Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan: President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat
Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan is the
President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, a platform of
several influential Indian Muslim organizations. He is also the
editor of the New Delhi-based fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the
few English-language Muslim news magazines in India. In this
interview with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad he talks about terrorism in
India, about how the media projects Muslims and what he feels
Muslims should do in the current context.
As President of the
All India Muslim Majlis-e Mashawarat (AIMMM), what do you think are
the problems facing Indian Muslims that need immediate attention?
There are a lot of issues facing
Indian Muslims, as depicted earlier by Gopal Singh Committee and now
by Sachar Committee report which clearly depicts the Muslims of
India as the most marginalized community compared to other
communities. Official figures available, portray the Muslim standard
graph as the lowest whether in terms of per-capita income, literacy
or living standard. There is under-representation of Muslims in all
kinds of Government jobs. Prevalence of communal feelings against
them is a common problem. There is no magic wand to change this grim
situation in a few moments but the main priority as of now that
reservations must be extended to Muslims as recommended by Mishra
Commission as it is an assured way to fight this discrimination.
presence of communal feelings against Muslims, were they present
before Partition also or are these a post-Partition Phenomenon?
Communal grudges against Muslims were
always there but Partition escalated these feelings. Communalists
believe and profess Muslims to be aliens, demanding that they must
live like guests in India. We reject with contempt this second-class
status. We will never accept it because the Constitution of India
guarantees us full rights and privileges as any other community.
These are communal slogans of some political parties which exploit
religion like BJP, and these will die a natural death as they only
use them for vote bank politics and will abandon them if they feel
that they are counter-productive as was witnessed recently in the
case of Varun Gandhi. They used these slogans since late 1980s in
Gujarat, Karnataka etc for political ends. This demon of communalism
can be tackled by awakening the whole community through education,
and economic and political participation.
What you say about
the media hype of labeling Muslims as “terrorists” after any
incident of bomb explosion or terrorist activity?
Indian media is manufacturing hate
against Muslims on the basis of rumours and baseless reports spread
by communal elements. We have just heard about the explosion in
Margao, Goa, in which Malgonda Patil, a Sangli-based Sanatan Sanstha
member was killed. He was going to explode bombs on the eve of
Diwali and then as usual accuse Muslims for the same. The Sanathan
Sanstha office has been raided by the police and it was found that
the place is used for manufacturing bombs. This ground-breaking
revelation has been blacked out by the electronic media. The media
is concentrating on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan or the
Taliban threat while ignoring these types of real domestic threats.
The media kills Muslim stories or buries them somewhere inside where
nobody will read them while on the front page they create the myth
of Muslim terrorism. This labeling of Muslims as terrorists got a
boost after 9/11 when President George W Bush used the word
“Crusade” for his war against Muslims and this western label was
lapped up by our journalists here to malign Muslims who have nothing
to do with terrorism or Taliban.
Do you think that
the Indian State is encroaching upon the rights of minorities, be it
the 1984 riots against Sikhs, Gujarat riots of 2002 against Muslims,
and Orissa riots against Christians in 2008?
Not only these minorities are facing
the wrath of the Indian State but many other marginalized
communities like Gujjars, Dalits and adivasis are also suffering and
we must not be selfish as to speak about our rights only but we all
must get together to form a large united front comprising all the
deprived communities to fight for our constitutional rights.
This means that the
Indian State as a whole has failed to live up to the principles
enshrined in the Constitution of India be it commitment to
Secularism or Protection of Minorities?
All the governments that come to power
speak beautiful language; they have tried to show their concern for
the minorities especially Muslims whether it be the 15-Point
Programme of Indira Gandhi or now of Manmohan Singh. This concern is
also witnessed by the fact of constituting committees like Gopal
Singh in the past and Sachar Committee under the current government
to show that the Indian State cares about the marginalized but
nothing comes out of these exercises. They are only recommendatory
in nature with no or half-hearted efforts for implementation. There
is no real wish to implement, the top brass don’t want them to be
implemented and the benefits are simply not reaching the common
people, e.g., scholarships for students are not reaching the
deserved and funds for minority development are lapsing back unused
to the government.
