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Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

RSS chief is ‘rashtra pita’, says AIIO chief imam after meeting

While Ilyasi said they “meet often’’, RSS insiders said the meeting materialised because both sides “felt the need for a dialogue’’.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visited a mosque and a madrassa in Delhi (Source: ANI)

Days after he met eminent people from the Muslim community, including former chief election commissioner S Y Qureshi and former Delhi L-G Najeeb Jung at the RSS headquarters here, Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on Thursday visited Masjid Kasturba Gandhi Marg, headquarters of the All India Imams Organisation (AIIO), and met its chief, Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, who called Bhagwat “rashtra pita (father of the nation)”.

While Ilyasi said they “meet often’’, RSS insiders said the meeting materialised because both sides “felt the need for a dialogue’’. Sources said this need for a dialogue has led to Bhagwat’s “increased meetings’’ with the Muslim community.

The AIIO claims to represent half-a-million imams across 3 lakh mosques in India. It also claims to be the “largest Muslim organisation in India”.

Ilyasi said, “It was a great honour for us that Bhagwat-ji came for tea in the morning…. Woh hamare rashtra pita hai aur desh ke rashtriya rishi hai (he is father of the nation and India’s chief saint).”

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Asked whether problems of the community, and issues such as a survey by the UP government on madrasas or the Gyanvapi mosque matter, among others, were discussed, Ilyasi said, “Why should we focus on the negatives? We should not focus on the fights (controversies), but instead focus on creating harmony between different communities, and the love that exists.’’

In a statement, RSS prachar pramukh (communications head) Sunil Ambekar said, “Sarsanghachalak meets people from all walks of life. It is a part of the continuous general ‘Samvad’ (dialogue) process.”

Not divulging details of what transpired in the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, Ilyasi, who became the chief imam of AIIO in 2009, said: “We had only one intention behind the meeting — to encourage love and harmony, and strengthen the relationship between both communities. Our methods of worship may differ, and so may our religion, but the biggest religion of all is that we are all Indians. Woh paigam-e-mohabbat laye (he brought the message of love) — not just for imams or Muslims, but for all Indians.”

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Ilyasi is no stranger to meetings with members of the ruling dispensation. He has met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on several occasions, after their first meeting in 2018, and also met Home Minister Amit Shah. Ilyasi has also had meetings with spiritual leaders such as Jagadish Vasudev (Sadhguru) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, among others.

The RSS, a source in the Sangh said, has been reaching out to the Muslim community since 2002, so there is “nothing new” in this meeting. “What you are seeing now is the impact of 20 years of work. Of course, both RSS and Muslim organisations feel the need for a dialogue more now, which is why we are seeing increased meetings by the RSS chief,” the source in RSS said.

The Muslim Rashtriya Manch was launched after the 2002 Gujarat riots under the guidance of then RSS chief K S Sudarshan with an aim to reach out to the minority community.

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Ilyasi said, “On July 23, we conducted a workshop in which approximately a thousand Muslim representatives participated, and all of them acknowledged that they had Hindu roots. In July last year, Bhagwat-ji had pointed out that the DNA of all people living in India is the same, forwarding the concept of one India, one people. When problems arise, then dialogue is the only way to resolve them. Unless you meet, how can you resolve issues?”

While Ilyasi did not say anything about having discussed issues affecting the minority community, the AIIO website does point to some of these issues, including under-representation of the community, its backwardness, illiteracy, and “unequal distribution of wealth”.

The website says: “None can deny that Muslims, the biggest minority and the second biggest majority, in India are also facing such a situation. Muslims in general do feel that they are not getting proper representation in the respective spheres…on one hand certain vested interests are trying to grab their religious places and on the other hand they are not getting an opportunity of equal participation in the process of development.’’

The website also claims that government institutions, organisations and authorities have not been equally judicious to Muslims, and have been the primary reason for Muslims not getting their due.

On other Muslim organisations, the AIIO says on its website, “…various organisations are at work to propagate basic tenets of Islam and they are putting in their best efforts to accomplish their objectives, but to our great disappointment, we do not have any common platform. We are criticising each other and finding faults just to justify our respective existence. We are having diversity instead of unity…”

First published on: 22-09-2022 at 02:30:58 pm
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