By R. Upadhyay
Dr Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the Chief Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest shrine of Muslim world visited India (March 24-28, 2011) at the invitation arranged by Arsad Madani, President of a faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Muslim organisations and institutions like Darul Uloom Deoband and its Ulema front Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and its student front Student Islamic Organisation of India, Ahle Hadees and. a government-facilitated Islamic Community Centre - India Islamic Cultural Centre. The visit was indeed organised in a "royal fashion" by these institutions.
i. The Imam was received at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi by Maulana Syed Arshad Madani on March 24.
ii. On March 25 accompanied by former cricketer turned MP Mohammad Azharuddin, and the Union Minister of State Sultan Ahmad, he flew to Deoband and was received by Darul-Uloom rector Mawlana Mohammad Ghulam Vastanvi and other top clerics of the Islamic seminary. A huge crowd of Muslim devotees from different parts of the country joined the Namaz prayer at the Rashidiya Mosque led by the Imam. In his hour long sermon he praised Deoband for its contribution in guiding the Muslim community. Addressing a massive gathering at the Azmat-e-Sahaba (Conference on companions of Prophet Muhammad), organized by Arshad Madani faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind in Ramlila Ground New Delhi on March 26 he urged the Indian Muslims "to unite to change the social order" in India and suggested that the followers of Islam should use advance technology including internet and electronic media to take the message of the religion across the world. Contrary to the resolution appealing the Muslims not to see TV earlier adopted by the managing committee of Mehmood Madani faction of JUH, he plumped for setting up an Islamic TV channel in India for preaching the teachings of the companions of the Prophet.
iii. He visited Islamic organizations and institutions in Delhi like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), Ahle Hadith and the India Islamic Cultural Centre and addressed the Muslim audiences. He laid the foundation stone for the Students’ Islamic Centre in New Delhi and urged the student community to unite and change the existing social order. Muhammad Azharuddin, President of Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) while welcoming the Imam said, “we are greatly honoured to have your Excellency to launch this Islamic centre project”. Top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind including its president Syed Jalaluddin Umari, vice presidents Siddique Hassan and Muhammad Jaafar, SIO’s secretary-general P.M. Saleh and other dignitaries also attended the function at SIO headquarters.
iv. He was honoured in a banquet on May 27 hosted by K. Rahman Khan, deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha which was also attended by Vice President Mohammad Hameed Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with ministers and lawmakers of the country.
Mecca Imam's Past: Some Observations:
The Mecca Imam, in the past was known for his hard line Wahhabi ideology. He once supported the separatist movement in Kashmir. For exampl on November 1, 2002, he stated "O Allah, support our mujahedeen brothers in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya." (Middle East Media Research Institute).Criticizing the Indian army for its alleged atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims and terming the movement in the valley as Jihad he had urged the Muslims in India to join it.
Apart from attacking Jews, the hate speeches of Al-Sudais against non-Muslims also included Hindus and Christians. John Ware on the BBC programme Panorama broadcast on 21 August 2005 cited him referring disparagingly to Christians as “cross-worshippers” and Hindus as “idol worshippers”. “The worst ... of the enemies of Islam are those... whom he... made monkeys and pigs, the aggressive Jews and oppressive Zionists and those that follow them: the callers of the trinity and the cross worshippers... those influenced by the rottenness of their ideas and the poison of their cultures the followers of secularism... How can we talk sweetly when the Hindus and the idol worshippers indulge in their overwhelming hatred against our brothers... in Muslim Kashmir...” (Sunday 21 August 2005, 22:20 BST on BBC One).
John in his comments said, “ Sudais had one voice for his Western audience - another for his followers in Saudi Arabia”. For inciting passions against the Jews, Hindus and Christians and using filthy words against even Muslims of non-Wahhabi sects like the Barelvis for worshipping the tombs of Sufi saints, Shias and other Muslim minorities, he has been facing international criticism.
In May 2009 Al Sudais said, “Muslims must do their part "to bring the Kashmiris out of the Indian despotism and autocracy, and [Muslims] should join hands with Kashmiris in this crucial situation… The Indian Army launched genocide by killing innocent children and by raping women; mosques were being demolished and they wanted to impose the secular and blasphemous system in Kashmir…"( MEMRI). Internationally reputed for his hateful and confrontationist sermons against non-Muslims, he endorsed the separatist movement in Kashmir as Jihad and urging the Muslims for joining it. (MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2365 dated May 20, 2009). He had also stated, “How can we talk sweetly when the Hindus and the idol worshippers kuffar... indulge in their overwhelming hatred against our brothers…in Muslim Kashmir”(Wikipedia). In view of such frequent sermons calling on believers to help other Muslims in war-torn regions and hate speeches against the non-Muslims, the ‘Anti-Defamation League, an international non-governmental organization based in United States was even barred from conferences in the United States and refused entry to Canada. (Wikipedia).
