Kolkata: Over hundred of odd shops in and around Tipu Sultan Mosque mostly of Muslims, in Kolkata remained shut for 24 hours on Wednesday, protesting against the perpetual habit of Shahi Imam Nurur Rehman Barkati’s making political comments and issuing fatwas.
Those from the Muslim community feel that it’s the pent up frustration against the Shahi Imam of Kolkata that surfacing at last. Imam Barkati, who often choses to tread along the path shown by the equally controversial Muslim religious leader Shahi Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid, New Delhi, is infamous in the community for his inflammatory comments or obscure fatwas that he chooses to pronounce in front of the media, within the mosque. It is this, to which many have begun objecting to off late.
“He has the habit of calling press conferences within the mosque and giving his views as the Imam of this mosque. This is just not acceptable. He as the Imam should understand that he is only a religious leader, who’s job is merely to lead the namaz. He can’t make comments on behalf of the community,” said Anwar Ali, the mutawalli or caretaker of the Tipu Sultan Masjid, which happens to be a waqf (donated) property.
Ali added, “So, this time when he called a press conference to show his stand for a certain political party in Uttar Pradesh, I objected to it and that made his sons gets violent.”
The shopkeepers near Tipu Sultan Mosque, a majority of whom are Muslims, took offence to this outrageous behaviour of the Imam Barkati and his sons. The incident, perhaps, made the community people come together and say, enough is enough.
“Whatever Barkati has to say he can say but not as the Imam of this mosque. Why does he has to announce it in a way that to the world it appears as if he is representing us. His opinion is never ours. His comments often have a communal tinge and are very inflammatory. We can’t let him do what he wills, it is high time that he gets the message of keeping politics away from the mosque,” said a member of the Shopkeeper’s Welfare Association of the Tipu Sultan Mosque.
However, when Imam Barkati, was contacted, he took a dig at the protestor, saying that those who had pulled down the shutters of their shops were having a picnic. He said, “These days people call bandhs when they feel like going for a picnic. So, that is what the shopkeepers are doing.”
But, it looks like Muslims are no mood to take his comments lightly. And, guess what? It’s not just the Muslim common man, who is putting down his foot, but also several clergies from the community, who are of the opinion that politics and religion shouldn’t be mixed. Imam Ashraf Ali Qasmi of Khidderpore Mosque, said, “Every individual is entitled to have a political opinion. But being an Imam, one’s duty is to lead the namaz, to spread religious beliefs and not to use the mosque as a centre to propagate political ideologies. One should be careful, as this often sends across a wrong message to other communities. We should always try preserving the peace of our country.” Qasmi, for the past two years, has been organising a two hour programme called Ao Mil Baithe, which aims at promoting peace between people of different communities.
The entire, Muslim community, it seems to be united on this front – not using mosque for political purpose. Hinting at a similar comment that Imam Bukhari had made, a few days back, urging people to vote for secular forces, Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of NALSAR Law College, Hyderabad said, “Imams should stay out of politics. They have no business to suggest anything to Muslims other than leading the namaz. Voters are mature enough to make rational choice. Such comments damage Muslim cause.”
Echoing the same was, Mohammad Sajjad, Associate Professor of History, Aligarh Muslim University. He said, “Political leaders and even media people go running to such people, seeking their support or comment, as they don’t know the fact that being the Imam doesn’t make him the representative of the Muslim community. He as per Islamic rules, is just the leader for namaz only. He thus is not entitled to give any comment on behalf of the community. They often do such things for personal gains. People need to understand, that running to them and getting them on their side could be easier, but that doesn’t guarantee them the support of the community, as Muslims will vote according to their political and social inclination. The mosque or the Imam has no role in it.”