Monday, February 14, 2011

Maulana Vastanvi:New Face of Darul Uloom, Deoband?

"Please, don't start your politics of Pakistan from India," Mahmood Madani had bluntly told Musharraf after the latter claimed that Muslims in India were alienated and suggested that this was one of the reasons for terrorism here. Virtually retorting the former Pakistani military ruler, he had said, "Population of Muslims in India is more than that total population of Pakistan. You should be knowing this.”

An unsuspecting Musharraf had turned somberly silent under the spirited attack beamed live, across the world from New Delhi. Madani, member of Rajya Sabha and leader of Jamat-e-Ulema-i-Hind, made it clear to the visiting Pakistani leader, that he or his country need not bother about the condition of Muslims in India.

Currently, Madani is locked in a fierce political battle for control of Darul Uloom, Deoband, the century and half old most respected Muslim seminary. His rival and relative, Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the newly appointed rector is under blistering attack over his controversial statement praising Gujarat Chief Minister.

An MBA and businessman running many educational institutions with more than 200,000 students, Vastanvi had only taken up the assignment on January 10. He has established himself as a great pioneer in madarsa education, by linking modern education and Islamic teachings, and has transformed lives of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in western India. Coming up a hard way, by starting 30 years ago, a small madarsa from a hut in the tribal area of in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district, Maulana was able to make it one of India’s top madarsas, known as Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom in Akkalkuwa. It has 15 colleges equipped with most modern facilities besides running engineering, medicine, teaching, pharmacy and information technology courses. The madarsa runs schools in Gujarat and Maharashtra along with 30 well equipped hospitals.

According to some observers, his institutes have grown much bigger than Darool Uloom Deobabd, as far as the number of students, their much needed modern education and jobs are concerned. He has been honoured with the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Award by the Maharashtra government.

His fate will be decided in a meeting of the supreme governing council on February 15. He will attend the meeting and until a decision is taken, the Maulana will continue in his post.

Vastanvi was appointed rector following the death of his predecessor Maulana Marghoobur Rahman. But soon after, he sparked a grave controversy, frankly expressing his views on Gujarat by saying that Muslims too have benefited from the development initiative of the Gujarat Chief Minister.

Maulana Vastanvi belongs to Surat in Gujarat and happens to be also the first non UP person to head the institution. He has a long association with the Darul Uloom and as well as, been a liberal contributor. Perhaps the highly politicized and polarized environment of UP politics is also contributing to the perennial insider-outsider twist to the controversy and still there is much more hidden that what meets the eye in the unfolding drama.

But visibly encouraged with swelling support with in the institution, the community and Media focus, Vastanvi seems ready for a fight to finish.

However, there is another source of conflict between Madani and Vastanvi over the central government proposal to improve and modernize the Madarsa education in country. While Madani is looking at the proposal as an attempt to take away the fiercely protected autonomy of the institution, Vastanvi has more accommodating and fresh approach, far away from old, rigidly insular mindset to such issues.

It is reported that only around 2-3 dozen students of seminary have been greatly agitated over his open appreciation of on going development in Gujarat. In the fiercely politically correct, lip service afflicted environment of India, Gujarat and its feisty chief minister Narendra Modi has been a persona non-grata, since 2002, being under dark clouds of suspicion to be a willful accomplice in the massacre of minorities.

Taking a bold approach, Vastanvi has advised the community to forget the black episode and move on with the important issues of life with an open mind , accepting and appreciating the new unfolding realities. It is reported that the majority is out to supports Vastanvi inside the institution, outside with in the town of Deoband and as well as across India. He has a very clean and unblemished image of a cleric, who is open to modern education and has already achieved a lot for the community individually by creating modern institutions of learning..

In a meeting of motivated Vastanvi supporters, Maulana Madni was blamed for the ongoing crisis in the seminary. All those present in the meeting openly charged the Jamiat with playing a dirty game to retain power.

