The All India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) on Sunday gave a call to Sunni Muslims across India to reject and rebuff hardline Wahabism so that Islam could return to its tolerant, Sufi roots: “When an extremist turns up at your door seeking your support, when anyone tries to recruit you into terrorism, hand him over to the nearest police station,” said Board general secretary Maulana Syed Mohd Ashraf Kachochavi, addressing a large-sized Maha Panchayat of Sunni Muslims here.
The Maulana also asked the government to immediately pass legislation to set up a Central Madrasa Board so that fundings to madrasas could be audited and a watch kept on the flow of Saudi petro-dollars into madrasa education.
The Maha Panchayat was a sort of “coming out” event for the AIUMB, which claims to represent 80 per cent of Sunni Muslims (themselves accounting for the largest share of Indian Muslims) and yet has been barely visible on the Indian Muslim political and cultural scene. The AIUMB's case is that despite their huge numbers, they have not been able to assert themselves because the Deobandis and the Wahabis have captured key Muslim institutions such as the Wakf Board and the madrasas, and also wield political influence far beyond their size: “The government listens only to the hardliners. It has handed over Wakf properties and Masjids, which belong to us, to them.”
Board members stressed the threat from Wahabi extremism over and over in their speeches to the Maha Panchayat, arguing that a small group of people had succeeded in giving a bad name to Islam and Muslims, most of whom were Sunni Sufis and therefore peace-loving, tolerant and intensely patriotic. Speakers also emphasised the essentially inclusive nature of Sufism which did not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims and allowed all communities to pray in their shrines. The Deobandis, on the other hand, did not allow their followers to go to Sufi dargahs.
“The time has come for us to come out and claim our rights. Let us take a pledge that we will never support Wahabi extremism — not today, not tomorrow. Let us take a pledge that we will work for the unity and integrity of our motherland,” Maulana Kachochavi told the gathering.
Later talking to the press, the Maulana made a strong pitch for a Madrasa Board saying: “Right now the madrasas are under the control of Wahabi-inspired organisations which run on Saudi money. The ideology they teach and spread is hardline Wahabism. These organisations have put pressure on the government not to enact the Act. We want the funds to go to the really needy and poor.”
Remarkably, the Maha Panchayat appeared to have been boycotted by the influential Urdu press. Last week, when the Board held a press conference in Delhi, Urdu journalists were openly hostile to the organisers, arguing that the AIUMB was trying to divide Muslims, and was no different from the Sangh Parivar, which saw all Muslims as terrorists.
When journalists brought up the issue of the AIUMB's political leanings on Sunday, AIUMB members insisted that they were apolitical.