A group of Indian Muslims, claiming to work for awareness against “possible radicalisation” of Muslim youth in the wake of the arrests of some ISIS-linked militants in India, is drawing both flak and praise from the community. The group, All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board, will organise the World Sufi Forum conference in Delhi on 17-20 March to spread their message. Opponents of the Board say that it is working for the Central government for “personal gain”, and only to create fissures among the community by denouncing one section, while promoting another.

A leading weekly magazine this week even directly called the March conference a “government event”, which is being coordinated by former Intelligence Bureau chief Asif Ibrahim who is the NDA government’s special envoy on counter-terrorism.

Maulana Mohd Ashraf Kichauchvi, chairman of the Board and the main figure behind the event in March, said that allegations of the conference being backed by the  government are baseless and that he seeks to only emphasise on Sufi thoughts that have been prevalent in India for ages. “We are organising the Sufi conference since 2010 annually. It is slanderous to suggest that we are working for the government. The only government help we have sought is in approaching it to assist in granting visas to Sufi figures who will arrive from abroad. Our aim is to awaken the youth to the message of Sufism and instigate them to say a ‘firm no’ to any extremist ideology that they may be subjected to in society, or on social network,” Ashraf said. Last August, Ashraf had led a delegation of Indian Muslims to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even in 2011 had launched a campaign to counter Salafi-extremist ideology in India.

There are a number of Muslim scholars of the Sufi mould who support Ashraf’s mission.

“Extremism has penetrated Muslim countries in different forms. Sufi luminaries, ulema, imams and muftis from all parts of the world need a strong consensus to contain the menace of radical thoughts and religious extremism. They need to propound truly unique and immaculate spiritual theories, which can enlarge the ambit of modern approaches to peace, non-violence and conflict resolution,” said Khushtar Noorani, an Old Delhi-based Muslim scholar, who is supporting the cause of the Sufi conference.

However, Ashraf has several opponents too, including his elder brother Mehmood Ashraf and cousin Babar Ashraf. Mehmood was earlier chief of the Board. He said he quit the Board because it is working to promote the “personal cause of people like his brother Mohd Ashraf”. “They hardly work among the masses. An annual event can’t bring people close to Sufism,” Mehmood said.

Babar said that such Sufi events will only help those political parties who want to see Muslims attached to extremism. “Through such events, these so-called Sufis end up saying that Indian Muslim youth are being radicalised. It makes news and Muslims face other allegations as well, while the cause of Sufism is lost somewhere. And the political and social groups who want to highlight Muslims in a negative light feel satisfied as their cause is served,” Babar said.

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