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March 2000
Special Report
Syedna’s Sena on rampage 

Worshippers of the Golden Calf

(We are reproducing below an article in two parts which was published by Hamara Mahanagar (Hindi) in two parts — on February 16 and 17. Written largely with the eveninger’s Muslim readers in mind, the piece gives a telling account of how the Syedna runs his nasty empire).

Syedna Mohammed  Burhanuddin is neither  God nor a Prophet. But his  followers believe that if he  so decides, the Syedna can gift anyone a ticket to Paradise. This is a matter of faith for the Bohra community and we see no reason to comment on the same. After all, if millions do see god in a clay idol, it is neither a matter of surprise nor criticism if some choose to elevate a flesh–and–bones human being to the status of god. 
But when non–Bohra Muslims — who claim to have faith in the one and only God and his Prophet, and who have enormous respect for the first four khalifas (Caliphs) of Islam —  start crying themselves hoarse in support of a person who does not subscribe to the essentials of their faith, and who seven years ago had publicly abused the first three Khalifas in his speech leading to the first ever Sunni–Bohra riots, some hard questions need to be raised. What is it that propels them to rise to the defence of someone who is so opposed to their basic believes?
The first question that comes to mind is whether they, too, have accepted the Syedna as their religious head. Or, is it that money–power is at work and that they have prostrated themselves before the Syedna’s wealth just as the followers of Moses had done before the magician Samri’s golden calf? If an answer to these questions can be found, they will reveal the real reasons why so many non–Bohra Muslim leaders revere the Syedna. 
The Syedna has kept the entire Bohra community in terror over the past 50 years. Earlier, his sovereignty was limited to his own community. But in the last ten years he has successfully identified and cultivated mercenaries among non–Bohras who play dubious games with other Muslims merely to help maintain the Syedna’s religious empire. Needless to say, such stooges are duly rewarded and they play an important role in buying the loyalty of Urdu newspapers to the Bohra head priest. 
Apart from this, the Syedna also commands a team of goons to crush his adversaries. Nearly seven years ago, from a stage in a Bohra mohalla in Mumbai, the Syedna had used foul and abusive language against the wife of the Prophet and the first three khalifas who succeeded him. A moulvi from the Sunni sect who objected to this was thrashed by the Syedna’s henchmen at his prompting and this led to the first ever Sunni–Bohra riot which continued for three days. 
In the midst of that conflict, some of the Syedna’s agents from among the Bohras and the Sunni community had approached the owner of an Urdu daily offering a briefcase full of currency notes in lieu of support for the Bohra high priest. But the owner of the daily had to reject the offer since a majority of the daily’s readers were Sunnis and passions were still running high because the Syedna had abused the Prophet’s wife. Judging by the current eagerness of the Urdu papers (from Mumbai) to rush to the Syedna’s rescue, it is difficult to believe that it was the same people who seven years ago had refused the Syedna’s bribe. 
To ensure that his paid lackeys continue to sing his tune, the Syedna has set aside a huge fund to benefit prominent non–Bohra Muslims. Whenever the Syedna’s henchmen find that any Muslim person of some standing, journalist or intellectual is in financial difficulty, they approach him at their own initiative to offer assistance. It is through such assistance that they are corrupted and their loyalty assured. All those who are on the Syedna’s side today are those very people who have been beneficiaries of his largesse. Pick up any Urdu paper and you will find it full of statements in the Syedna’s support and not a sentence against him. 
This is how the arrangement  works: on the Syedna’s birthday every year, a full–page advertisement is released in all Urdu newspapers at double the normal rate. How will such newspapers ever publish a statement critical of the Bohra high priest? It is of course a different matter that it does not cost much to buy the allegiance of Urdu newspapers. Since Rs.20,000–25,000 is all it takes to tie a collar around the necks of the editors or owners of Urdu newspapers, it’s a good deal.
The entire attention of the Syedna and his sycophants remains focussed on buying up non–Bohra Muslim journalists, intellectuals, moulvis and newspapers. After all, that is how the Syedna is able to impress upon politicians that he is not only the religious head of the small community of Bohra Muslims, but he also enjoys the respect of Muslims from other sects too. 
To create this impression, on Id Day every year, the Syedna’s agents round up prominent Muslims immediately after the Id prayers and herd them to the Syedna’s mansion (the Prophet of Islam never owned a mansion but this dharamguru resides in one). There, they all reverentially kiss the Syedna’s hands following which each select invitee receives an expensive shawl and a ‘packet’ depending on his assessed worth. 
