Nearly 1,600 km from Islamabad where Pakistani cleric Tahir ul-Qadri is spearheading a revolt against the Nawaz Sharif government, Javed Iqbal, 47, an engineer-turned-entrepreneur, espouses Qadri’s teachings in the crammed bylanes of the Muslim-dominated township of Mumbra on the outskirts of Mumbai.
“Whatever is happening in Pakistan is its internal matter and I would not comment on it. However, it is human nature to support someone who has the guts to take on the system the way Dr Tahir ul-Qadri is doing,” Javed Iqbal says, sitting in his 300 sq ft office. A part of his office is set aside exclusively to disseminate information and views of the Pakistani cleric.
Iqbal is one the thousands of Indians who are members of Qadri’s organisation, the Minhaj-ul-Quran. The Indian chapter of the organisation was floated in 2013 and now has more than 10,000 members.
Many of them refer to him as a “Mujadid” known by the faithful as a man sent down at the turn of every century to revive Islam and restore it to its glory. Many say they are attracted towards him for his emphasis on creating inclusive societies and promoting inter faith harmony.
Qadri is one of the most visible faces of the Hanafi school of Islamic thought, which is deemed to be more syncretic and inclusive compared with the rigid stream of Islam subscribed by the Wahabbis, the school of thought followed by most of the militant radical Islamic organisations. The fact that his organisation has widely worked in the Western countries to tackle rising extremism has also made Qadri popular amongst a section of the community which is worried about the growing radicalism amongst the youth. His 600-page fatwa against terrorism has also won him many adherents in the country.
“He is famous and loved here because he espouses the words of the Prophet. He does not issue unnecessary fatwas. He calls for equal treatment of women and speaks about inter faith harmony,” Iqbal says.
Qadri, who has a Ph.D in Islamic Jurisprudence and has been a professor of law, made a mark on the Indian scene through his speeches, which were distributed in large numbers from Hyderabad through CDs across the country a decade ago.
Some like Rafique Ahmed Khan, 52, who is the president of the Minhaj-ul-Quran’s Indian chapter, says he was so impressed by his talks that he planned to send his son to study in Pakistan under Qadri’s tutelage. “I wanted my son to go to Pakistan and study under him. However, I was told that with the then prevalent India-Pakistan relations it was not possible to do so. Since then I was hoping to be able to meet him and finally got a chance to meet him in Malaysia in 2008,” Khan says.
The visit of Qadri to India in 2012 expedited the creation of the Indian wing, which was formed in 2013. It currently has more than 10,000 members who apart from promoting Qadri’s views through books and CDs of his speeches also undertake charity work. “We have started off with small welfare activities like distributing books and bags to children. In the near future, we plan to set up a school,” says Khan.
In spite of his growing popularity, Qadri has had his fair share of detractors. He has been criticised and accused of self-promotion. His detractors have questioned him on his self-proclamation as Shaikh-ul-Islam (one with authority on the issues of Islam) and his claims of having being ordered by Prophet Muhammad himself to embark on his mission. The Indian government had in 2014 denied Qadri’s visa request to address gatherings in India.
“He is promoting himself as someone who is second only to the Prophet. Some of his ideas are blasphemous and not in line with the teachings of Islam,” says Muhammed Saif, a critic of Qadri.
However, for his Indian followers Qadri remains the guiding light in times when adherents of Islam are facing criticism for the failure of the community to check growing radicalism. “His concept of moderate Islam and his flexibility of ideas is what makes him stand out head and shoulders above all others. For me he is a Mujadid (revivalist ) sent by God for this century,” Khan says.