Muslims will follow all lockdown protocol during Ramzan: Mufti of Varanasi

Maulana Abdul Batin Nomani, Shahr-Mufti Benaras, urges member of India’s vibrant Muslim community to maintain peace and respect the law of the land


In an exclusive interview to Sabrang India’s Editor Teesta Setalvad, Mufti-e-Banaras Maulana Abdul Batin Nomani, speaks about the concerns of the Muslim community and emphasizes the need to put an end to the hateful agenda of divisive forces by maintaining cordial relations with people of all faiths and by respecting law and order.  On the eve of holy month of Ramzan, Maulana Batin’s advice to India and his community are ever so relevant.

Sabrang India: Even before the Tablighi Jamaat incident, anti-minority sentiments were high, especially after the abrogation of article 370 and the anti-CAA protests. What have you observed in terms of what the community has been feeling since then?

Maulana Batin: While Muslim sentiments had been hurt in the past, there has been an increase in the frequency of such incidents over the last few years. There have been motivated and ideological targeting of the community on several issues: the Babri-Masjid-Ayodhya issue, triple talaq, Article 370, NRC/CAA (citizenship) and so much else. This has led to a feeling of hopelessness, leave alone fear and dread, among Indian Muslims. If this continues, the future is bleak. As it is, they have been facing economic hardship and deprivation for decades. Now there is now greater anxiety given the prevailing situation, now it’s a question of physical survival. Such a situation is not only a concern for India’s Muslims but the country as a whole especially one that is proud of being a democracy.

Sabrang India: The UP Police and the Adityanath regime has engaged in a brutal crackdown on anti-CAA protesters. How has that impacted people and neighbourhoods? Is there a sense of alienation and helplessness, or has this also evolved into frustration and fear?

Maulana Batin: The cruelty of the sustained actions especially in many parts of UP by the police has left people feeling hopeless, helpless and afraid. This kind of violent targeting of people of one community by what is purportedly a secular and democratically elected government is deeply condemnable! We hope this stops, the powers that be reflect on their actions and the consequences and that justice becomes the guiding mantra of those who rule: so people can live in lasting peace.

Sabrang India: After the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the communal spin given to it by a section of the media, what was the immediate reaction of members of the community?

Maulana Batin: No matter how many times we have been targeted, now and in the past, we have never taken the law into our own hands and always remained peaceful. This is because Islam asks us to maintain peace. We always relied on the administration and police, local courts –the Rule of Law principles and rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. We have on occasion even gone right up to the Supreme Court to affirm our rights, get justice. On occasion we were successful, at other times we were not. Never mind that. Even today, guided as we are by Islamic teachings, we are committed to dealing with the present situation with patience and will, exercising self-restraint. We will remain peaceful and follow the law of the land.

Sabrang India: Do you feel that the attitude of the Tableeghi Jamaat in not just going ahead with the congregation in mid-March but by its leader making the speech he did on March 20 (asking Muslims to congregate at the Mosque regardless of the health issues) contributed in a significant way to this othering and hate?

Maulana Batin: Contrary to what has been portrayed and built into an issue, it is not as if the Jamaat conspired to infect people. However, the Jamaat leadership should have exercised caution and acted in a more responsible manner. They should not have held the congregation. That was just wrong. I had condemned their decision at the time, and continue to condemn it today. But one cannot let the administration off the hook either. What were the police doing, the IB that keeps tabs on everything, what were they doing? How did they allow such a large gathering to take place at all? Will no questions be asked of the Intelligence and Law enforcement authorities who should never have permitted the Jamaat gathering? Who should have used the power of the state to disperse the gathering while it assembled? Why are these questions not being asked? Why this silence?

So, it is wrong to single out the Jamaat as the only guilty party in the entire matter. The investigation has only singled them out and they are the only ones being accused of spreading the virus. This is not right.

Worse still, the way in which the issue has been communalised, is unforgiveable. It is just not right. In fact, we are grateful to non-Muslim, secular Hindu activists, journalists and intellectuals for raising their voices against this blatant communalisation of the Covid pandemic.

Sabrang India: Muslims are being accused of nothing short of bio-terrorism by Islamophobic bigots. This hate is spread in the media and on social media. What kind of impact do you think that is having on Muslim youth and how would you advise them to act?  

Maulana Batin: Covid-19 is a disease caused by a virus that doesn’t strike people based on their religion. It has affected people across the world and efforts are being made to find a solution, worldwide.Given that, the manner in which it has been communalised in India is condemnable. It is being made to appear that Muslims have spread the virus.

