All it took for American Islamic scholar Amina Wadud’s programme in the city to be cancelled were a few phone calls to the police and to the event’s organisers, and the mere threat of a protest.
“I received a text message that said we have to suspend or cancel the lecture, as many groups were contemplating a protest. When I called number I received the text from, it was answered by someone who said he was at the Triplicane police station,” said P.K. Abdul Rahiman, head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Madras, where one of Dr. Wadud’s lectures was to be held.
“He said the university did not have permission to conduct the lecture. When I told him we didn’t need permission as the event was on university premises, he said there were threats of violence and we should be ready to face the consequences if we went ahead with the programme,” said Prof. Rahiman.
The decision to call off the lecture was taken after consulting the university’s vice-chancellor and the administration, he said.
Dr. Wadud’s lecture had been planned almost a month ago, and over 200 people were set to attend the event.
“She was supposed to speak on ‘The question of authority in Islam’. I have studied her texts, and we teach our students a lot from them. Her views are by no means provocative to a rational mind. The groups could have engaged with her by asking questions, instead of preventing the talk,” Prof. Rahiman said.
City police officers however, said they were not even aware of the incident. “It was an internal university matter – there was no need to get permission from us,” said a senior police officer.
Moosa Raza, chairman, South Indian Educational Trust, which runs JBAS College, where Dr. Wadud was also due to speak, said he had received no orders from the police to cancel the event.
“We received a call from a sub-inspector who insisted that we give him details about the speaker as some groups had opposed her talk. Later, we were informed that Dr. Wadud could not join us because her flight had been delayed,” he said.
S.M. Syed Iqbal, state secretary of Indiya Towheed Jamad, said he had called two police officers in the intelligence division to inform them that his outfit would protest in front of the venues if Dr. Wadud was allowed to talk.
“She comes with the backing of the US government and offers so-called progressive views that are against the basic tenets of Islam,” he said.
Manithaneya Makkal Katchi MLA M.H. Jawahirullah said many Muslim groups were opposed to Dr. Wadud’s views on Islam but had not issued any threat to the organisers.
Liberals, moderate Muslims upset
Irked by the cancellation of Amina Wadud’s talk in Chennai, organisations representing liberal and moderate voices expressed anguish over the intolerance behind the development.
The Citizens for Justice and Peace and Muslim for Secular Democracy, issued a joint statement. “We, who are fighting for justice in Gujarat amongst others, are disappointed and ashamed at the reported intolerance of some Muslim groups from Chennai to create a law and order problem, resulting in the cancellation of the lecture.”
“We condemn the feeble capitulation of the Tamil Nadu state,” they said in a joint statement. Referring to the police, the university and the government, they said, “All three stakeholders of our society have made us less proud as Indians.”
Faizur Rahman, secretary-general, ‘Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought’, said: “It is possible that some of Dr. Wadud's interpretations of Islam may be wrong and not acceptable to certain Muslim sects. But then, one doesn't have to agree with every aspect of a person's speech. The option of intellectually refuting the speaker is always available to those who disagree.”