But the present
government has constituted a separate ministry for the welfare of
The Minority Ministry is not an
Independent Ministry, it head, in-charge of another ministry, too
overburdened to fully discharge his duties as the minister for
How can these
problems be tackled and solved?
The schemes and programmes that are
meant for minorities aren’t fool-proof, with no proper
implementation, supervision and follow-up mechanisms. These
loopholes must be plugged in, in order to reach a large chunk of
Do you think that
the government is in fear or resorting to the votebank politics, or
majority appeasement when it does not take action against the
perpetuators of 1984 and Gujarat riots and Babri Masjid Demolition?
The government can do nothing in this
regard. The people within the government are the problem. Many of
the MPs, ministers, MLAs themselves are perpetuators of these crimes
and accused; they would never want to get themselves punished. Lal
Krishna Advani, main accused in the Babri Masjid demolition, managed
to remove his name from the chargesheet of the accused. Also the CBI
is a tool in the hands of the ruling politicians, not an independent
body. It is highly politicized and the government doesn’t want it to
take action in certain serious matters involving politicians or
influential wealthy people.
Don’t you think
that we can have hope for a change as the UPA in Centre is not the
Right Wing NDA led by BJP?
The bureaucracy is infiltrated by the
RSS cadres and it remains the same despite the change of regimes, so
we can’t hope for any breakthrough or miracle happening for Muslims
and other minorities and marginalised sections. Even in Ishrat Jahan
fake encounter case, which was carried out in Gujarat, the Union
Home Ministry in an affidavit stated that Ishrat and three others
killed with her were operatives of the Pakistan-based terror group
Lashkar-e-Toiba which was a lie as we know now. Maintaining that the
four were “terrorists,” the Union government had told the High Court
that “No proposal for CBI investigation is under consideration of
the Centre nor does it consider the present case fit for CBI.” So
justice was neither done under BJP nor Congress and Muslims continue
to be on the receiving end.
circumstances how will Muslims work for their progress when they
have become so disillusioned with the State? Would education and
reservation be enough or something different and unique is needed?
We must work hard to built our
progress as Japan did after the Second World War and now they are
free to create their own army to safeguard their interests. Violence
is not the way; we must build ourselves educationally and
economically in order to take up our rightful place in the country.
Do you think that
the disillusionment with justice system, failure to protect minority
rights, especially of Muslims by subsequent governments whether it
be Batla House encounter or fake encounter killings in Gujarat and
Kashmir, isn’t it driving Muslims to the wall, where they will
dissent and can even resort to violence?
Even under worst conditions, Muslims
must not resort to violence as it will give free license to security
forces to kill us, torture us, intimidate us, raid our houses,
offices and working places as well as rape our womenfolk. They
really want it, that we get provoked and resort to violence so that
they find an excuse to pounce on us. We must opt for the legal
procedure which is open to us to fight against discriminations
though this route is cumbersome and long but we must not forget that
justice is still possible in this country where very high-ranking
officials of the State who were guilty of crimes against minorities
are now in jails like DG Vanzara of Gujarat. There may be stray
cases of violence by Muslims but most of the cases of violence
attributed to Muslims are fabricated by security agencies and
Police. Even in the case of SIMI which was alleged to be a terrorist
organization, the Tribunal set up by the Home Ministry itself
declared that it is not a terrorist organization. Despite a lot of
provocations, Muslims are maintaining their calm and tranquility and
not returning violence by violence.
The Hindutva demon
is spreading its tentacles in the Indian society but each government
seems to protect this demon, be it the Kanpur blast while
fabricating boms, or Hyderabad Masjid bombings. Why are they
protected and the chapter is closed, while the case with Muslims is
We will not let this chapter be closed
and those wishing to get it closed would not succeed. Communalism is
a great threat to our nation and the poison of communalism is
spreading in our society. Hindu communalism as well as Muslim
communalism is not acceptable. Political parties actively play the
communal card to gain votes.
