The Brotherhood of Hindu-Muslim Clerics

The maulvi says TV is haram. The sadhu says gambling is immoral.

Baba Ramdev and Maulana Madani
Under the skin they are the same, so what tells the mullah apart from the swami? Nothing. If we ignore the outside perception, then it is quite another matter. There is bound to be an Us vs. Them battle for the worse agent of regression. The mullahs win because the way they dress is pretty much how many traditional Muslims dress. The sadhu’s robes are restricted to the ashram community or the occasional flash of saffron donned by political leaders of a religious stripe.

Two recent reports have brought the underlying similarities to light and in fact raises questions about how religion is viewed by those responsible for propagating it. It is interesting that they seem clueless and appear to be more interested in playing god themselves. The media, predictably, plays to the gallery and especially in the case of Muslims tries desperately to get the moderate or liberal faces, though one is not quite certain about the distinction between the moderate and the liberal in this context. It is assumed that the Muslim community is held hostage by the utterings of a handful of mullahs and consolidates such a viewpoint. Curiously, they use other religious figures or scholars of Islam as the voices of reason, quite forgetting that the large populace has no such scholarly knowledge or interest and faith is just one more way to express their beliefs and identities.

This does not suit the Indian media, so you have a screaming headline: ‘TV and cinema are SATAN’S TOOLS’. Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) chief Mahmood Madani has declared:

“Watching television and cinema are haram. They are the tools of Satan and must be buried as soon as possible.”

This debate has been going on for years. and Madani is right that only such sensational pronouncements are reported. Education and employment reservations may lend themselves to panel discussions, but not quick news stories. The anti-polio stand has fewer takers than the anti-condom stand.

A moot point here is that rarely is there a poser regarding how these maulvis themselves appear on television to promote their version of religion or indulge in political discussions. If television is haram, then what are they doing before the cameras? Why are they using the internet to advise believers about everything from sexuality to health issues?

Maulana Madani on TV
Will the media have the courage to ban these religious authorities and then let us see how their views are made available? It is a mutually-beneficial game they both play, and it reached its absolute nadir when they had the audacity to conduct a kangaroo court on TV in the Gudiya case, where clerics debated about a young woman’s marital fate. How different is it from fatwas and underworld diktats or even regional politicians holding court and dispensing justice?

The progressive mullahs, usually the likes of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, state, “By asking Muslims to boycott television and films, they are Islamising non-Islamic issues.” He goes on to answer his own query: “How many Muslims will listen to them and switch off their television sets?” Precisely. However, what exactly are non-Islamic issues? Islam or any other religion can be applied to any field or behaviour, if the believers want it to be so. There is no reason to drag in Islam at all simply because by doing so such scholars make these issues haram, for to the faithful anything ‘non-Islamic’ will be unacceptable.

Blind devotees do not look at history. They might not even exercise their minds to realise that during the time of the Prophet there were no electronic gadgets. Unfortunately, it is the modern inventions that are projecting regressive views and are responsible for the creation of a standard scapegoat fanatic, when there is fanaticism in every sphere. What does a political scientist mean when he says, “Conservatism is only a step behind fanaticism”? Does fanaticism not base its fervour on the foundation of conservativism? How many liberals are deemed fanatical?

Entertainment is taboo in many societies, yet most of them skirt it by using music and even dance to sing praises of god. The number of shrines that have such performances is evidence of it. The camera-friendly staff members at such mausoleums are ready to entertain celebrities.

The discourse on Islam also ignores the fact that the idea of Satan is not in opposition to god, but to angels. Satan is a flitting character, which is why he has to be hit by stones in a symbolic ritual at Mecca. To grant Satan the ability and right to influence the gullible is itself wrong.

The Biblical connotation is a curious intrusion. It seems to have entered the Hinduism discourse, too. Is there a concept of the seven deadly sins in the religion? It is not even part of pure Christianity and is referred to only in Matthew’s Gospel. But a code of conduct has been promulgated for the priests in Karnataka to stay away from such sins. It states:

“Archakas (priests), who give prasada and teertha to devotees, should be above board. They should be free from sapta vyasanas (seven sins) so as to maintain the sanctity of the profession. We are also bringing in an amendment saying that priests should know vedic mantras or shlokas related to rituals of temples where they work, without which they can be disqualified.”

They must also not indulge in gambling, smoking, immoral sex and cannot take the money deposited in the hundis, which will go to the temple account. Why are these not seen as regular laws by the Temple Boards rather than sins? There have been instances where priests have indulged in some or all of these acts, but they usually operate from their own or smaller ashrams. One of the clauses in the amendment is rather surprising – priests should be free from virulent or contagious diseases. How can they lose their jobs over this? They may not perform certain rituals that might affect the gathering, but they are not to blame.

One might ask how it is possible to extricate morality from religion when the former is based on the belief system. This is largely true. However, the concept of sinning also has the convenient proviso of penance, so religious authorities might sin and find an exit through penance. This luxury is not as easily granted to the ordinary person, who often has to use dubious middle-men to cleanse themselves. Swami Nityanand is a case in point. Despite the videos where he was captured in compromising positions with his female devotees, he had audaciously organised a havan to purge himself.

Mata, Vidya and the cellphone
The sins also reveal that the activities mentioned are indulged in and this is across religions. Do the priests indulge in them due to lack of entertainment or because of their exposure to it? Access to the world and to religion itself has become dependent on such means. Why do pirs and sadhus advertise their ‘wares’? Why do they conduct nikaahs or hold pujas over the internet? Are they not aware that other ‘immoral’ websites are just a click away? If technology is haram or exploits religion, then before preaching to the public, the clerics should take the first step and refuse to use it. There was this photograph of actress Vidya Balan with Mata Amritanandmayi who is apparently blessing someone on her cellphone in a Page 3 moment. Aren’t these instances of commercialisation of religion where every scripture-reading session by some ‘devi’ or ‘maulvi’ is a sponsored event and the happening crowd that has suddenly discovered their roots gets into designer stupor?

