of a larger conspiracy to undermine the contribution of the Jamiat. It will not be fair to blame the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] alone for ignoring the contribution of Muslims. The Congress, too, has been guilty. In fact, for long, the Congress has had members with a Hindutva mindset. They kept striking at the roots of the Congress. From the inception of the Congress to its burial—yes, the Congress is dead and buried for all practical purposes—the same mindset is at work.

Today, many BJP leaders are demanding that Muslims should go to Pakistan for opposing them. How do you look at it, especially since the Jamiat had protested against the idea of Pakistan, against Muhammad Ali Jinnah?

The Jamiat was the only party of Muslims whose leaders had their turbans hurled about in public. They fought the British at many levels for many years. They went to jail. History has no record of any occasion when the Jamiat joined hands with the likes of V.D. Savarkar or the Hindu Mahasabha. It always fought the British, and aligned itself only with those who were anti-British. It is disappointing, but times change, the ideology remains constant.

Yet the country has forgotten the Jamiat.

After Independence, we were advised by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to avoid politics. We feel that if the country had not been divided on communal lines, we could have continued to be in politics, but after the unfortunate Partition on the lines of religion, it was best to confine ourselves to social work. After Partition, many well-off Muslims shifted to Pakistan; only the extremely poor were left behind. If at that time the Jamiat had retained its political character, it would have been finished. If the organisation is still alive, it is because it is non-political. In 1953, I met Maulana Azad in Gali Qasim Jan in Old Delhi.

Once the Jamiat criticised the Congress and the Jana Sangh sought to capitalise on it. It asked Azad to leave either the Congress or the Jamiat. He replied: “One can leave the Congress, but not the Jamiat.” He was so rooted in the Jamiat ideology. He advised the Jamiat to work for the betterment of Muslims. It is because of this advice that the Jamiat started working in the field of education in a big way. Today, there are thousands of madrasas imparting education to the poor; there are so many mosques. The Jamiat is there to guide the community on every issue, be it the triple talaq case or the National Register of Citizens.

In June, the senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh functionary Indresh Kumar visited the Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh.

He did not go to Deoband to visit Darul Uloom or the Jamiat office. He went there to attend a function at a local college. He was advised by some people to go to Darul Uloom.

How do you look at the prospect of a Hindu Rashtra in a nation where you opposed the creation of a Muslim state?

It is because of the use of twists and tricks of politics. Those in power today have done nothing for the nation. Their policy is similar to the policy of the Muslim League. The League made Muslims mad with the thought of an Islamic state. The BJP is following exactly the same policy today, with respect to Hindus. Naturally, today when the majority is on one side and the minority is on the other, the majority’s view will prevail.

Is the BJP the other side of the coin?

Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and others helped establish a democratic system. With this democratic system, the BJP could not come to power. They had to change this mindset. In the name of religion, they won votes. (It does not bother them) even if the nation is destroyed.

At this juncture, the idea of India is in danger. God forbid, they might seek to change the Constitution of India, too.

What is the way forward for the Jamiat?

We have to help the common Indian citizen like we have been doing before. For instance, much before the National Register of Citizens, the Jamiat worked for the Muslims of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam and helped bring about a law under which it was the duty of the accuser to prove that the accused was guilty. They had to produce documents to prove that such and such a man was not an Indian citizen, not the other way round.

After Independence, when the Muslim identity was in danger, we gave them confidence. People joined the Jamiat to protect themselves. They would show a membership receipt to prove they were Indians. We protected their faith, and worked towards the community’s integration with the larger Indian nation. We will continue to work for the nation’s integrity and enable the community to play a larger role.

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