When I was editing an Urdu newspaper, the Syedna’s agents had tried in the beginning to take me, too, to offer my respects to the high priest on Id day. But I told them that I would rather go to the graves of my grandparents after namaaz to pray for them. And that there was no question of my going to pay respects to a person with whom I am in intellectual and ideological disagreement. 
As I have written earlier, if the Syedna is indeed a follower of the Prophet, he should lead his life in accordance with his words and deeds. While the Prophet declared an amnesty even for his worst enemies when he entered Mecca as a victor, the Syedna cannot bear a word of censure against himself. What kind of a religious leader is the Syedna who reserves for himself the right to abuse the Prophet’s wife and highly respected first khalifas but who instigates his men to violence the moment anyone dares criticise him? 
Prominent Muslims who go to pay their respects to the Syedna on Id day have their photos taken in the company of the high priest. These are then circulated amongst political leaders to impress them with the Syedna’s clout so that they can be kept under fear of the Muslim vote bank. 
With the aid of his cronies, the Syedna has virtually turned that part of the posh Malabar Hill locality in Mumbai where he stays into a virtual Vatican City. Each time he travels, his car is preceded and followed by uniformed private security guards on motor–cycles — four in front and four at the rear. The Syedna occupies no government or political post. Who then has given him the authority and privilege to claim such preference on public roads? Or is he above the Constitution? The Syedna is able to avail of all this paraphernalia only on the strength of the vast funds at his disposal and his claim of being a religious head.
For security reasons, no one is permitted on the tarmac at the airports to receive any person unless the VIP in question has been granted special permission by the government. But over two years ago, the then minister for civil aviation, CM Ibrahim issued a special VIP card to the Syedna. His lieutenants can now drive up to the aircraft to receive the high priest. Interestingly, the Syedna contributed Rs10 lakh to a college in Bangalore being built by the same Ibrahim. Put the two things together and there you have the secret of the Syedna’s clout.
Incidentally, Asghar Ali Engineer is not the only one to have been at the receiving end of the Syedna’s wrath. The late Moin Shakir, a Sunni Muslim and a progressive historian from Aurangabad, was one among his many targets. Professor Shakir’s ‘crime’ consisted in the fact that he was one of the members of the Justice Nathwani Commission appointed in 1978 to inquire into the tyrannies of the Syedna and his coterie. There was little that the Syedna could do to Shakir while he was alive, but he sought his revenge after the latter’s death in 1987. At the instigation of the high priest’s henchmen, four months after Moin’s death, some of the Syedna’s paid agents from within the Sunni Muslim community in Aurangabad raised a dispute. Since Shakir was a communist, his body cannot rest in a graveyard for Muslim believers, they claimed. Their demand was that Shakir’s body be dug out from the grave and thrown out. The gathering storm that was deliberately stoked settled only after the kazi of Aurangabad city and the vice–amir of the Jamaat–e–Islami strongly condemned the Syedna–inspired mischief makers, saying, “since Shakir never described himself as a kafir, his faith was a matter between him and Allah; and no one else has any right to sit in judgement on the issue.’ Had the Aurangabad kaazi and the vice–amir of the Jamaat–e–Islami not been true to their calling, the Syedna’s agents in Aurangabad would not have rested till they had thrown the mortal remains of a Muslim scholar like Shakir out of the graveyard. 
Religious leaders who play politics in the name of faith are forever insecure about their hold on their flock. Which is why they are always anxious to silence the voice of anyone who criticises or opposes them. Because they are unable to muzzle their opponents in democratic ways, they resort to violence. When even that fails, they deploy the most potent weapon at their disposal — the fatwa. The origin of fatwa politics can be traced back to the Church and the Pope. By the end of the 18th century, the Pope’s fatwa had lost its sting. But the same weapon is now being deployed within the Muslim community as never before. 
Whenever the need is felt to malign or marginalise someone, it is declared that he/she is no longer a Muslim. Once such a declaration is made, barely literate and simple–minded Muslims take the mullah’s word on face value without seeking confirmation of the claim. In the past, fatwas have been issued even against people like Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, declaring them as ‘mischievous Muslim’, ‘kafir’, ‘atheist’, etc. 
