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Indian Muslims Increasing Resistance to Wahhabi Incursion

5:02 PM, Oct 20, 2011 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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On October 16, 100,000 Indian Muslims gathered for a “mahapanchayat”—a mass assembly of local council leaders—in Moradabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s leading state in population, with about 200 million people, a majority of them Muslim. At a press conference announcing the convocation, Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchhwi, general secretary of the All-India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB)—a body of moderate clerics and spiritual Sufi leaders—spoke out boldly against fundamentalist Wahhabism. Kichowchhwi denounced the radical doctrine inspired by Saudi Arabia as “a virus for society” and assailed Wahhabis he said had gained control of India's Muslim communal institutions.

“The majority of Indian Muslims do not accept them as their religious leaders,” said Kichowchhwi, the head of a prominent Sufi shrine, Kachhochha Sharif, about 300 miles southeast of Moradabad in Faizabad, also in Uttar Pradesh. He elaborated, “the flag-bearers of Wahhabism . . . do not lead the 80 percent Sunni and Sufi Muslim population of India.” (India's Muslims—some 150 million, or 14 percent of its citizens—are the third largest Islamic community in the world, after those of Indonesia, 215 million, and Pakistan, 160 million). Kichowchhwi accused functionaries from the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, which supervises the application of Islamic family law among Muslims, of joining the clerics and teachers of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband sect, which inspires the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in “promoting the imported ideology of Wahhabism from the Arab world.” His blunt language shocked India's Muslim media.

The outspoken position of Kichowchhwi was endorsed by 13 other keepers of Sufi sites, including Syed Shahid Mian Chishti and Syed Mehdi Mian of Ajmer Sharif, India’s outstanding Sufi monument, which was bombed in 2007 with two people killed and 20 injured. Ajmer Sharif is the mausoleum of the 12th- and 13th-century figure Moinuddin Chishti, the most beloved South Asian Sufi, and like other Sufi sanctuaries, is often visited by non-Muslims. The Ajmer Sharif attack was one in a series of brutal assaults against Sufi institutions carried out across Pakistan and India since 2005 by Islamist extremists who, as Kichowchhwi pointed out, condemn Sufis and ordinary Muslim believers for memorial recitations from the Koran, “sending blessings to the saints and our ancestors,” which the Wahhabis prohibit as alleged polytheism and an unacceptable innovation forbidden in Islam. The Wahhabi argument against these long-established Muslim customs, which are present in every Islamic country, often holds that they imitate Christian devotions.

Kichowchhwi has warned Indian Muslims previously of Wahhabi infiltration of their institutions. Early last year he called on moderates to “liberate our properties”—referring to 10,000 shrines, mosques, and madrassas invaded successfully by the radicals in Uttar Pradesh. In his latest statement, he described the Wahhabi literature distributed for free or at reduced prices as “nothing but propaganda.”

Now, the AIUMB leaders have gone further in their censure of Wahhabism. According to Kichowchhwi, the Wahhabis have usurped and are stealing the assets of the Islamic endowment (waqf) boards in India, “and for them it is justified to loot property.” He claimed that since the radicals have never established or contributed to any such pious foundations in India, they have no right to direct them. He pointed to the systematic Saudi devastation of the Islamic architectural heritage of Arabia as a precedent for the seizure and destruction of Sufi shrines in South Asia.

In his recent commentary, Kichowchhwi departed from his previous theological polemics against Wahhabism to promise earnest loyalty to his country. “Indian Muslims will never tolerate anyone indulging in anti-national activities,” he said. “If ever any Muslim is found indulging in such activities, it must be assumed that he is guided by the Wahhabi ideology. Sufi and Sunni Muslims are nationalists and are always ready for any kind of service to the nation. . . . Sufi and Sunni Muslims who constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India respect humanity and can never be traitor[s] to their nation.”

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