Churn in Madarsas Over I-Day Celebrations: A Missing Introspection

Managers of leading madarsas have accused the UP government of trying to put the ulema’s patriotism to the test.

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Churn in madarsas over independence day celebrations. Photo used for representational purposes. 
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Churn in Madarsas Over I-Day Celebrations: A Missing Introspection

On this Independence Day, a churn has been created among the madarsas. They are directed by the Madarsa Shiksha Parishad to hoist the Tricolour and recite the national anthem. On 3 August, the UP government asked the madrassas to compulsorily observe Independence Day, record the celebration in pictures and videos and send them to the district minority officer. Now, the Madhya Pradesh Madarsa Board has also ordered the state madrassas to celebrate Independence Day and send evidence of their celebrations.

While one section of Muslim clerics hopes that it will enhance “transparency and trust”, another calls it an “unusual order” doubting the patriotism of the Muslim community. Notably, several Muslim leaders like the UP Waqf minister Mohsin Raza have endorsed this order. “There is nothing new in this circular. It has been laid out to elaborate directions on how Independence Day celebrations should be conducted in madarsas”, he said, as reported in the Urdu daily Inquilab on 12 August.

‘Why This Order After 70 Years of Independence?’

But the rectors and managers of the leading state madarsas have accused the UP government of trying to put the ulema’s patriotism to the test. The madarsa rectors (nazims) of both the Deobandi and Barelvi sects have refused to sing the national anthem. They have boycotted the directive to sing “Vande Matram”. Noted Islamic cleric, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahalli, asks as to why the government had to issue such a circular now, 70 years after the Independence. Dr Masood Ahmad, the president of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has also criticised the circular.

“Why this order to those (ulema and madarsas) who laid down their lives for the freedom struggle?”, he asked. GVL Narasimha Rao, BJP spokesperson, tried to answer: “At a time when the spectre of radical Islam is a threat to the community, Muslims should welcome the move rather than place religion over nation. Respect for national symbols is non-negotiable.”

But some liberal commentators have trashed this argument as a ‘majoritarian party line’.

Telling Muslims what they should feel [grateful]. Setting “non-negotiable” conditions for their Indianness. And of course, using the spectre of radical Islam to try to push the minority into a meek corner. But bullying someone into celebrating Independence Day is all kinds of oxymoronic. It kind of rubs in an absence of freedoms. And that is sound reason for “a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity.”
Renuka Bisht, an editor with the Times of India

Interestingly, in his strong reaction, Darul Uloom Deoband’s senior teacher and the president of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind Maulana Syed Arshad Madani avers that the “madarsas and ulema had the biggest part in the freedom fight and that the current regime had no role in the struggle”. Similarly, the national president of the Rashtria Ulema Council Maulana Amir Rashadi has stated: “Those who made no sacrifice to the freedom cause are directing us how to celebrate the Independence Day”, the Urdu daily Inquilab reported.

Putting Patriotism to the Test

While such reactionary statements are not reasoned and sagacious, it is equally unsettling that the government has concerned itself with a non-issue. In fact, the 16,000 madarsas in Uttar Pradesh which have been celebrating the Independence Day and hoisting the Indian flag with great gusto should have no problem with this circular. But it is no wonder that this circular is seen as attempt to test the patriotism and national integrity of the madarsas and their ulema.

In fact, Indian ulema or the madarsa products, along with the Hindu national leaders and freedom fighters, rendered historic contributions in the freedom movement. In their untiring struggle to liberate the country from the shackles of British imperialism, they left behind a historic legacy of national integration and Hindu-Muslim unity in India, offering us robust examples to emulate.

Therefore, flaunting the contribution of one’s own community and dismissing others’ role in the freedom movement is an out-and-out communal gimmick. This should be clear to the Muslim clerics like Maulana Syed Arshad Madani and Maulana Amir Rashadi. Not only Muslims, but all Indian communities and their social and religious leaders had significant role, particularly in the first uprising of India against the British imperialists in May 1857.

On this Independence Day, both brands of Hindu-Muslim communal politics need to recall this: Right from the first war of Independence (1857) to 1947, Hindus and Muslims fought side by side to rescue India from the British. The revolt of 1857 also known as the Sepoy Mutiny – India’s first struggle of Independence – witnessed an epoch-making Hindu-Muslim unity in the rebellion against the East India Company. Even in struggles and movements against British imperialism that started before the 1857 revolt, pundits along with the maulvis, Muslim zamindars along with the Hindu traders and peasants, took an equally active part.

1857 Revolt: A Coalition of Hindu-Muslim Leaders

In this context, the 1857 revolt should particularly be recalled. More than 70 percent of the soldiers in this first freedom struggle were Hindus. On the other hand, Muslim leaders like Maulana Ahmed Shah, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Khan Bahadur Khan, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Firoz Shah and Azimullah Khan were the most prominent characters in the annals of the revolt.

Remarkably, Nana Sahib, Rani Laxmi Bai and Tantya Tope declared Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim King, India’s first independent ruler on 11 May 1857. Similarly, Ram Kunwar Singh, Raja Nahir Singh, and Rao Tula Ram exerted herculean efforts and sacrifices to uphold the 1857 revolt. Thus, the first battle for India’s freedom was pioneered by a coalition of Hindu and Muslim leaders.

Noted historian PC Joshi writes about the 1857 revolt: “It was not a sudden or isolated event, but in fact, the leaders all over the country had united to free the country. This was the first organized attempt to drive out the foreign rulers. The purpose behind the movement was to free the country and form an autonomous government.”

Given this historical account of India’s first independence struggle characterised by joint Hindu-Muslim efforts, it is distressing to note that while celebrating Independence Day in the madarsas, our ulema only extol the Muslim champions of the 1857 revolt and hardly mention the Hindu freedom fighters. Similarly, today’s Hindu leaders tend to overlook the paramount importance of the sacrifices made by the 18th century ulema as well as the later Muslim freedom fighters.

Minority Welfare Minister Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary says that the Independence Day celebrations in the madarsas will inspire students to learn more about the contribution of the freedom fighters. But what will inspire the madarsa students to look beyond their own Islamic heroes of the freedom movement?

Maulana Salman Nadwi, noted Islamic cleric and senior lecturer at Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, also exhorts the Indian madrassas to celebrate I-Day with greater fervor and to click pictures and videos of the programs. But in his letter to the UP madrassas, Maulana Nadwi proposes to recount only Muslim freedom movements and fighters.

He exhorts the madarsas to tell students the memories of Nawab Sirajuddaula, Tipu Sultan, Syed Ahmad Shaheed, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Khilafat Movement, Reshmi Roomal Tehrik, Jamiat Ulama’s movement, Maulana Azad and Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani. In his proposal as published in Inquilab on 13 August, Nadwi has skipped all non-Muslim freedom strugglers and their movements.

He also added that only ‘Islamically justified’ national anthems should be sung on Independence Day. He writes: “Allama Iqbal’s song ‘Muslim hain hum watan hai sara jahan hamara should be sung’, while at the same time, the polytheistic and communal elements in the anthem of Vande Matram must be candidly exposed”.

As their moral duty, madarsas and the ulema need to apprise themselves of the remarkable sacrifices of the non-Muslim freedom fighters. But equally important is the question about the sacrifices of the Muslims from the first Independence struggle (1857) to 1947.

That the government has miserably failed to introduce the Muslim revolutionaries of India’s Independence to the secular educational institutions is an undeniable truth.

(The author is a writer and researcher in Culture and Communication Studies. This is a blog and the views expressed above are of the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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