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Petrodollar Islam working to destroy moderate ethos

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By Mohammed Wajihuddin

The Sufi saints, who shunned discrimination against fellow human beings, asked their followers to abide by the motto Sulah-i-kul or peace with all. That message received a major blow this week when many leading Mumbai dargahs (mausoleums of Sufi saints), including Haji Ali and Makhdoom Mahimi, banned the entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum of the shrines. In one stroke, Sufi Islam's inclusivism had been brutalised beyond recognition.

While liberals fume and fret over this denial of gender justice at secular spaces like dargahs, the move also speaks volumes about how Wahabism is influencing Muslim society in India. The committees managing dargahs claim they remain Sunnis and, therefore, abhor Wahabism which discourages visiting shrines—however, many in the community fear that Saudi Arabia-backed Petrodollar Islam, another name for Wahabism, is taking over moderate Islam.

"The ban on women's entry to the dargahs' sanctum sanctorum is not just about gender injustice. There is a bigger and sinister gameplan afoot to banish Sufism from India," says Noorjahan Safia Niaz, founder member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan ( BMMA), the organisation that is leading a protest against the ban. Activists and scholars believe that the oil rich-Saudi kingdom is aggressively exporting Wahabism or Salafism (the terms are interchangeable) to South-East Asia. India, being home to a large Muslim population, is obviously an easy target. Wahabism's founder, the 18th century theologian Ibn Abd-al-Wahab, charted out a puritanical course for Muslims which had little space for Sufism or other strains of Islam.

There are many visible signs of creeping Wahabism in India. Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy says that one obvious sign is the transition of the Muslim greeting from Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz. "Khuda Hafiz was the more accepted form of greeting among Muslims in India. But in the past two decades or so, ever since Indian Muslims began going to Saudi for jobs, Allah Hafiz has become the popular form," says Anand. "This is the subtle assault of an alien culture. Muslims working in Saudi not only send handsome remittances but also bring in Wahabi influences."

Anand refers to British scholar Akbar Ahmed's book The Struggle Within Islam which, contrary to what Wahabis preach, celebrates the syncretic ethos that Sufi shrines promote. In March 2006, Ahmed, accompanied by his students from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities, visited Ajmer Dargah. Hailey, a Christian girl, was chosen to shower the saint's grave with flowers. "A young Christian female was selected to honour a Muslim saint. This was the Ajmer model in action," writes Ahmed. Says Anand, "This Ajmer model is being threatened as Wahabism spreads in India."

As promotion of Wahabism is part of Saudi state policy, its religious police unit is called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the ideology gets exported through various channels. Dawah (promotion of religion) centres have mushroomed across Saudi Arabia and many organisations in India work as their fronts. Wahabi preachers get bankrolled to promote Wahabism. "There are exclusive women jamaats where, during regular meetings, women are asked not to visit dargahs," says Niaz, whose colleagues work mainly among Muslim women.

Since the Wahabis do not accept the idea of multiculturalism, they focus on preaching their sect's views.

"These preachers don't promote Islam, they promote the Wahabi sect. They have a sectarian agenda and try to prevent Muslims from joining the secular, multicultural mainstream," says Bandra-based businessman Zafar Sareshwalla, who claims to have joined many movements, including the Tablighi Jamaat, but now says he is "just a Muslim".

Sareshwalla and many others name a famous Mumbai-based preacher who is a leading light of the Wahabi movement in India. Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, director of the NGO Markazul Maarif, recalls taking this particular preacher on a tour of the North-East a few years ago. After the preacher's lecture in Guwahati, Qasmi recalls, someone asked him if he believed in Sufism and visiting dargahs. "He said Sufis had no place in Islam and visiting dargahs was an un-Islamic practice. As many senior clerics on the stage were shocked, I intervened and declared that whatever the preacher had said about Sufism was his personal view," explains Qasmi, whose organisation has distanced itself from the controversial preacher since.

In the Wahabi scheme of things, shrines are places of sin as is evidenced by demolition of Islamic heritage sites in Mecca and Medina. Sadly, Sunnis too are falling into the same trap.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)
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