A new trend of
manufacturing terrorists has cropped up in which Muslim youths,
especially the educated ones and techies are apprehended and
tortured to make false confessions and then some case is slapped on
them and the Police declares that it has solved the case bringing
the alleged culprit to court. How do you see the repercussions of
This simply is a trap to provoke
Muslims to resort to violence but they are well aware of these traps
and they should always refrain from using violence to achieve even
If there is a
united political party of Muslims representing all Muslims of India
would it help to turn the tables?
It is not possible to have a single
party representing the Muslims of whole India as Muslims here are
diversified and scattered over a vast country except the Valley of
Kashmir where Muslims are in majority. There are around 80
parliamentary constituencies where Muslims are in sizeable numbers
in the country. Though there are political parties like the Muslim
League in Kerala and some parties have been formed by Muslims in
Maharastra, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh etc. If these
parties don’t fight with each other, they are destined to win in
20-25 constituencies which is a good chunk to ensure a vocal
representation in Parliament. Muslims who get elected on other
parties’ tickets can’t raise an independent voice for Muslim causes
unlike the freedom enjoyed in Parliament by the likes of Bantawala,
Suleman Seth in the past and Asaduddin Owasi of Ittihadul Muslimin
at present. They were independent and therefore vocal articulating
the real and unbiased demands and grievances of Muslims.
Indian Muslims have
been too under-represented in the mainstream media. Why is this so?
Muslims are not in the mainstream
media, though there is now some Muslim representation in the
electronic media but same is not the case with print media. Educated
Muslim boys and girls must join print media which obviously would
help make a change. We should also create our own mainstream media
like Muslims in Kerala and now in Karnataka have done. There are
four Malayalam daily newspapers brought out by Muslims in Kerala,
and they exercise a considerable influence on the local scene. In
Karanataka too a Muslim daily has started some years back and it is
exercising a healthy influence on the media scene there. Now other
newspapers in Kerala generally abstain from publishing concocted
stories about Muslims in the state because the very next day these
Muslim newspapers reply back by exposing the false claims of biased
journalists. This secular media has established a sort of check and
balance there and same is being experience now in Karnataka.
Why is this
contradiction between Muslims of North and South India?
It is because North Indian Muslims
have no wish to get into the media. They must shun this attitude and
only then they will be able make inroads into the mainstream media.
Also, I am a witness to this fact that a rich Muslim businessman
wanted to finance a Hindi daily but at the last moment he backed out
only because of the fear of being harassed by the state authorities
for supporting the truth and as a businessman he didn’t want to get
into trouble and lose his peace of mind. It is not that Muslims
don’t have money to support big media houses but they still do not
fully realize its importance even as a commercial venture. In north
India, we have only Urdu newspapers which are not read by
non-Muslims; even our Muslim elite does not read them. So even if
some false claims are made about Muslims in the English and Hindi
press, the only way that Muslim organizations respond is by
publishing counter-claims in the Urdu press which no one but a
limited number of Muslims read, and so these responses do not have
any impact on our society.
You say that Urdu
newspapers are not read by non-Muslims and not even by the Muslim
elite. Before Partition it was a common language reinforcing the
Hindu-Muslim unity, why this apathy now? Is it due to government
policy, Hindu apathy, yellow journalism or something else?
It is a result of government policy
after Partition. They tried to kill Urdu in favour of Hindi, even
though it was resolved before Partition that the common language of
independent India would be Hindustani written in both Persain and
Devangiri scripts. This was forgotten after independence and Hindi
in Devnagri script was imposed by brute force. Before Partition many
Hindus and Sikhs knew Urdu and even now some of them do exist in
places like Delhi and Punjab. Also the lower administrative work was
carried out in Urdu in north India but due to the government policy,
Urdu was wiped off from its native bastions comprising of Uttar
Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi etc. There is no
Urdu-medium government-run school at present in U.P. Now the
children of these schools can only speak in Urdu but can’t read or
write it. Some old newspapers in Urdu are still being published in
these states but they have only a small readership and are not able
to articulate Muslim interests and help shaping the opinion of the
masses with regard to the problems facing Muslims.
How much has Milli
Gazette been able to fill up this void in the existing Muslim media?
