The Muslim community should disown the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which was established as a private body to protect Muslim personal laws in the country, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam (head priest) of Delhi’s Jama Masjid told The Sunday Guardian. He lamented the role of AIMPLB in the triple talaq case, as well as the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid issue. Bukhari said that because of AIMPLB’s inability to sort out the matter that the triple talaq issue got politicised and had to go to the courts for resolution. “The AIMPLB did not present the facts in front of the Supreme Court properly. It has people from different schools of thought that exist in Islam and yet they failed to bring it to Supreme Court’s notice that in some sects no matter how many times a man says talaq to his wife, it is counted as only one. I told them to underline this but they did not listen,” he said.

Speaking on another topic of contention, Bukhari maintained that SC’s decision on Ram Temple was the ultimate solution to the controversy: “The war on the land needs to be brought to an end for peaceful co-existence of both communities. No authority
is a better judge than Supreme Court to take the final decision on the matter.”

Following are the excerpts from the interview:

Q: The lackadaisical approach in the maintenance of Jama Masjid has led to concerns over its survival. Has any effort been made to ensure continuous restoration of the structure?

A: Jama Masjid needs a permanent solution to its renovation problem. Since it is not listed as a heritage building under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), it is important for Government of India to take cognizance of the matter. Earlier as well it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who had instructed ASI to restore Jama Masjid. The restoration work continued for 30 years continuously and since then whenever the situation has deteriorated the ASI has helped. However, it would be in the best interest of Jama Masjid if an NGO or a trust could be created to take care of the renovation round the year. We have written several letters in this regard, but there has not been any major breakthrough.

Q: The Bharatiya Janata Party government has fulfilled the long-standing demand of Muslims to do away with Haj subsidy. But they are also being accused of practising appeasement politics.

A: When Congress was in power, we had asked them to remove Haj subsidy because the money that used to be released for subsidy would not reach the beneficiaries. So we told them we do not need subsidy because all that money went to Air India. As compared to other airlines like Kuwait, Ethiopia or Saudi airlines, Indian pilgrims were shelling out a lot of money than what was legitimate expense. All this in the name of subsidy even though Muslims do not need it. Haj is must only for people who can afford to do it. Allah has not asked us to perform Haj at any cost. So, we never required the subsidy.

Unfortunately, Haj has become an industry now for businessmen as well as governments. Officials in India charge a lot of money from pilgrims and provide them with basic services even though good accommodation can be arranged. But it is not done because the balance goes into their own pockets. A lot of this happens under the table. Since we know that a lot of people involved in the process have been misusing funds and their access to the system, I have been requesting that in India, an independent organisation should be set up to monitor fair bidding, and allot the tender of tickets and accommodation to the proprietor which can afford cheapest prices. Malaysia is one such example.

Q: But what about the criticism that the BJP too is trying to appease Muslims?

A: Where is appeasement? There is no appeasement of Muslims. This is a democracy and the rights given to us by the Constitution are to be protected by the state. There are three things that are very important for Muslims in India today—security, education and employment. There is lack of security for Muslims, education is accessible to a limited section of Muslims who can afford private schools and colleges, and employment opportunities are lagging drastically. This situation has not come because of any single government. This has happened over the years. Congress ruled India, BJP ruled India and there have been other governments in different states; all of them collectively failed to empower Muslims. Under today’s government, issues of development and employment have taken a backseat, while differences among the communities are being fanned. This is not acceptable either.

It is not just Muslims who have died because of their religious identity. Hindus have been killed too. There have been such cases in the southern states. But when you spoke about security, you only referred to the security of Muslims.

If religion is again dividing this nation, then it is unfortunate. Irrespective of who is being murdered and who is wielding the weapon, crime should be brought to court and the victim should be given justice. But if people will use these criminal acts for political gains, then it will lead to further differences among the common people. The young generation does not want to keep fighting in the name of religion. But there are people who want to continue to exploit sentiments. My father used to say that Hindus and Muslims are two eyes of India. We have stood with Christians when they were out on the street and we stand with democracy that does not justify division along religious lines.

Q: Has the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) outlived its purpose?

A: How many people know AIMPLB? Ask the rickshaw pullers or a shopkeeper. They are not known. Who has made them the representatives of the whole Muslim community? AIMPLB ruined the whole issue of triple talaq, which needed the court to take the final decision. AIMPLB has people from different schools of thought that exist in Islam and yet they failed to bring it to the Supreme Court’s notice that in some sects no matter how many times a man says talaq, to his wife, it is counted as only one. I told them to underline this, but they did not listen.

Next is the issue of Babri Masjid. There used to be a Babri Action Committee. We had asked AIMPLB to take up the issue of Babri Masjid and work to resolve it, but they never wanted to get involved. But once the Masjid was martyred, they became the representatives in the court case. Why? Because it opened the means for them to get money from outside.

I hold them responsible for all this mess—be it triple talaq or Babri Masjid. They are equal parties in ruining the environment of the country.

Q: Should Muslims disown AIMPLB?

A: Yes.

Q: Should the demand to build Ram Temple be fulfilled?

A: Whatever be the final decision of the Supreme Court, will be accepted. This matter has dragged on for far too long and has been turned out of bounds by AIMPLB. It has reached a situation where neither can we take a step back nor can we go forward. It is better that the court decides.

Q: What about the succession of the next Imam of the Jama Masjid? Has any decision been taken?

A: My younger son is the Naib-e-Imam. He is still young and is learning the ways of an Imam. As long as my health permits I will continue to be the Imam. My father too had continued with his duties until his health had drastically deteriorated and he could not continue to take care of the day-to-day work.

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