As a prominent Muslim leader he shocked many by writing to India’s prime minister seeking a ban on madrassas, the traditional Islamic schools. Calling them “terrorism schools,” the 48-year-old chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board, Syed Waseem Rizvi, has stirred up a hornets’ nest.
In a freewheeling chat with Asia Times he threw out more shockers. He leads a campaign to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at the site of the Babri Mosque, which was demolished in 1990 by a mob led by key Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) people.
Earlier, he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposing the closure of all madrassas as they are “terror schools.” He doubles up as a champion for Muslim women’s rights and seeks inclusion of “rape charges” in the much-hyped Triple Talaq Bill.
Rizvi is now in his fourth term as the board chairman. Earlier in his life he was a cook in Saudi Arabia, a salesman in the US and a factory worker in Japan before becoming joining the Samajwadi Party, one of the biggest regional parties in India, headquartered in the state of Uttar Pradesh. But Rizvi was expelled from the party last August for “anti-party activities.”
At the time he was battling charges of corruption in handling of waqf properties and was facing an investigation soon after the BJP came to power in Uttar Pradesh. Waqf refers to land or properties donated for a religious or charitable cause, which can’t be sold or transferred.
The Yogi Adityanath-led UP government also announced the dissolution of the Shia and Sunni boards facing corruption charges and also recommended a probe by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation in June last year.
Hindu temple over Muslim mosque
But the heat on them evaporated. In August the Shia board headed by Rizvi jumped into the decades-old case in the Supreme Court challenging the Sunni Waqf board’s claim over the contentious Babri mosque. The board claimed that the mosque always belonged to Shias and also proposed “a mosque at a distance” to resolve the Ayodhya conflict “amicably.”
In its affidavit, the Shia board stated: “The Sunni Waqf Board of UP is under the control of hardliners, the fanatics and non-believers in peaceful co-existence who have no stake in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case.” Rizvi’s stance came as a shocker for both the Sunnis and Shias, but delighted the right-wing Hindutva champions.
Interestingly, while he has headed the board for more than 10 years, his enthusiasm for the Ram temple came up only after the Yogi Adityanath government took over Uttar Pradesh and accused him of corruption, say critics.
Rizvi is now questioning the locus standi of the Sunni Muslims. “Since the Sunni Waqf Board’s entire claim on the disputed structure is based on a notification declared invalid by the court in 1982, the body cannot be considered a party to the dispute,” Rizvi said.
Mir Baqi, a Shia commander in the Mughal emperor Babur’s army, built the Babri Masjid, and his descendants were the custodians of the mosque until 1945.
Rizvi says the Shia board lost the land title to the Sunni Waqf board in 1945 and didn’t appeal against the order then. “Now, we have filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court to reclaim our right on the land. Although legally we have lost the right to appeal since time has elapsed, we have prayed that the court must take this as a special case.”
His stance on several major issues has cheered Hindu nationalists. This, they feel, may help them to pressurize the Muslim community to accept the “peaceful solution” for majority.
“My proposal is in the nation’s interest. Over 2,000 lives had already been lost owing to the dispute. A peaceful resolution is essential for communal harmony. Aastha [faith] of India’s Hindus should take precedence over the ana [prestige] of the Muslim community,” said Rizvi, denying that he has anything to do with the BJP.
The mosque was demolished 25 years ago, he went on. “Ram Janmabhoomi still exists where they carry out prayers. Is it possible to build a new mosque and worship there peacefully after so much bloodbath?”
‘Madrassas are terror schools’
Rizvi believes that “radicalization” of Muslim youth is being carried out by religious seminaries, and he labels them as “terror schools” sponsored by hawala money.
“Bring all Islamic religious institutions under the general education system. Scrap the madrassa boards across the county and initiate an immediate inquiry into affairs of madrassas mushrooming across the country,” Rizvi demanded in his letter to the PM early this week, a copy of which has been sent to the chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath.
In his sensational letter, Rizvi alleges that the number of terrorists coming out of madrassas is much higher than those who qualify for civil services or become doctors. “Madrassas push students into orthodoxy [and] religious conservatism and radicalize Muslim youth. Mullahs send their own kids to English medium schools but trick the poor into sending their children to madrassas so that they continue to get donations.”
Rizvi says he supports the prime minister’s view that Muslim children must have a Koran in one hand and a laptop in the other. “This can’t be done in madrassas. What are they teaching young minds? No one knows. The only job madrassa-educated youth can get is that of a maulvi [religious teacher] who barely earns 4,000 rupees a month. By the way, how many maulvis do Indian mosques need?”
As expected, Rizvi faces a backlash from religious leaders. He has received death threats from hardliners and a legal notice from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (Maharashtra wing) seeking 2 million rupees (US$31,200) for “defaming” them.
He says he is ready to face the consequences.
“I had anticipated this response. I have readied my grave in advance. This is next to my father’s grave. Even the tombstone has been put up,” he said.
While Muslims will continue to shun him, Hindu nationalists are already warming up to his contentious views.