Truth is, the virus had affected persons all over India, even before the Tablighi Jamaat event. Who spread it then? Also, who spread it to China, Italy, America and Britain? Who first brought it into India? These are important questions. It is tragic.

That only in India we are asking such sectarian questions because of the prevalent political atmosphere.

I hope a cure can be found soon for this deadly virus and I appeal to all, Muslims and non-Muslims, to act in unison and community concern: no one should behave in a manner that adversely impacts India’s beautiful Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (culture) thereby allowing communal forces to become stronger.

Sabrang India:  How does this kind of propaganda affect Muslims and what would be your advice to them? What should be the responsibility of the Muslim religious, social and intellectual leadership at this extremely sensitive time?

Maulana Batin: No religion preaches hate. Therefore, the responsibility of religious leaders from all faiths as well as social activists and intellectuals across the board, becomes greater at times like these. We have to come together to protect humanity.

Sabrang India:  Have any such efforts been made in Varanasi? You had done it during the time after the twin bomb-blasts with Pandit Veer Bhadra Mishra of Sankat Mochan temple and also Christian priests in 2006. Are similar efforts being made now?

Maulana Batin: Yes, about 15 days ago all religious heads from different faiths and also some members of the state administration came together at Maitri Bhavan, a Christian run facility, to appeal to people to preserve our humanity, follow the law and not create interfaith discord. This was widely reported in the newspapers here.

Sabrang India:  There is a lot of hate being spread by news channels. How has that impacted the community, especially the youth?

Maulana Batin: We just hope the youth don’t get triggered into doing something unfortunate. We must get these channels who are conspiring to spread hate in such despicable ways to stop! Many Muslim, non-Muslim and secular minded youth have also been able to see through the agenda of these channels and are deeply upset. When the matter of news channels spreading hate went to the Supreme Court, many of them expressed regret. But what good does expressing regret or even asking for forgiveness do, after they have already spread so much hate, when the damage has been done?

What is most disturbing is how people from the most socio-economically vulnerable sections of society have been forced to bear a disproportionately large burden of the impact of this hate; people like vegetable sellers or small vendors have been the worst affected. Their livelihoods are being impacted by this social ostracisation and boycott. It is the duty of the state, government, police and administration to ensure the rights of all.

Sabrang India:  What are some of the most pressing social and economic concerns of Indian Muslims today?

Maulana Batin: The social and economic concerns of Muslims are the same as that of Dalits and others from backward and oppressed communities… everyone has the same concerns; livelihood, jobs, education, personal security and safety of homes and property. We don’t care only about concerns of Muslims, but everybody else as well, all Indians of all caste, community and colour. So, we appeal that everyone’s concerns be addressed in this moment of crisis and that the vulnerable are protected.

Sabrang India: Muslims are being stigmatised and stereotyped deliberately as part of a wider ideological game plan. Do you think Muslims themselves need to make any special efforts to help change the narrative?

Maulana Batin: A few bad apples are found in every community. We try to reason with such people within our community and try to rehabilitate them to a more acceptable way of thinking and conducting themselves. Sometimes we are successful. Sometimes we are not. But its not just Muslims who have these bad apples, which community does not?

Sabrang India: Ramzan is round the corner, and at least a part of it will take place under lockdown conditions. What would be your advice to the community during this time?

Maulana Batin: I appeal to everyone to respect all lockdown protocols and follow all related instructions and orders strictly. I am sure Muslims will follow this protocol strictly. Please do not step out of your homes. Please conduct prayers and all religious ceremonies within your own homes. Please do not do anything that will help the virus spread. I urge you to exercise extreme caution at this sensitive time.

Sabrang India: Do you think people in Varanasi will follow lockdown protocol?

Maulana Batin: Inshallah, they have already been doing so and will. They have done it so far and the administration has been strictly implementing the lockdown. We don’t think anyone can get careless under such strict conditions.

Sabrang India: You had played a stellar role in helping ease communal tension in wake of the 2006 bomb blasts along with Pandit Veer Bhadra Mishra. What message would you like to give the people of India, including both Muslims and Hindus amidst these dark and challenging time?

Maulana Batin: My message remains the same. Violence and bloodshed are never the solution to anything, whatever the provocation. Only love can help establish lasting peace. That’s what Islam teaches that one must never respond to hate and violence with more hate, violence or bloodshed. Only the brotherhood between communities can end hate.

So, we appeal to all Muslims and non-Muslims, that if you come across hate, respond to it with love. That is the only way to counter it. Eventually, good will and must win over evil. That is how we will prosper as a nation and as a society.

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