The Syedna, too, deploys the fatwa weapon against his critics with great cunning. How potent his weapon is can be gauged from the fact that his agents felt bold enough to use it against an Islamic scholar of the stature of professor Moin Shakir. What can one say of the fact that Aurangabad’s Muslims came close to giving such a mean treatment to a man who wrote more than 10 books on Islamic history and culture. 
In the past Engineer, too, has been denounced as a kafir, a person who is anti–Muslim and anti–Quran. Mention the word Engineer before an ordinary Muslim today and he will immediately parrot the charge of his being anti–Islam. Is it not extremely unfortunate that such is their attitude towards a scholar of shariah and fiqh, who has through his books and columns in newspapers repeatedly challenged misinterpretations of the Quran or the Hadith? Because Engineer posed a danger to the mercenary mullahs, they decided that the best way to deal with him was to snap his ties with the average Muslim through resort to fatwa politics. For this reason alone did the professional mullahs dub Engineer un–Islamic. 
Unfortunately, by dubbing him as anti–Islam they have cut him off not only from the Bohras but from the larger Muslim community, too. It is of course another matter that those who call him anti–Islam are unable to cite anything from his writings to prove their case. The mullahs and the high priests mislead the simple-minded community of believers in the same measure as they place their trust in such leaders. 
Prominent among those who have today chosen to side with the Syedna are the very people who seven years ago had lead a morcha against the same man. The same Syedna who until yesterday was an ‘enemy of Sunnis’ is suddenly being presented today as a sage. It would appear that the Syedna’s gift shawls and ‘packets’ every Id have succeeded in melting the hearts of the Sunni mullahs. 
So burdened are the spokespersons of the Ulema Council and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board by the Syedna’s largesse that they have even forgotten the teachings of the Prophet of Islam: “When you are asked to speak the truth, testify even against yourself”. Apart from the Ulema Council and the All-India Personal Law Board, the Syedna also contributes generously to the Aligarh Muslim University. Similarly, at the time of natural calamities, the Syedna makes generous contributions to the relief funds of the governments at the Centre and in the states. 
Whenever his own authority is called into question, the Syedna seeks the shelter of the Muslim community. But whenever the Muslim community as a whole is targeted in the form of riots etc., he is quick to distance himself and the Bohras from the rest of the Muslims. Of this there are several examples.
During the 1992–93 riots in Mumbai, when the Shiv Sena had let loose a reign of terror against the Muslim community, the Syedna contacted Bal Thackeray and struck a secret deal. Following this, Thackeray had declared that though Bohras are part of the Muslim community, they are businessmen with whom “we have no dispute”. This way, the Syedna very smartly disassociated himself from all those who were being targeted by the Sena simply because they were Muslims. 
The Syedna and his agents have had a long–standing equation with the Shiv Sena. During the Sunni-Bohra riots seven years ago, the city was rife with rumour that Thackeray has sent his sainiks into Bohra mohallas to protect them from the Sunnis. Our readers will recall that on the occasion of his 73rd birthday last month, the Syedna had personally visited the residence of ‘Hinduhridaysamrat’ Bal Thackeray to felicitate him. It should be noted here that the same Syedna, who sees himself as a religious head priest and never goes to meet any political person, saw it fit to visit Thackeray on his birthday. 
This can mean one of two things: either the Syedna considers Thackeray to be a more exalted religious authority than himself or that he fears the Sena chief and therefore wants to keep him in good humour. Or, it could mean that Thackeray and the Syedna are old pals. As it is unlikely that the Syedna treats Thackeray as a higher religious authority, it could only mean that he is either the latter’s old pal or that he is scared of him. 
Now, if the Syedna is scared of a mere mortal like Thackeray, what kind of a dharam guru is he? But if he is an old friend of the Sena supremo, he should tell us how old their friendship is. Since the 1984 Bhiwandi riots, or since the 1992–93 riots? It is unlikely that the Syedna will answer this question but knowledgeable sources say the friendship between Thackeray and the Syedna is as old as Thackeray’s anti–Muslim politics.
If the Syedna is truly a spiritual person and a high priest, why does he need Thackeray to protect his flock from the Shiv Sainiks ire? If he indeed possesses the spiritual power to issue passports to heaven, here and now, to any person he likes, why does he need goons to deal with an opponent like Engineer? Surely, his spiritual power is more than adequate to deal with people like Engineer! (Sajid Rashid who is currently editor of Hamara Mahanagar (Hindi)  was formerly the features editor of Urdu Times).

Sajid Rashid