Vastanvi, Modi, politics — and the future of Darul Uloom



The sordid saga of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi’s appointment and possible resignation as vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom in Deoband leaves needless distaste and shows what religion (any religion) really is all about — crude power play.

The organisation, as we all know, began 145 years ago as the “renaissance of Islamic sciences” in 1866. Behind that renaissance, however, remains a dark, anti-Christian, pro-power past that echoes on the web pages of the organisation even today.

So, when Vastanvi praised Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for bringing development to the state and that Muslims must “come out of its ghetto mindset”, opposition came from the traditional Muslims, who not only castigated him for speaking out in favour of Modi but turned his education (he’s an MBA) into a liability. As a result, Vastanvi has withdrawn his remarks on Modi. (I had spoken to a senior Imam in Delhi who said he was happy that Vastanvi had suggested that Muslims leave Modi behind and move on and had congratulated him.)

“I hereby clarify to all the well-wishers of Darul Uloom Deoband and the Muslim community that my statement published in the Times of India was twisted out of context,” Vastanvi clarified. “I cannot even think to make a statement against Darul Uloom Deoband and the traditions of its predecessors. In spite of this clarification, if some well-wishers have been hurt, I apologise to them wholeheartedly.”

But while Vastanvi looks like a positive reformer, trying to pull his community out of a development morass, his dissociation of anything non-Islamic is amusing. “The other thing attributed to me is the idol issue which is wholly baseless and misleading. I declare my dissociation from it. Yes, in a function I was asked to give a thanksgiving letter having some picture which I did not know. I believe that keeping or distributing idol is sheer shirk (associating partner with Allah); therefore no question of keeping or distributing idol can arise.”

This is the organisation’s traditional face, a face that is at war with other religions. “The Christian countries of Europe have been rivals of the Muslims from the very beginning,” the website states (click here and then go to ‘A Brief Introduction’ to read the organisation’s tirade against Christianity). “They never considered the idolatrous nations to be their enemies capable of posing danger to Christendom in the field of international politics. But the Muslims did have an international position. They had established their slates not only in Asia but had also ruled over Spain in Europe for 800 years and then for 600 had held sway over Constantinople, which was the capital of eastern Byzantium and other territories under its suzerainty. The real rivals, therefore, of the Christians were only Muslims, who had fought great wars with them in the course of 1400 years.”

On Gujarat, I’m hearing two voices, but have seen one. On the one side, I’ve been told by political pundits that Muslims in Gujarat are still scared of Modi and with a wall behind them, they have no option but to support him. In this day and age of immediate and constant information (see Tunisia and the Arab world), I find that rather difficult to believe.

The other voice I hear is that Modi is an agnostic whose religion is to bring prosperity to the state. Hence, he gets the support of both Hindus and Muslims.

What I have seen is this. As a family, we can walk home from a late night show without the slightest fear of being robbed or assaulted. This kind of safety I have felt only in Singapore and Taipei. Big businesses are making a beeline for a state that has shown double-digit growth over the past decade, apparently because of a governance that the Centre and other states would do well to emulate. This means jobs — and I have seen both Hindus and Muslims fairly well employed in this highly-entrepreneurial state. Vastanvi has urged Muslims to study and make the best of these opportunities.

I don’t know what the Muslims want out of a leader. But this much is clear: a low-level infighting for the post, using religion as a lever and politics as a boulder, is not going to help in any manner, whatsoever. This petty fight for the top post is needlessly giving the organisation — that needs to and must evolve with changing times — a wrong image.

From a distance, it looks as if the time for change is here and Vastanvi, who is slowly getting support from Deobandis, is probably the new face of that change. I disagree with many of his views, particularly his flitting between being a reformer and a conservative. On that he needs to make a clearer and stronger stand. But in an imperfect world of imperfect men, the Muslims would do well to back a religious reformer over any traditionalist.

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