You can’t show light to those who have chosen darkness: The Case of Imam Bukhari

The Delhi Jama Masjid. Photo via Wikipedia.

The Imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid has issued a statement that calls upon the Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh to vote for the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav. A whole lot of poll experts are going to rejig their forecasts to factor in this new and hitherto unexpected development.

We would be told that this call is going to alter the political equations in UP in a very profound manner. We will be told that the Muslim electorate is going to shift to the SP and that this shift will create serious problems for the Bahujan Samaj Party in its bid for a comeback and for the Congress that is making serious efforts to emerge as Number Two.

The assumption behind these two assertions is that Muslims who voted for these parties in the last election are going to desert them now because of the statement issued by the Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi.

Before the psephologists get down to business with their abacuses, their TINA factor analysis, their complex equations dealing with social demographics, voter fatigue,  identity markers and what have you, it might be useful for them to contemplate three questions:

  1. Is the Imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi recognised as a leader among Muslims in general, and among the Muslims of UP in particular?
  2. Do India’s or UP’s Muslims vote according to the diktats issued by their religious leaders?
  3. Are Muslims bound by diktats issued by religious leaders?

The answer to all these questions is a firm no and the reasons are fairly clear.

From the time that electoral politics began to be practiced in India, individuals who engaged in secular activities like politics but used a veil of religion, appeared on the scene. Thus emerged the Hindu Mahasabha, the Bhartiya Jan Sangh and now the Bhartiya Janata Party. Similar national or regional manifestations of this tendency include the Muslim League and its contemporary remnants in Kerala, the Akali Dal claiming to speak for all Sikhs in Punjab and the Kerala Congress as a party primarily of the Christians of Kerala.

There have always been parties that claimed to speak for all Indians, the Congress was one such and so were the Communists and the Socialists.

Initially, aside from the secular formations, there was one political party to each religious community but gradually this monopoly claim began to be questioned. So today we have a party or two that claim to speak for the Hindus of Maharashta, though they try to couch it in Maratha colours. There is a gentleman in Gujarat who has after presiding over pogroms including genocidal targeting of the Muslims and terrorising of adivasi Christian populations, now hopes to become the leader of all the Hindus of India by harping on Gujarati identity. There are outfits like the Hindu Munani and the Ram Sene and then you have the BJP. The Party of the Kerala Christians has also seen factional splits and mergers and so has the Akali Dal in Punjab.

From the time that Pakistan was created there has not been a single political party with a pan-India presence that could claim to speak for all Muslims. Over the decades, religious leaders among Muslims with pan-India acceptance have also gradually ceased to exist.

These two developments resulted from two separate processes, the Muslim League that had tied itself to the idea of Pakistan had no relevance for the Muslims of India and since they had chosen to stay on in Secular India they now gravitated towards secular political formations like the Congress, and in large numbers in Kerala and Bengal to the Communists, and in other regions to other political formations that professed secular politics.

Muslims who were traditionally seen as divided among the Sunni and Shia Sects had always been divided into a large number of sub-sects like Barelvis, Deobandis, Ahle-Hadees, Ahl-e-Sunnat, Tableeghi, Wahabi, Ismaili, Asna-asahari, Bohri, Khoja-Asna-ashari, khoja-Aghakhani and Ahmadiya many of these sects treat others as Non-Muslims.

The growth of majoritarian communalism in India by and large coincided with the beginning of globalisation, the end of the cold war, the projection of the clash of civilisations thesis and of Islam as the new enemy of democracy as defined by the likes of George H.W.Bush and  George W. Bush. The cumulative effect of this was targeting of Muslims and the resultant marginalisation, exclusion and ghettoisation of the Muslims in India not only physically but also intellectually. It is these processes that have combined together to trigger the firming up of minor fractious identities among Muslims. Muslims who were never one stand more divided today than they ever were.

In the face of such clear-cut cleavages it is impossible to have one universally acceptable religious leader for the entire community. It is not that these sects did not exist in pre-independence India, they did, but in the fight against imperialism and for freedom many of these sectarian considerations had become secondary, not only among the Muslims but also among other sections of the population.

That situation no longer prevails and so we do not have religious leaders like Mufti Kefayat Ullah, Maulana Ahmad Saeed and Maulana Hifzur Rehman to be respected and listened to not only by all Muslims but non-Muslims as well. The time when the biggest national party, the congress had among its leaders persons of the stature of Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Hakeem Ajmal Khan, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and others who spoke not as representatives of the Muslims of India but as leaders of India is long gone.

The time for  an All India political party to build itself up exclusively on the basis of a Muslim constituency is long gone, the same is true of those trying to build a Hindu or a Sikh constituency, but you can’t show light to those who have chosen darkness. The days when anyone could emerge as a national leader while championing the cause of only one religious community are also numbered but even this needs to be understood and there are many who refuse to understand, they instead try to assume this national role. Those trying to do this include former student leaders, bureaucrats and the Imam of Jama Masjid.