Indian Muslims constitute the second/third largest group of Muslim population in the world and to win them over is therefore a political priority of Saudi Arabia for the stability of the kingdom. It has already spread its Wahhabi net work in India but has so far not been able to make the desired dent due to likely challenge by the democratic forces in the country. However, in view of visible success in Saudi-isation of a sizeable section of Pakistani Muslims through Deobandi madrasa, Jamaat-e- Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e Islam both being the Pakistani counterpart of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind of India, Al Sudais was sent to accelerate the movement of Wahhabisation among Indian Muslims by cheering them up and helping the pro-Wahhabi organisations/institutions which are already working for Arabisation of Indian Muslims through Islamic revival movements since the middle of nineteenth century. The need of the hour for Saudi Arabia is to turn the movement of Arabisation into Saudi-isation for the stability of the Saudi monarchy.
Reaction of some Indian Muslim Communities:
Since the worldwide Muslim majority do not subscribe to the Wahhabi ideology, the claim of Arshad Madani of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind that “Sheikh Al Sudais is the highest religious leader of the Muslims” is misleading. In the Indian sub-continent too the Wahhabis have so far made only a limited dent among the Muslims. Deobandi, Tablighi Jamaat, Ahle Hadees and the Jamaat-e-Islami sects do not constitute more than 15 to 20% of the total population of the community. In fact Wahhabis due to their reputation of destroying all the sacred graveyards and mausoleums including those of Prophet’s family in Mecca are hardly acceptable to a majority of the Muslims..
Similarly Barelvi Muslims who constitute largest group of Muslim population in Indian sub-continent maintain that “Mecca Imam does not represent the Sunni Muslims of the world and he is not our leader”. They condemned the visit of the Imam in India on the plea that it was “Wahhabi-Deobandi nexus to popularize Wahabi extremist Ideology in Indian Subcontinent” (http://sunninews.worldpress.com/2011/03/). They also “expressed grave concerns over the false propaganda run by Urdu Media to show the Imam as most revered personality of Islamic world”. They even demanded the Mecca Imam for a clarification on the treaty made between Indian Muslim leaders and the Saudi Kingdon in 1925 in which king Abdul Azeez (Ibn Saud) had promised to hand over Mecca, Medina and other cities of Hijaj under the custodianship of a united body of world Muslim leaders after the establishment of peace in the region but the treaty has so far not been followed. They also asked the Imam to convey this message of Indian Muslims to Saudi king Abdullah. (Ibid).
Why this Visit?
There appears to be a Saudi angle to the visit. This visit is being arranged when the Arab world is in a turmoil. The way the Saudi priest called on the religious groups of Indian Muslims and asked them to unite their co-religionists in the country for changing their existing social order suggest that the Saudi Government has an interest in transforming the Indian Muslims as pro-Saudi strategic ally. In fact, with the indigenous upheaval in Arab world particularly known as ‘Jasmine revolution’ in Tunisia and ‘Lotus revolution’ in Egypt against the monarchy and despotic regimes, the confidence of the Saudi kingdom about its stability is also shaken. Is the visit then to strengthen the wahhabi ideology and contribute to the stability of Saudi Kingdom? One cannot be sure..
Against the background of the Mecca priest’s anti-Hindu speeches and stand on Kashmir a question arises - will not his his visit to India calling upon the Indian Muslims for changing the social order and setting up of Islamic TV channel for preaching the message of the companions of Prophet Mohammad useful to the Islamic community in the country cause misgivings to the majority of the Muslim community?
Is the tour of this leading cleric of Wahhabi apparatus has the sole agenda to "arabise" the Indian Muslims? Is it not an attempt to transform the larger majority of believers from the moderate version of shrine culture and Sufi tradition of Islam to a more militant version of the faith.? Is there a hidden agenda in his appeal to the student community to unite and change the existing social order while laying the foundation stone for the Students’ Islamic Centre?
The Student Islamic Organisation which is a student front of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has already established its branches in most of the Indian States and Al Sudais patronage to it will not be welcomed by many. The endeavour of JUH in inviting the Islamist cleric is also a part of campaign to mobilise the Indian Muslims towards its interpretation of Islam which may contribute to the widening the gap of conflict between Sufism oriented Barelvis and pro-Wahhabi Deobandis in the Muslim community in the country.
The JUH leader Arshad Madani who had requested Parliament's security officers not to frisk him on the plea that it would be "unbecoming of his stature", must have patted his back by showing that how Wahhabi, Deobandi, and other interpretations of Islam are flourishing in the country. What he perhaps did not realise was that any accommodation of fundamental wahhabi ideology has the potential for intra communal conflict within the country.
By and large the Indian Muslims might have regarded the visit of Al Sudais as the first-ever imam of Mecca Mosque coming to India as a great event worthy of celebration and may not have realised the potential for exacerbating the differences within the Muslim community. In a way it is also good for the Imam to see for himself how the community is flourishing.
But the apparent government level celebration for this VIP whose intended tour was only to impress on the solidarity of Saudi Wahhabism with Deobandism in India in contrast to the vast majority who are of Barlevi sect is not understood.