Voice of sanity

Print edition : April 27, 2018

Imam Imadul Rashidi of Noorani Masjid in Asansol. Photo: By Special Arrangement

An imam who lost his son in the communal violence in Asansol brings peace with his timely intervention.

One sane voice rose above the din of madness that gripped Asansol in Paschim Bardhaman district in the last week of March following a Ram Navami procession that raised provocative slogans like “ Topiwala bhi sar jhukake bolega...Jai Shri Ram” (One who wears the cap will also bow his head and say Jai Shri Ram). That was of Maulana Imadul Rashidi, imam of the Noorani Mosque in Asansol. On March 27, his son, 16-year-old Sibtulla Rashidi, who had appeared for his Class 10 board examinations, went missing. He was apparently picked up by rioters and beaten to death. His battered body was discovered in the early hours of March 29.

Around 10,000 people gathered for the boy’s funeral, and the anger and restlessness in the crowd was palpable. Sensing the mood, the imam took over the microphone and appealed for peace. “I have lost my son. But if you love me, for I have given you 30 years of my life, then maintain peace here. I do not want any more families to lose their loved ones. I do not want any more houses to burn. If there is any kind of retaliation [for my son’s death], I will leave Asansol,” he told the gathering. These words from a man who had to identify the dead body of his child hours earlier saved Asansol from further destruction and carnage.

“In him lies the true spirit of Asansol. Such people can only be found here. After such a great tragedy, Imam Rashidi saved the city,” Jitendra Tiwari, the Mayor of Asansol, told Frontline.

What strikes a person who speaks to Rashidi is the absolute calm in his demeanour and total absence of rancour following the incident. “I did what I had to do in the circumstances. I lost my son in the communal violence. He is gone. I accept that. I did not want anybody to lose a near or dear one. You have to value human life. So I asked everybody to help in maintaining peace. Violence would not have brought him back,” he said.

From where did he draw such emotional strength to calm people down? Said Rashidi: “I drew strength from the Quran and the example of the ‘sahaba’, the companions of the Prophet who underwent great torture but never once took to revenge. I remembered that the Prophet and his companions were persecuted for 13 years, and finally did hijrat [migration] to Madina, but they did not raise their hands at anyone. If I can do even a drop’s worth of what these luminaries did, I will consider myself lucky.”

Rashidi also asked his followers to desist from rumour-mongering. How did he prevent a greater tragedy? “I have been an imam in this masjid for 30 years. So people do listen to me. I could use my sermons and persuasive powers to tell people to exercise restraint. Again, I drew my strength from the Quran. Through Surah Hujurat, the Quran asks us not to believe any and every piece of information or news we come across. It asks us to cross-check things, else we might regret later. I remembered this message when I asked people not to be swayed by rumours, and maintain their calm, and crosscheck anything they might stumble upon. If people do not believe news like, ‘such and such locality is set on fire’ or ‘so many cars have been burnt’, and refrain from passing it on, the problem is much easier to solve. Rumour-mongering is an easy business in the age of WhatsApp, etc. A boy gets an undated video of violence from any place and passes it on. This has a ripple effect. So the best way out was to remind people about the message of the Quran.”

The imam also allegedly refused to cooperate with the investigating agencies to nail the killers of his son. Some see in it an attempt to shield the guilty. “What is there to be gained by such a mindset? People will always come to their own conclusions. My son will not come back. On the contrary, some innocent boys could be rounded up. And how can I point out anybody when I have not seen somebody killing my son in front of my eyes? He has been killed, but I do not want the innocent to suffer. I did not witness my son’s murder. I filed a complaint with the police. Now it is up to the police to identify the guilty,” he said.

The imam also spurned all efforts by parties to politicise the issue. “There has been a great effort to politicise the issue. So many political leaders of different parties, including the Trinamool Congress, the Congress party and others, have contacted me. I welcome them as guests, but I tell them, political parties come and go, power comes and goes, but they must do something for humanity.

“When a Minister from the BJP called up to condole the death of my son, I told him, ‘My son is gone, but you must make sure that peace returns to Asansol. We must strive to make it a city where people of all faiths can feel free and secure. Do something which makes the people of Asansol remember you for ever. The political power ends in five years, but good wishes continue forever.’”

The imam’s prayer was indeed heeded. Neighbourhood Muslim boys stood guard at the lone Siva temple near Noorani Masjid against any attack by miscreants. They also protected the houses of the Hindu residents, many of whom were out of station when trouble broke out.

“At the time of the Prophet, there were so many Jews, so many Christians, even those who worshipped idols, but the Prophet and his followers did not upset anybody, did not insult their gods. If we follow the teachings of the Prophet, not only will things be easy, we will also have the strength and patience to bear with any tragedy.”

His words for peace struck a chord with the State BJP president Dilip Ghosh, who said: “The imam has set an example by calming down the crowd and controlling emotions. Even after the death of his son, he ensured that the situation did not go out of hand.”

And there are people drawing a parallel of his act with the role of Mahatma Gandhi in Noakhali in the run-up to Independence. Rashidi rubbishes any such comparison. “I am a small man doing my duty, trying for peace and quiet in my very limited capacity,” he said.

With inputs from Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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