None of these individuals has a political base, you cannot contest and win an election on the basis of Muslim votes alone and Muslims have never voted enbloc.

There are sectarian divisions referred to above, there are class divisions -factory owners and workers, -feudal landlords and peasants, there are caste divisions, the so called  “Shurafa -the elite” and the “Razeel-the lowly”, the Syed, Sheikh, Pathan on one side and the Julaha, Badhai and the Bhishti on the other.

Is it any wonder then that there is opposition from the Shurafa with in the Congresi Musalmans to the proposed 4.5% reservation for the OBC Muslims.

The Big Picture, as the 24X7 breaking news channels should tell you if they begin to take their work seriously, is this:-

Muslims are not a monolithic community, they have never been one. Because they are not a monolithic community the constituent elements can and do behave and react as independent units and this includes making use of their grey matter in deciding who to vote for.

Since they have the capacity to function as free radicals within the body politic it flows logically that they will not vote according to the dictats of any one leader, because by definition a universe as diverse as the Muslims of India cannot  be guided or dictated to by one leader.

And finally coming back to the Imam of the Jama Masjid of Delhi, the gent does not lead a political party, has no mass following as a politician, he is not even an Islamic Scholar of the kind that Deoband produces, he is not even a Mufti and so cannot even issue a fatwa. Every Friday he speaks about the state of the nation and to the best of ‘his ability’ advises the Muslims about how they should conduct themselves in the affairs of the world.

How much they listen to his advise can be gleaned from the fact that at the time of the 2004 Lok Sabha Elections when he had joined the ‘Support Vajpayee Committee’ and had asked the Ummah to help re-elect Vajpayee as Prime Minister, he could not even ensure victory for the BJP candidate in the Chandni Chowk constituency within which the Delhi Jama Masjid is located.

If this is the influence he exercises in Delhi, one can imagine the earth-shaking impact his pronouncements will have on the electorate of UP.

Is it  possible that this bonhomie between Mr Bukhari and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav springs from the decision of the SP to nominate Mr Bukhari’s son-in law Umar Ali Khan to contest the Behat (Saharanpur) assembly seat in UP as an SP candidate?

11 thoughts on “You can’t show light to those who have chosen darkness: The Case of Imam Bukhari”

  1. Sohaibhai, in the news business we have this “inverted pyramid” concept which, if followed, might have meant that your brilliant last para, albeit sounding speculative/interrogatory, would have been the “lead”.


  2. I am inclined to agree with walkerjay. At the same time I congratulate the author for having written the expose. However his observation that majoritarian communalism coincided with globalisation etc etc. is debatable. I think it has a history of its own


  3. Its unfortunate and a pity that the Imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid dares to get involved in politics. It would have been a justice if he had concentrated to the task he has been given and help bring downtrodden and illiterate people around him to the light of civilization. His expertise is supposed to be in religious matters not politics and social science. How he dares to give political sermons to people. If he chooses the later job batter he should be thrown out of the Mosqu.e


  4. sohail you are very right and your very well written piece only reiterates the fact that it is best to keep religion out of politics and that politics should be about solving societal issues and not about gaining power for one’s own or one’s family’s (economic) betterment. you have illustrated that Muslims are not a cohesive society, they too have their caste and class divisions. how meaningful and helpful it would be for all of us, if the religious leaders could stop imposing their religious beliefs and ideology over masses? and if the aam janata stopped listening to their dictates? thanks again!


  5. The Imam of Jama Masjid should be chosen by the members of the community who use the mosque on a regular basis. Instead this imposter’s family has been recognized by successive governments in Delhi and at the centre as the “Shahi” Imam. When there is no Mughal Badshah what claim can this illiterate and stupid man have on the post of the Imam? I really don’t know if his ancestor really served as the Shahi Imam in the first place.


  6. Dear Suhail Saab
    Thanks for the wonderful and well-crafted article exposing the shallowness of Imam Bukhari’s political appeal. But as an insider to the community and the ‘vote bank’ can you enlighten me about the possible impact your celebrated ‘hetrogeniety’ would engender by deviding the community to bits and pieces in the political battlefield which is the only mass show a community can exhibit to have their voices heard?

    Secondly, beyond questioning the political appeal of Imam Bukhari (for which I will also join the bandwagon), the celebration of intra-community faultlines like caste and class and reinstating the already decomposed ‘secular’ votebank are indicative of bypassing the threats from communal BJP and political opportunism of the Congress which recently had showcased an ‘encounter’ to kill two UP Muslims in Delhi.

    Deconstruction is indeed a craft, but offering an alternative political platform is a Herculian task.


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