A Deobandi as Modi's Brand Ambassador

Before you raise your eyebrows, do see things beyond the obvious. The new Darul Uloom vice-chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, has given his stamp of approval to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Shocked? Don’t be. They both essentially perpetuate the same schema of religion as the subterranean text. Both have worked wonderfully at brainwashing people – one with the carrot of ‘Gujarati pride’, the other with the stick of fatwas that make faith into some watertight compartment.

Maulana Vastanvi is from Surat and an educated man. It has been reported that he introduced modern subjects like medicine and engineering in the local Darul-run institutions. One does not quite understand how these subjects become modern when even madrassas use technology these days. This is the superficial aspect that draws attention, quite forgetting how several religions steeped in rituals and superstitions do not permit true scientific inquiry and even resist certain medical intrusion. This includes the Darul Uloom.

Let us not forget its disgusting record of fatwas in the Imrana case or objecting to women working or the clothes people wear. The latest in the list is a fatwa issued this month that prohibits the practice of prophecy by Muslims. It cites the Shariah and warns that if a follower of the faith indulges in soothsaying, his prayers for 40 days become unacceptable.

Will the Deoband then ban all the caretakers at various shrines who after the prayers have been said, offering made and money deposited in the donation box swoosh a peacock feather over the devotee’s head and prophesise that all wishes will be fulfilled? What about the various pirs who advertise their powers to predict the future and the past? What about Islamic scholars that give their interpretations of Islam and further divide the community? What about the Deoband itself that issues these edicts? It may now say that it is only advice based on queries raised, but that is precisely what soothsayers do.

If they genuinely believe that the Quran is the last word, then they should refer the questioner to the Holy Book. Why is the Deoband permitting itself to act as a go-between?

This brings us to the modernisation by Maulana Vastanvi. It is relegated to the well-off. According to him there is “no discrimination against the minorities in the state as far as development is concerned…Development has taken place in Gujarat and we hope it will continue. I ask Muslims to study well. The government is ready to offer jobs (to them), but for that, they need good education.”

While education is always a desirable goal, why are there only government jobs on offer? Is this some autocratic system where the state decides even what employment opportunities are available to the minorities in the private sector? What is the educated population of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs? Who will fill up the Class IV government quota? I am not in any way suggesting that menial jobs should be an aspiration, but these too qualify as work. There are professions that require unskilled workers – what about those? The sword of education is made to hang on the necks of people precisely to demolish their self-esteem. Literacy does not guarantee the ability to fight for your rights. The system will not permit it.

Narendra Modi has streamlined the system so well that it is made to seem like the final destination, when education is a journey. How educated were the rioters of 2002? What degrees did the cops who went on a rampage hold? Were all the victims uneducated? In fact, some were educated rather well and had to pay the price for the possibility that they would not keep silent.

The Maulana does not see this. He is speaking the language of the elite, and an institution like the Darul Uloom is elitist, in that it lives within its cocoon and every once in a while comes out to pronounce edicts in a rather feudal manner. One does not want the Deoband or any group to take over the task of bringing a politician or a political establishment to book, but when a person takes over such an organisation he has to be responsible. Maulana Vastanvi says, instead, “The issue is almost eight years old now and we should move forward. Rioting anywhere – in Gujarat or in any other part of the world – is bad for humanity and should never happen. The Gujarat riots were a blemish for India and all culprits should be punished.”

The riots were not a blemish for India but for its bigoted politician who is the hero of this same modern India that the cleric is endorsing. He has gone to the extent of saying, “There are not as many problems in Gujarat as has been projected…As far as relief work for the riots is concerned, it has been carried out very well by the government and people of Gujarat.”

He seems oblivious to the cries of people still seeking justice…justice based on evidence. So, who is the uneducated one here?

Maulana Vastanvi and Narendra Modi may want Muslims to move on, and a few have because they could afford to. There are many who cannot. Some do not wish to because if they let their voices be muffled, then together with those few hundred bodies their souls too will get buried. One can be reasonably certain that a mall mausoleum will be built over it. Modi will flash it as one more victory for economic progress and the Maulana will flaunt a shadow puppet modern Muslim. He might like to check out what the Deoband has to say about malls, though.

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Published in Countercurrents, January 19