Zafaryab Jilani, the Babri Masjid advocate, no more

Mr. Jilani was the advocate of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board representing the Muslim claim to the Babri Masjid site.

May 17, 2023 09:05 pm | Updated 09:05 pm IST

All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) secretary Zafaryab Jilani. File

All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) secretary Zafaryab Jilani. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Zafaryab Jilani, the oft-heard Muslim voice in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, has fallen silent. Mr. Jilani breathed his last at 11.50 a.m. on Wednesday. He was 73.

Mr. Jilani suffered a brain haemorrhage in May 2021. He was laid to rest in Lucknow.

He rose to fame in the mid 1980s following the orders of the Faizabad district judge to open the lock of the Babri Masjid in 1986. Mr. Jilani responded to the challenge by forming the Babri Masjid Action Committee of which he was the convener.

Along with the likes of Imam Abdullah Bukhari, Sultan Salauddin Owaisi and Syed Shahabuddin, the committee raised the Muslim voice in the historic dispute which was to linger on till 2019 when the Supreme Court gave its verdict.

“If you see the Supreme Court verdict, the observations were all in favour of the Muslim side though the verdict was different. Those observations came about due to Jilani’s extensive research based on history and archaeology of the Babri Masjid site. Following the archaeological findings, he even spoke to eminent historian Irfan Habib and many distinguished voices lent support to the Babri Masjid cause,” recalled S.Q.R. Ilyas, who was associated with a negotiation team formed by the Supreme Court in 2019 under F.M.I. Kalifulla to find an amicable solution to the dispute.

A long-time secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Board, Mr. Jilani was blamed for the radicalisation of Muslim youth in the late 80s when the mosque-temple contest was being waged in public arena.

At a time when BJP leader L.K. Advani announced the Rath Yatra, Bukhari announced the formation of the Adam Sena to protect the masjid.

Mr. Jilani’s aggressive stance on the subject and his relentless posturing as the convener of BMAC is said to have impacted many a young Muslim mind.

Things changed after the mosque’s demolition in 1992. Mr. Jilani became the advocate of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board representing the Muslim claim to the site. He attempted a negotiated settlement and even managed to bring the Muslim leaders as well as Hindu priests and leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the negotiating table.

However, the deadlock could not be broken with the Hindu sants allegedly insisting on diksha of the land.

When the top court finally ruled in favour of the advocate of a Ram temple in 2019, Mr. Jilani cut a forlorn figure. His voice choked with emotion when speaking to the media about a mosque for which he had spent more than 30 years fighting in various courts in Lucknow and Delhi.

“He was very well read, an erudite man. His findings and arguments were relied upon by senior advocate Rajiv Dhawan when the case was nearing its climax in the Supreme Court,” Mr. Ilyas said.

“He was honest to his last bone, determined and persuasive. His knowledge of the Constitution and the Shariah was second to none. He never gave up,” Arshad Madani, president, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, noted.

A product of Aligarh Muslim University, Mr. Jilani’s fame was not limited to the Ayodhya dispute. He sought OBC status for members of the Muslim community, and similar reservations to their counterparts from the Hindu religion after the Mandal Commission findings were implemented by the V.P. Singh government.

A socialist at heart, he worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, and used his good office to help ameliorate the lot of the dispossessed, orphans and girls.

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