The media will not highlight these, at least not to expose the farce. It needs the fanatics and it needs the liberals and they have to be on two sides fencing. This is prime-time faith, where even invoking of god’s name is TRP-driven.

(c) Farzana Versey


  1. Nice piece with an interesting mix of themes. I'll comment on a few.
    1. Most of us are aware of clerical hypocrisy (whatever the religion) but the Hindu/Muslim ones can act more smugly because of the gullibility of a poor, illiterate, insecure population.
    The clerics themselves are hardly better educated and have to depend on polemic and guile rather than reasoned argument to make am impact. Political patronage may embolden them to become more brazen and bigoted. Western televangelists too (like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) have been highly politicised and peddled a particular brand of Christianity. They have drawn huge audiences but eventually some scandal (sex or money) has led to their downfall.
    2. I can understand the term ‘fanatic’ you use, given Indian deficits in rationality and modernity; but you also speak of conservatives and liberals. These are western labels and I wonder what they could mean in the Indian context. Of course, India’s entire political apparatus has been filched from the British and we may well ask: what is the Indian brand of democracy or secularism? Or other imported concept?
    3. The term ‘Satan’ is certainly an intrusion from the Bible but the ‘seven deadly sins’ is not Biblical in origin and does not appear in Matthew’s gospel. Proverbs (Old Testament) does refer to six things “the Lord hates” but differ from the seven. In the New Testament, St Paul makes mention of a set of a dozen sins. The favoured seven seems to have been started by a monk (4/5th century) and a later Pope stamped his authority on the set.
    4. If I have understood right, you suggest that morality has to derive from religion. Well, it was so in the West until the Enlightenment arrived (18th century). Thereafter, a growing humanism developed its own tenets, based on the need for people to live in harmony and eschew violence. So today morality can be separated from religion. To Muslims, however, as far as I know, morality without God is unthinkable.
    5. Yes the clerics have helped promote the idea of sin. It gave them power over the people. Christianity is all about sin and salvation. Catholics believe all are born in sin. And they need a redeemer (Christ) to rescue humanity. But he didn’t eradicate sin. Instead he established a Church with clerics to minister to the people, including forgiving their sins and prescribing penance.
    Farzana, you do write thoughtful stuff but it needs time and effort

  2. Eddie,
    At the outset let me say this - I don't know your geographical and geosocial origin, but it defenitely betrays "non-orientalism" . Here is what the situation - as I , a Indian, - sees. At the very basic level a larger part of our (Indian) discourse has equated religiosity with communalism. Both are different. A larger part of the problem that we see with Muslim Clerics is they so much "over-step" their religious roles and step into being spokespersons for the community (stereotyped as "Indian Muslims" - while there are social evidences to punch holes in these stereotypes). The "Hindu side" of situation is equally curious. Historically, we have had similar roles dominating the public discourse during late eighties and early nineties - something that communal parties such as BJP (overtly) and Congress (covertly) used for their own electoral and (mostly , popularity) gains. IMHO, the market forces (aka, neo-liberal economic policies) have largely subjugated the majoritarian (aka Hindu ) communal forces to - well - historical legacy. A similar situation - probably - is un-folding in Indian muslims. My guess is - sans an visible overt animosity between communities - the clerics and their hindu couterparts may be putting their "best foot forward" resorting to communalism and stereotypes. And visibly putting forth a semblance of "communal collaboration".
    ps. for Farzana : Happy Holi (belatedly), a nicely ending weekend and a Good Weekstart forward.

  3. Eddie, let me respond to your detailed reply:

    1. Combined with the gullibility of the poor is the connivance of the rational religious segment. If you see the current discourses, most of the religious spokespersons seem to appeal to a cushy clique, and this subtly embeds itself in fractious attitudes. Evangelism in the West works in a similar manner.

    2. Ideally, Indian democracy was not intended to be a brand at all. Pluralism and secularism were to be practised alongside the different faith structures prevalent. It did not happen and largely due to socialistic modernisation that needed labels. When I say conservatives, I do not mean as an ideology but a state of mind. Same with liberals. Rationality on these subjects could well be lacking in the western construct as well, for the concept of conservatism is itself anti-rational, isn’t it?

    3. You are probably right about the seven deadly sins, but they are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel as proverbs. I suppose idioms are not gospel truths!

    4. I personally do not believe in morality as is understood and prefer the term ‘ethics’, although that too would end up splitting hairs. However, I do not suggest that morality has to derive from religion, but that is how it has been in all religions. Humanism, too, for most people derives its basic idea from religion and scriptures are quoted as exemplary examples. For the Muslim, god is morality and the last word. For the Hindu, gods are a means to moral behaviour. For the Christian, morality is god and the son of god.

    Monotheistic faiths tend to be more rigid, therefore their morality is also more ‘upright’.

    5. Clerics, catholic priests or others, use sin to push the guilt formula. Forgiveness as a social idea is laudable, but as a moral one it just makes the ‘sinner’ a martyr.

    As for thoughtful stuff, I guess I have a lot of time and if effort is needed then it is not thoughtful but contrived in my opinion, so I wallow in being laidback. Many thanks for the enlightening discussion.


    Thanks for the “communal collaboration” and the ‘PS’.

    Happy Holi to you, too, and a colourful Monday ahead…hope you saw the larger moon...


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