‘Terror-tainted’ Sambhal locality is radio-networked in Sufi thoughts

‘Terror-tainted’ Sambhal locality is radio-networked in Sufi thoughts

By MOHAMMED ANAS | SAMBHAL | 9 January, 2016
Some local Sufi scholars lead a march during the Eid Milad un Nabi procession in Deepa Sarai locality, Sambhal, on 24 December 2015. PHOTOS: MOHAMMAD AHMED REZA

In a contrast to the terror tag it earned this December, Deepa Sarai locality of Sambhal, whose original name Kirmani Sarai was a tribute to an erstwhile local Sufi figure Syed Shah Alam Kirmani, is inhabited by Muslims of Sufi thought. A group of youngsters here run a community radio programme linking around 1,000 households of the area to disseminate Sufi thoughts. This programme is designed to appeal to the youth and women and it aims at combating the “influence of Wahhabism-inspired extremism which has also been present in the area”.
Maulana Fazil Miswahi, a man in his early 20s, started this programme, named Dawat e Fikro Amal three years ago. “The motivation for this venture came from similar wire services active in some parts of Mumbai and Rajasthan. The purpose is to propagate knowledge of Sufism and soft version of Islam, which is actually the correct form of Indian Islam according to us,” said Fazil.
Fazil said that around 50 other youths and local clerics of similar leanings assist him, both financially and socially. The group charges a one-time fee of Rs 500 as the installation fee for the wire service, which is valid for a lifetime.
Fazil said that his group operates from a small one-room office and runs speeches of scholars like Tahirul Qadri, Allama Qamaruzzaman Azmi and Maulana Mehmood Ashraf Kichochwi. Kichochwi is a religious figure who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year with a delegation of Sufi scholars. Earlier in 2012 he had launched a campaign to combat the Salafist ideology.
“We are dead against extremism and we abhor the use of violent means in the name of religion. Those who are propagating such violent thoughts are not following Islam at all, whether they are in our locality or anywhere else in the world. We want to spread this message among women and youth of the area as they hold maximum responsibility to shape the outlook of their families. The gist of the speeches and naat (poetry in praise of Prophet Mohammad) which we telecast is that Muslims have to be upright in their personal conduct and they should always be compassionate towards their neighbours and friends. They have to be free of any biases, especially when it comes to their conviction to the law of their land,” added Fazil.
Fazil also said that despite the presence of some Salafist people and ulema in the same locality, his group has not faced any serious opposition and people haven’t even objected to the sound of loudspeakers which play their religious programmes, sometimes very early in the morning, and on occasions somewhat late in the night.
Another figure passionately promoting Sufism in Deepa Sarai is Khwaja Kaleem Ashraf. A government teacher by profession and chronicler of Sufism in the area by passion, he has authored biographies of several local Sufi figures.
“Sambhal has been the resting place of Sufis who have been disciples or followers of great Sufi saints of India like Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Khwaja Saleem Chisti, etc. Sambhal is divided into localities known as sarai. All sarais bear the name of some Sufi figure — Deepa Sarai (formerly Kirmani Sarai) is dedicated to Syed Shah Alam Kirmani; Sarai Tareen is dedicated to Shah Fateullah Tareen; Hatim Sarai is dedicated to Shah Hatim Saheb; Ruknuddin Sarai is dedicated to Shah Ruknuddin and Fatehullah Sarai bears the name of Shah Fatehullah Sheerazi, and so on. Therefore, khanqayiyat (reverence to shrines) is deeply embedded in the nature of the people here. The area organises one of the biggest Eid Milad un Nabi processions of Uttar Pradesh and all communities, especially people from the well-off Hindu community, have been generous towards seminaries based on Sufi thoughts,” said Ashraf.
He added that khanqayiyat makes people receptive and soft in their approach. “Extremism never creeps in their communication. That’s why those promoting extremism either loathe us or fear us,” added Ashraf.
Ashraf said that his Sufi friends and relatives run a charitable NGO, Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz Trust, which has helped the wedding ceremonies of around 100 poor girls and has organised 15-20 free medical camps in the area.
Ashraf is also the trustee of the largest seminary of Sambhal, Ajmal Uloom, which is located in the heart of a Hindu locality, Ther.
“Yes, this madrasa is adjacent to us and we have respect for those running this seminary. We have never faced any inconvenience because of its location. Rather, many Hindu businessmen of our area are tenants of shops inside the outer periphery of the madrasa as one side of it opens into the menthol market, which is considered to be the largest such market in the entire Asia,” said Kuldeep Gupta, a resident of Ther. The opinion of Kuldeep carries a lot of weight as he is the president of a local outfit, Kalki Sena, which is dedicated to promote the cause of Lord Kalki  and Hindu pilgrimage to Sambhal.
When this correspondent checked with Sambhal Superintendent of Police, Atul Saxena, and two local intelligence officers tasked to gather information about Deepa Sarai, they admitted active Sufi presence in the locality and that “extremist elements were there but very limited.”
Saad Usmani, a resident of Deepa Sarai, and a senior reporter with Hindi daily, Punjab Kesri, said that this area was one of the few Muslim-majority constituencies in pre-partition India where Jinnah’s Muslim League had to face defeat. “A local Maulana Ismail defeated the Muslim League candidate on a Congress ticket in the 1946 elections,” said Usmani.
A book on the history of the locality, Turk and Sambhal: Deepa Sarai Ek Khoj, written by a local principal, Mohammed Usman, lists many freedom fighters hailing from the area: Maulana Ismail, Maulana Sultan Ahmed, Maulvi Qayyum, Maulana Abdul Waheed and Munshi Moinuddin. Moinuddin was hanged by the British.
Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi of Lahore, who was killed in a suicide attack of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan in 2009, also had his ancestry linked to Deepa Sarai.

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