New Delhi: In addition to being a Rajya Sabha parliamentarian from the Rashtriya Lok Dal party, Mahmood Madani is a leader of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind, a large Islamic religious party that opposed India’s partition in 1947, as well as a key player at the Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband in Uttar Pradesh.
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The Deoband school is a leading Islamic seminary in India, whose religious thought has been invoked by the religious right in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban in its fight against a modern Afghan state. Madani’s grandfather, Maulana Ahmad Madani, was in the forefront of the independence struggle and opposed Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s struggle for Pakistan. At a time when India has faced several terrorist encounters following which the word terrorist has increasingly become synonymous with Muslim in many sections of the media, Madani spoke to Mint. Edited excerpts:
A lot of Muslims are being accused of being terrorists these days. Is this having a negative impact on the Muslim community in India?
This is absolutely right. The way in which terrorist incidents are taking place in the country, there are two problems: firstly, the attitude of the investigating agencies. Instead of carrying out a multi-dimensional investigation, they are carrying out a pin-pointed investigation against the Muslim community. It has become (a common) perception that if there is an incident then it must have been done by a Muslim, that Muslims are behind this, and so the direction of the investigation is also towards us.
Problem is the real culprit gets away. And, when this is presented to the media and the media broadcasts it across the country, with the communal situation in our country being what it is, people begin to believe (the worst).
Stop the targeting: Mahmood Madani, of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, says the common perception now is that a Muslim is responsible for any terrorist attack—and that intelligence agencies are carrying out pin-pointed investigations against the Muslim community. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
There are several consequences to this, to the communal fabric as well as an increase in alienation within the Muslim community. Several Muslim organizations, who I would call blackmailers, also get the opportunity to scare and frighten other innocent Muslims on the excuse of protecting them.
I would like to ask you about the recent encounter in Batla House in Jamia Nagar in Delhi as well as in recent months across the country. All those accused are Muslim. What can you say about that?
About the Batla House encounter, some doubts have arisen in the minds of people and some have been created. Today, the situation has become so that one section of Indians feel that even if there is a judicial inquiry into Batla House, the morale of the investigating agencies will be lowered. But we are saying, that in such a situation when a police officer has been killed, agar doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani kar diya jaye (if we can separate water from milk and arrive at the truth), only then can the morale improve.
But who were these people? Many Muslim leaders are saying they were not Muslims at all…
Shall we treat these accused in the same way that convicts are treated? They are innocent until proven guilty. Even if they are not innocent, they cannot be treated as guilty until the courts do this.
So if you ask us, who are these people, we will simply say they are those Indians who have been convicted by the courts.
So you are saying they should not be treated as “Muslim” terrorists or “Muslim” accused?
However, the fact is that most of those involved in these incidents are Muslim…
No. Are you saying that only those who live in northern India are Indians? Isn’t Assam a part of India? Aren’t the Naxalite-affected areas India? I don’t want to mention terrorism in those areas to justify terrorism here (in north India). Of course if you want to talk about Delhi only, then that is fine. But if you want to talk about the entire country, let us see the figures, let us see how many (terrorists) are Muslims and how many are non-Muslims.
You feel that Muslims are being given a bad name?
They are being defamed, they are being demonized, and the media is playing an active role in this process.
Why is this happening?
That question should be asked to three groups of people: to the political system, to the investigating agencies and to the media.
As far as the political system is concerned, you have been meeting the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. What do they have to say about this?
The PM has always said that this should not happen, he even called a chief ministers’ conference about a year ago where he said very clearly that no community should be treated like this and that Muslims are being targeted.
But since the Congress party is in power, would that mean it is not fulfilling its responsibility?
We must have a holistic approach between the political class, the investigating agencies and the media. Unless we work together we will not be able to understand this problem properly.
The PM believes that things should not happen in the manner in which it is being done. But if he alone wants this, it cannot happen, because this is a burning issue and politics is involved fully.
On the one side, there is the ruling class, on the other, the opposition, which feels that the laws are inadequate, if they were tougher then terrorism would have been fully controlled by now.
But, despite the fact there is so much pressure from the Opposition, the ruling party is unable to do anything. Do you feel the party is also involved?
I cannot say this, just like I cannot say that some Muslims are innocent and some are guilty.
But the Congress, why can’t it say that what is happening is wrong?
How can they say this? Please understand one thing, the way people are being killed, ordinary Indians are beginning to find it difficult to walk on the streets… I said this in Parliament, too, that ordinary Indians are beginning to feel insecure, that if they go to the mosque or the temple and they may be killed… But the Muslim community is now facing two kinds of insecurity. The first, like other Indians, that they may be killed in terrorist attacks, and the second, that in the name of investigation, the arrests will start... It has happened to me as well. I was at the airport and I heard a small voice telling his mother: “Mother, look, here’s bin Laden!”
Osama bin Laden?
He didn’t say Osama, he only said bin Laden. When I turned around to see, he was such a small boy, a boy who could not even have been reading or made to understand what is going on. That if you see someone with a beard or cap or kurta-pyjama that he is not bin Laden. Just like when you show a school-going child a picture of a man with horns on his head and long teeth on either side, and you ask him, who is this, and he will say, it’s a rakshas, a demon. He will say that, won’t he? Muslims are beginning to acquire the same face.
