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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).