We have been able, to an extent, to
fill the vacuum in the field of the Muslim English-language media
though it is not a mainstream paper. Our aim when we started MG ten
years ago was to publish Muslim news which didn’t find space in the
mainstream media, as well as to reach non-Muslims and our own elite
who now do not read Urdu. We are focusing on issues facing
minorities and marginalized sections like Dalits, Christians, Sikhs
while concentrating on Muslims who are neglected by the mainstream
media. Even if we write a letter to a mainstream paper it is
destined to end up in the dustbin. I recognize that at present our
paper doesn't fully satisfy the needs of the community. We are still
a fortnightly while the situation demands that we become a weekly.
We need better quality reports, stories from the field, but we lack
the finances needed to do this on a wider scale. Presently, we do
not have even a single full-time correspondent outside Delhi because
of shortage of funds.
and charity work among Muslims that you are committed to under the
banner of Charity Alliance, do you think that Muslim money in the
form of Zakat, Sadaqat etc is properly utilized?
First of all I wish to state that
Charity Alliance (CA) is not a big organization. It owes its birth
to a crisis that suddenly emerged in early in early 2005 in
Murshidabad where Muslims were dying in scores daily with no one
coming to their rescue. At present, we are offering weekly ration,
medical help, school fees and a vocational training centre there.
Last May we have also opened a school in the area of our work in
Murshidabad. We are also offering some scholarships to school-level
students in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi beside some other small help
here and there. We realize that there is need to broaden the scope
of CA but for that we need much more funds.
Regarding the Zakat and its proper
utilization, according to a survey we conducted in a Muslim majority
area of Delhi we found that ninety percent of Muslims do not pay
Zakat and even the small minority that pays doesn’t bother to see
that it is properly utilized and reaches the categories defined as
recipients of Zakat by the Qur’an. So the real purpose of Zakat, ie,
alleviation of poverty in the Muslim society, is defeated as it
fails to reach the really deserving people while parasites siphon it
off leaving the needy high and dry. We are not really able to see
the benefits of Zakat in our society. We read in our early Islamic
history that a time came when people used to go searching for
someone who would accept Zakat. The real purpose of Zakat is that
from recepients people should become payers of Zakat.
Ulama and madrasas where the age-old
traditional Fiqh and jurisprudence are taught, eat away most of
Zakat leaving a little for others. Moreover, they have not been
even able to guide the community.
We need madrasas but not so many as we
find today. There has been a mushroom growth of these institutions
and we need to curtail this trend. There are presently madrasas that
exist in name or on paper only but they are the first in the run for
this money. There are good madrasas like Deoband, Nadwa, Madrasatul
Islam, Jamiatul Falah, Jamia Darussalam, Jamiat ul Salehaat and
They are producing good scholars for
the community and we really need them but we don’t need one lakh
madrasas which are the need of people who have formed them not of
the Muslim Ummah.
Also, madrasas should compete for
Zakat and Muslims should pay more than Zakat for such purposes of
the community. It is not enough to just pay 2.5% of your savings.
Any person can spare much more than this for community services. If
Bohras and Shia can pay a very hefty amount to their religious
heads, why can’t Sunni Muslims pay more than their Zakat in order to
run their community services. Money from foreign sources should be
avoided by madrasas as the foreign donors impose their own
conditions. Moreover, since most of such funds come through
non-transparent channels, there is lack of accountability which
breeds corruption and discontent in the institutions that accept it
though even this channel is now drying up.
Ulama proclaim that
unity is a basic characteristic of this community but the fact is
that the Ummah is disunited and the unity is seen only rarely as
during the Danish Cartoons, Babri Masjid demolition and Shah Bano
case and the Ulama themselves are divided?
Let us start to learn living with
differences which we cannot change them. Even the Prophet of Islam
said that differences are a blessing for my Ummah. There have been
attempts to wipe out these differences like the Ahli Hadith Movement
which took this challenge but with the passage of time they
themselves became a sect. Yes, it is true that cases concerning all
Muslims like Shah Bano and Rushdie unite us for a common cause but
these are spontaneous reactions and unity which do not last long.
This is a fact that 99% of these Ulama
don’t come to the rescue of Muslims when in distress, e.g., Batla
House encounter, countering the myth of Muslim terrorism etc,
whereas politicians use them for their own selfish ends.