The whole situation has become so fragile and so serious at the same time that civil society, the political class and the police must together work at fixing it.
I will give you another example. A senior leader of the Samajwadi Party, today, is holding several meetings and talking about Muslims being killed in fake encounters, about human rights. I feel good about it too. But I question their motives. When their party was in power in Uttar Pradesh, a maulvi named Maulvi Zubair Iman was picked up from the mosque, killed in one place and shown that he died somewhere else. Even till today, nothing has been proved.
It is all a political game that is being played out in the name of national security. On the one side, there are these people who are provoking Muslims, on the other hand, there are those people who are saying that if we have a judicial inquiry (into the Batla House encounter), then the morale of the police will be lowered. What does this mean?
So, on the one hand, there is the Samajwadi Party and, on the other, there is the BJP?
I am talking about all parties, including people in the Congress party.
In 1947, your grandfather, Maulana Ahmad Madani was a big leader who spoke up against Mohammed Ali Jinnah…
Absolutely true. He opposed the two-nation theory and looked at composite nationalism in the framework of Islam. He said it was un-Islamic to demand the two-nation theory. He wrote a book called Nationalism and Islam and invoked the Quran and the Hadees to prove that the demand of the two-nation theory is not Islamic. That was composite nationalism, and we still believe in this firmly.
Today, after 60 years, do you feel there is a partition of the mind in India today?
Absolutely right. We cannot divide our India, but the people are being divided today, their minds are being divided. And to a great extent, they are succeeding. (But) for Muslims, there is no better country than India, no country in which Muslims are doing as well as they are doing in India. Our complaints, our objections, our problems exist, and we will continue to fight our fight for justice, but in other countries the situation is much worse.
One question on Darul Uloom Deoband. People such as Osama bin Laden said they get inspiration from the Deobandi school of thought…
Yes, the Taliban do say that they are Deobandi. However, the Deobandi school is not a political school of thought, it is a religious school. What our forefathers have done in Deoband, in this school of Islam, the Taliban follow this. But the fight they are fighting is a regional, political struggle. If they call themselves Deobandi, then why is it our fault?
When the Taliban invoke the Deoband in their fight, what do you say?
I will only say one thing. Please don’t mix the Taliban’s fight in its own region with the religious school of thought that Deoband is. I will not sit here and justify the Taliban with you. I have no need to do so. However, what the Western world and America are doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq, are you happy with that? Is that not lumpenism? Is this not terrorism? If you don’t agree, then forgive me, you will not be able to save our country if they come here by fair means or foul. There is a way to live, all over the world, and we should all live like that.
I will not blame the Taliban for its excesses and thereby justify what America is doing, I will never do that. What America has done is terrible, they must be punished for what they have done. Also, why do they want to talk to the Taliban today? If the Taliban are terrorists, why are you talking to terrorists?
But you have also said that in Islam, there is no place to kill innocent people?
There is absolutely no forgiveness if you kill innocent people, whether I kill or you kill or the Taliban kills. If you kill an innocent person, it is an un-Islamic act. This is against Islam. And if he does this in the name of Islam, then it is our moral and religious right to fight against this man, and we will always fight the fight.
So, both within India and outside, such as in Afghanistan, the name of the Deoband is being invoked…
We are not even in the position of giving a thirsty man a glass of water to drink in Afghanistan, to tend to the wounded, why should we talk about what is happening there… Let us talk about India, there is no respite from our troubles here itself…
OK, so Muslims who are killing in the name of Islam, in India…
If the so-called Indian Mujahideen, who in the name of Islam, in the name of the struggle or ‘jihad’ kills people and calls himself a ‘jihadi,’ he is not a ‘jihadi’, he is a ‘phasaadi’ (an inciter). We oppose these people, we condemn them, we will never support them. We don’t have the power to identify them, but if we can, we are willing to do that as well.
A few months ago, Deoband issued a statement against terrorism.
It was not a statement, it was a resolution against terrorism. Ten thousand clerics from all over the country had gathered. Since then we have done many conferences and rallies all over the country, including here in Delhi on 31 May. It was so large that there was a traffic jam from Ramlila Grounds to Rajghat. We took an oath of allegiance…
What is the message from all this?
The message is that Muslims are neither terrorist, nor are they supporters of terrorism. And we are going to have another rally in Hyderabad on 9 November. Many Muslim religious leaders have recently met Sonia Gandhi and it has been reported in the media that she has said that it is not in her power to change things…
It is not in anybody’s power. It is easy to destroy, but it is difficult to mend… Yes, I have also heard that someone asked a question like that, that you have so much power in your hands... To which Mrs Gandhi said, this is a misunderstanding, I cannot do everything. But, surely, she is concerned, and I believe she is. But we will not get success if all of us, including all political parties, don’t work together.
Last question, Mr Madani. You talked about how the Americans cannot be excused for what they have done in Afghanistan. Do you feel that Indian Muslims will also not forgive the UPA government for its nuclear deal with America?
I have met people from both sides in recent months, some who are in favour and some against…is deal ka Muslimization mat kijiye (please do not Muslim-ize the deal). This is not a Muslim issue, it is a national issue.
I am an ordinary citizen, I may be in favour or against the deal. Do not make me a Muslim on this issue. If this deal makes us followers of America, then great harm will come to our country. But if this has been a deal among equals, then it is a very good thing. The people of Hindustan will decide.