After death of Maulana Marghoobur Rehman, Maulana Arshad Madni group had become very active as they saw a bright chance of getting the controls of the seminary in their hands. But instead, the council, being seized of the matter, opted for a modern and progressive Vastanvi, thereby annoying Jamiat old guards.

Terming the tirade against Vastanvi the handiwork of Maulana Arshad group, Badar Kazmi, the Vice President of the Muslim Majlis in UP, said the regressive hardliners did not approve of the modern and progressive people’s association with the seminary

Being young and progressive Vastanvi emerged as a popular choice in the meeting of council and he was the one who faced least opposition. Many members of the council are pained and even surprised by the controversy over his appointment. Interestingly, the deputy vice-chancellor of the seminary Maulanan Abdul Khalik Madrasi has out-rightly resisted any Jamiat politics inside the seminary.

In many televised interviews, Vastanvi confidently challenged the old hardliners by sticking to his views about Gujarat development helping Muslims. He further advised the community to leave the matter to the courts and get on with education and jobs, the most important issues of life. When asked to rate the performance of Modi, he was quick to give him 5 out of 10 and expressed his inability to accuse the Chief Minister of a state of any crimes, as it for courts to decide, not him. Till recently, barely known to the Muslims outside Gujarat and Maharastra, his initiatives and defining contributions has been recognized and replicated by many madarsas across India, earning him admirers and supporters.

Apart from the internal politics of the seminary, the well known faces representing Muslims have left no time in strongly criticizing the despicable statement of Vastanvi and asked him to resign. Being the first Muslim leader to go against the well known cast iron narrative of discrimination, anger and bad past, he must have been certainly aware and prepared for the possible negative consequences. Making a somersault in last few days, Vastanvi even tried to attempt a damage control mode, by criticizing Modi, perhaps betraying a politician in him as well. The well entrenched old guards with age old script are still not ready to give space to difference of opinions to exist and be debated in a rational manner.

But the confident bearings, unhurried demeanor and bristling pragmatism can not be, only his own make over, and might as well represent waves of growing confidence with in the community. Being risen from grass root activism and entrepreneurship, he must have been aware and even an important part of the awakening pragmatic forces, uncomfortable and at odd with the prevailing age old breast beating-antagonistic mindset.

Lately, Vastanvi has tried hard to communicate that he never condoned the Gujarat carnage and like every body else, wants those guilty punished. But he never fails to insist, it is time for Muslims to emerge out of the shadows of past and move on. They must not fail to educate their children so that they do not take to crime or religious extremism and strive to flow within the national mainstream.

His, is a very bold move and conciliatory message and not just to Gujarat's Muslims, who were displaced during the riots. It goes across India and wherever the 2002 events have cast a dark shadow.

There have been a slowly emerging far reaching welcome change with in madarsas to align with the rising needs of Muslim boys and girls. Many madarsas started teaching science, engineering and IT. There by got busy in the much needed development endeavor, refuting the perceptions, heightened post-9/11, that Muslim seminaries have been only stoking fundamentalism and militancy.

In past, Deoband seminary has also been demonized by actions of few belonging to the fringe, who tried to turn it in to a regressive Fatwa Factory, ridiculing any attempt at change and modernity. The number of Muslim seminaries in India are estimated to be over 30,000 and not all of them are controlled by the school of theology that Deoband propagates.

Whatever happens, Vastanvi along with his growing ilk, will now be a force to recon with, during any future discourse and negotiations regarding issues concerning Muslims in India. Even if, he is forced to move away from Deoband, the hereto unknown pragmatism and confidence articulated by him will continue to enforce moderation and rationality, rather than die hard rigidities solely based on emotive tentacles of past conflicts.

To his credit, Mahmood Madani has maintained a silence and so far refused to comment on the on going controversies. He may be representing the old guard mindset, but his familial linkages, eventually might help Vastanvi, thereby strengthen the new forces of moderation and reconciliations.


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