This is not correct that all Ulama are
used by politicians. There is only a minority which is used by
politicians and the community doesn’t respect them. Important ulama
of Deoband and Nadwa do not join politics. The fact is that you
cannot stop this trend of ulama joining politics and getting used by
politicians as ours is a democracy and a free country where everyone
is free to do what he things is good or beneficial to him or her.
Ulama should only teach people, offer an exemplary character to
become role models for the masses and help in removing the
misconceptions about Islam.
Ulama with their rigid outlook have tried by every means to promote
their own sects and interpretations of Islam, leading to internecine
wars. What is the remedy?
Differences of interpretation would
continue but to form violent groups based upon these different
readings of Islam is not acceptable in any way. Also, these violent
groups in many cases were formed and clandestinely funded by foreign
sources, e.g., Jundullah in Lebanon and Iran is a creation of the
CIA. Similarly, other violent groups in Saudi Arabia and Iran etc
owe their creation to foreign hands. If a country is occupied, like
Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan, then only armed resistance
groups may be formed and that too only to fight for the liberation
of the country and not to indulge in sectarian strife or to attack
innocent people of whatever religion or sect.
The Ulama still
deny women the positive role they can play in changing Muslim
society. They wish to keep them at bay and continue patriarchal
hegemony. Don’t you think Islam needs to be liberated from these
Ulama opposing women’s positive
participation within the boundaries laid down by Shari’ah are not
speaking for Islam but for their own cultural beliefs or tribal and
social norms trying to camouflage these as “Islam”. Such attempts to
curtail the role of women have developed due to local readings of
Islam while ignoring the real and universal Islamic teachings. Who
can forget the role of Hazrat Aisha (RA) in Islamic history and her
contribution to Muslim society. Many senior companions of the
Prophet (Pbuh) would come seeking her advice in different religious
matters. Muslim history is full of examples of women being rulers of
great countries like Shajart al-Durr of. Even in the Subcontinent we
had reigning queens like Raziya Sultana and Begums of Bhopal and
Ulama were never opposed their rule.
They have tried to impose what they
call Islamic State based on pure theocracy whether be it Taliban in
Afghanistan or Swat, thus paving a way for what Akbar S Ahmad calls
as “Clash Of Muslim Inclusivists and Exclusivists”.
Muslim Ulama are not in a position to
rule anywhere in the world. They are not equipped with the knowledge
of ruling as well as they lack the knowledge of present time and the
tools needed to rule today. There have been attempts since Syed
Ahmad Shaheed to form an Islamic State but they all failed. Even
Taliban in Afghanistan were an unsuccessful attempt as their state
did not include modern features and failed to make contacts with the
outside world. During its whole tenure, it was recognized as a
legitimate government by three countries only and all these three
states backed out when U.S attacked it. As far as the whole Muslim
history is concerned, Ulama always played a secondary role and they
never ruled anywhere. In the present times, their madrasas don’t
equip them with the tools to rule a country. After the end of the
colonial era, Ulama tried to lead the masses but all their attempts
failed because their way is rigid -- it is either Halal
(permissible) or Haraam (forbidden) in their dictionary, while
politics is based on the principles of the possible, of give and
So do you think that a new leadership
is emerging among Muslims?
Ulama have not been able to impose
their leadership on Muslim masses, neither have they been able to
rule, nor are they suited for political rulership. Yes, a new
leadership is emerging in Muslim societies from other sections of
Don’t you think
that the traditional Ulama can still play a significant role by
joining hands with Muslim intellectuals and shunning their rigid
As I said earlier, we need Ulama, but
they must shed their rigid attitudes and emulate Muhammad Abduh of
Egypt who was able to influence Muslim masses unlike his mentor
Jamaluddin Afghani who despite traveling, preaching and inspiring
for a change wasn’t able to bring a change be it Persia, Egypt,
India or Afghanistan. We really need Ulama but they are not suited
to become our political leaders, they should limit themselves to
guide the rulers and educate the masses.
Mushtaq ul-Haq Ahmad is
a student at Kashmir University, Srinagar.