Skepticism runs high among eminent Muslims gathered at Delhi’s India International Centre

Those who participated in the meeting are people with respect and some standing in the community. They represent the Muslims at various levels. They are all worried at the countrywide scenario of rising intolerance among people who have lived together in peace for centuries.

Shaheen Nazar

New Delhi: A group of prominent Muslims met in Delhi this week and deliberated on issues concerning their community and the nation at large. The meeting, dubbed “Jirga for stronger India”, brought scholars, intellectuals and political and religious personalities from across the country. Not much detail is available about the “closed-door” meeting because the media was kept out of it. However, two news portals who give prominence to Muslim issues have reported about the meeting.

The meeting was held on March 3 at India International Centre, a venue in the national capital that automatically adds prestige to any gathering. Another significant thing about the meeting is the list of participants. Although top leaders of major political or religious groups of Muslims were not present, yet those who made themselves available are known faces, some of them highly respected individuals. Besides, they came from varied fields: religious leaders and scholars of various schools of thought; public figures and retired civil servants.

Supreme Court advocate Mehmood Pracha, apparently the main force behind the initiative, described it as a “private meeting” and those who participated in it as “a group” which wants to help “85 per cent population of India”. By “85 per cent” he meant “Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities”. He made these observations on the phone to Waquar Hasan of Clarion India, a Delhi-based news and views portal.

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He said, “Like any other responsible citizens, we are also concerned over what is happening in our country, the way our country is being weakened by the fascist forces.” He, however, refused to divulge any detail saying “very soon we will tell everything to the media.”

Supreme Court advocate Mehmood Pracha.

One of the participants, Malik Moatasim Khan who attended the meeting on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind president, told Clarion India that no decision was made; only deliberations took place, following which a committee headed by Pracha and former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi was set up. The committee will decide the future course of action.

According to Malik Moatasim, while the organisers were focused on politics, participants generally emphasised on education. They also sought unity among Muslims and called for strengthening bonds with the majority community.

The meeting is currently talk-of-the-town in Delhi. Some people are skeptical about it. They are viewing it as an attempt to form a parallel to Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Muslims and confederation of prominent Muslim organisations launched in 1964.

Even Mushawarat is not above criticism. Many people believe that the Mushawarat has run its course and a new set up is required. This was the feeling 30 years back when Milli Council was launched. Despite the association of a towering personality like Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, it remained a non-starter.

There is no harm in trying a new grouping with constructive thinking. Anyway, India of 2021 is totally different from the India of 1964. If Mushawarat fails to evolve, an alternative is bound to emerge.

Another criticism is more serious. It’s about the credibility of the people behind the initiative. Their proximity to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the government is being questioned. Again, BJP is a reality. We cannot wish it away. We will have to learn to deal with it. And for that we need to have some sort of working relationship with its leaders. Everyone who talks or seen with BJP leaders should not be branded as a traitor.

One of the two portals which reported the meeting have made a scathing attack on the organisers and participants of the meeting. It published two articles on two days and said that “most of the participants have record of dubiously using political brinkmanship for their own interests.” Though it has not named anyone, yet by making references and publishing pictures of a Sunni cleric and a Shia cleric with BJP leaders and ministers, it has become personal.

Those who participated in person or through Zoom are generally respected people, and represent the community at various levels. To name just a few, besides Pracha and S.Y. Quraishi, there were Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner; Zafarul Islam Khan, former chairman, Delhi Minority Commission; Mufti Mukarram, Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Fatehpuri Masjid; Maulana Wali Rahmani, Chairman, Muslim Personal Law Board; Shia cleric Kalbe Jawwad Naqvi; Syed Sarwar Chishti of Dargah Ajmer Sharif, Mufti Shoibullah Khan, Nazim, Masihul Uloom, Bangalore; Siraj Qureshi, Chairman, India Islamic Cultural Centre, Delhi; etc.

Shaheen Nazar is the executive editor of Clarion India. With over 30 years of experience in journalism he also teaches at India Today Media Institute at New Delhi.

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