‘A misconception is that the UCC will interfere with the Shariat’: Atif Rasheed

The BJP leader says people have made up opinions without actually understanding the depth of the Uniform Civil Code.

Published : Jul 27, 2023 11:00 IST - 7 MINS READ

Atif Rasheed, BJP leader

Atif Rasheed, BJP leader | Photo Credit: Ismat Ara

From first hearing Narendra Modi talk about the contribution of Pasmanda Muslims in a victory speech after being sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister for the fourth time to formulating the BJP’s latest outreach programme to bring Pasmanda Muslims into its fold, 43-year-old Atif Rasheed is the BJP’s Muslim OBC face.

An ABVP activist at Delhi University in his student days, Rasheed is now leading the charge to persuade Pasmanda Muslims of the BJP’s vision for his community. According to party insiders, BJP hopes to get the support of Pasmanda Muslims for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. So, despite the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and other Muslim organisations having opposed a Uniform Civil Code, the BJP is directly interacting with Pasmanda Muslims on the topic.

BJP member Atif Rasheed comments on the Uniform Civil Code. | Video Credit: Reporting by Ismat Ara, Translated by Abhinav Chakraborty, Edited by Sambavi Parthasarathy

This economically underprivileged sub-group constitutes a sizeable section of the Muslim population. Since Bakrid in June, Rasheed has been interacting with the community in New Delhi as part of an ongoing “Sampark Se Samarthan” initiative. He will hold pan-India dialogues, starting with an event in Lucknow on July 23. Sitting in his home-cum-office in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, Rasheed talks enthusiastically about the BJP’s vision and unveils his party’s pitch to woo Pasmanda Muslims with promises of rightful representation. Excerpts:

Also Read | Uniform Civil Code: Another step towards making India a Hindu Rashtra?

You have often said that there are many misconceptions about the UCC. What are they and how do you respond to the misconceptions?

In my opinion, 90 per cent of the Indian Muslim population isn’t actually able to understand the functioning and motive of the Uniform Civil Code. People have made up opinions without actually understanding the depth of the UCC. One of the main misconceptions around the UCC is that it will interfere with the Shariat.

I have seen a lot of Maulanas and members of Muslim organisations strongly oppose the possibility of any change in the Shariat. That would not be taken well by the community. They believe that it will restrict them from performing Namaz (prayer), Roza (fasting), Hajj (Muslim pilgrimage), and Zakat (charity), which is not the case. Every Muslim understands that these are the basic pillars of Islam and must continue to exist.

To all those who believe that the UCC is nothing but interference in the Shariat, my question is: why is their Shariat only limited to marrying four wives? When there is a case of rape, why don’t you ask for harsher punishment as per the Shariat? There should be a law against those who marry multiple women if the first wife files a complaint. I believe there should be reforms in divorce procedures. Divorce should be made easier irrespective of the religious background of the couple.

What factors do you believe contribute to the opposition of the UCC by Muslim bodies?

The flagbearers of the community are of the belief that no interference in the Shariat will be tolerated. As soon as a big Muslim organisation announces something with regard to changes in the Shariat, that is not tolerated. The Muslim community already considers itself the victims of BJP government and this has further pushed them away from our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. On top of that, Muslim organisations present it in a way that the community gets further enraged.

I personally believe this is done on purpose. Because people who are of the belief that the UCC will supposedly restrict Muslims are either unaware, or 99 per cent of them do it with the purpose of creating a difficult condition in the country by misguiding Muslims on purpose.

Political parties have always used sensitive topics like the UCC to create a feeling of insecurity amongst the uninformed groups and further use this during the course of elections. Just like the anti-CAA protests, where Muslims had a misconception that their identity as citizens of India would be taken away.

  • 90 per cent of the Indian Muslim population isn’t actually able to understand the functioning and motive of the Uniform Civil Code
  • One of the main misconceptions around the UCC is that it will interfere with Sharia
  • It is important to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims as 85 per cent of the Muslim population is Pasmanda

Will there be challenges in the implementation of the UCC? Is it even feasible in such a diverse country?

Since 2014, a lot of unexpected changes have happened, including the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, which has had a positive impact on the State’s people. I believe the Prime Minister’s resolve to introduce the UCC will also be successfully implemented. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the father of the Constitution, in Article 44, said it is the responsibility of Indian governments to try to introduce the the UCC.

How do you respond to the Law Commission’s 2018 statement that said the UCC was unnecessary and undesirable? Also, while emphasising Article 44, are you not overlooking Ambedkar’s stance that the UCC should be voluntary for all communities?

It is the job of subsequent governments to introduce the UCC. No government has made any effort for this until now. That is what the BJP is doing now.

Also Read | Uniform Civil Code: Tribal communities fear erosion of customary laws, cultural heritage

How would you respond to allegations that the UCC primarily targets Muslims, considering the Centre has assured exemptions to Christians and tribals?

Not just in India but across the world, minorities are more inclined towards their religious beliefs and practices. For example, Pakistani Hindus are more inclined towards Hindu practices and are more protective and intolerant of other’s opinions. It is the same for Muslims in India. India is home to the largest number of Muslims in the world, yet they are considered a minority; their inclination towards their religion is more and any interference isn’t taken well.

The Law Commission of India has asked for suggestions. I believe asking for opinions before compiling a law is the height of secularism. But political leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi said it will affect the Christians. Why not let them speak for themselves, sir? I want people to understand what the UCC is actually about. The UCC only concerns civil matters. Matters with regard to marriage, divorce, abortion, property, and adoption.

“The Law Commission of India has asked for suggestions. I believe asking for opinions before compiling a law is the height of secularism.”Atif RasheedBJP leader

Why have there not been efforts to engage with prominent Muslim organisations like the AIMPLB or Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind? Why reach out only to Pasmanda Muslims?

I am willing to have a proper conversation with anyone who doesn’t support equal rights for women, who is against adoption, and who supports multiple marriages. The misconceptions surrounding the UCC need to be corrected. Conversations in Muslim bodies should be around education, employment, and growth, not about triple talaq or polygamy.

But what is the rationale behind a pan-India dialogue specifically with Pasmanda Muslims? Is this influenced by their status as a targeted vote bank for the BJP?

I first heard the word “Pasmanda” during one of Modiji’s victory speeches in Gujarat as then CM. Modiji also talked about Pasmanda Muslims in 2012 in an English newspaper interview. When he was declared BJP’s PM candidate, I said it will be easy to connect OBC Muslims with OBC Modi as he would better relate to their pain. Before that, I had only heard the terms “OBC” or “backward”.

Even today, Muslims use these tags more than “Pasmanda”. They are educationally backward, and hence have many misconceptions about the UCC. When we started reaching out, we received strange questions about whether after the UCC they will be forced to offer prayers like Hindus and celebrate Hindu festivals. We had to explain that the UCC was Uniform Civil Code and not Uniform Cultural Code. Each person will be free to practise their religion; change will only come in civil matters. But Muslim bodies have created confusion around the UCC.

This is why it is the need of the hour to host dialogues with Pasmanda Muslims; 85 per cent of the Muslim population is Pasmanda and they are not going to support the demands of the 15 per cent Ashrafi Muslims. We have invited Pasmanda leaders, doctors, lawyers, women and will give them a detailed overview about what the UCC actually is and how it doesn’t compel anyone to follow a particular religion and gives freedom to all.

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