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Shahi Imam Bukhari: ‘There was no permission for the protests, no one was leading it… What if someone had thrown a stone?’

For someone who likes wading into political waters, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid has chosen to stay away from the Nupur Sharma row and the protests

The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari. (Source: PTI)

ON FRIDAY, after protests erupted outside Delhi’s Jama Masjid over Nupur Sharma’s remarks on the Prophet, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, while seeking action against the protesters, said, “nobody knows” who they were.

“After namaz, around 40-50 people staged a protest shouting slogans of different kinds and showing posters. There was no announcement for a protest from Jama Masjid. Nobody knows who those people were because thousands had gathered for the Friday prayers,” Bukhari had said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Bukhari said, “We value the Prophet deeply in our hearts, we can give our lives for him. But our religion does not say that one should put innocent people’s lives at risk. There was no permission for the protest, no one was leading it. What if someone in the crowd had thrown stones and the situation had gone out of control? What if someone had died like in Ranchi? What would I have said to the mother of the innocent child?,” he said.

With that, the head priest of Delhi’s grand masjid had distanced himself from the latest demonstrations as well as the politics around it, uncharacteristically for someone who has rarely missed an opportunity to wade into political waters.

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In 2014, he had kicked up a storm when he invited then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, while not inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for a ceremony to anoint his son as his deputy.

Bukhari had in an interview to The Indian Express defended his decision, saying, “I have no personal issues with Modi. Our issues are only ideological. He has been the head of this country for four months, but the Muslims of this country are still not comfortable… There has been this great talk about development, but the Muslims are not included in it. He has never called to talk about the problems of the Muslim population.”

In early 2016, Bukhari met Modi to discuss the minority institution status of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. He also said there was a need to reach out to young Muslim men and women to counter the propaganda of Islamic State in the country.

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Bukhari succeeded his father, Abdullah Bukhari, on October 14, 2000, as the 13th Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid. Defending his decision to anoint his son as his successor, he had in 2018 told the Delhi High Court that it was an inherited title bestowed upon the family by Mughal emperor Shahjahan.

Although the Shahi Imam’s role is limited to being the chief imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the family has wielded enormous clout in political circles, with the Bukharis often using their platform to back a party of their choice and urging Muslims to follow suit.

In the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, held in the aftermath of Emergency, then imam Abdullah Bukhari, the “Bade Imam”, is said to have urged Muslims to vote for the Janata Party. Over the years, they have thrown their weight behind the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, and even the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP in 2004.

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Ahead of the 2014 general elections, a controversy broke out after Congress president Sonia Gandhi called on Bukhari and reportedly told Muslim leaders to ensure that secular votes are not split. The BJP hit back, saying Sonia was indulging in communal politics.

In 2015, Bukhari supported the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but the party rejected the offer saying it was against any type of “caste and communal politics”.

Sources say that of late, Bukhari has largely stayed away from taking overtly political positions, save for stray remarks made during the CAA agitation – when he said “the law has nothing to do with Muslims in India” – or earlier this year, when he said Indian Muslims looked up to Prime Minister Modi and appealed to the Centre “to close the doors” through which the winds of hatred and communal tension” were entering society.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Bukhari said the family has taken a call to distance themselves from politics. “When my son was made my deputy, he was of the view that we should focus on the education of Muslims and make them more aware rather than interfering in politics.”

Sources say the shift in strategy by the Bukharis could be partly due to a realisation that minority politics has undergone a shift over the last few years. “There are Muslim-centric parties such as the AIMIM and leaders like former Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madani whom people listen to and follow. Then there is the Deoband and other influential groups. So there has been a decentralisation of religious authority and the Bukharis realise that,” said a source.

First published on: 15-06-2022 at 12:20:55 pm
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