That Islam is divided is reflected in some of its rituals and practices. Bet it the concept of kufu, or the khutba before the Friday prayers. These and many other practices propagate a narrative that favours a certain section of the Muslim society—the Ashraafs. We look at them one by one to understand the underlying discrimination against the Pasmandas.
The doctrine of Kufu
The literal meaning of kufu is ‘equal’, ‘similar’ or ‘matching’. However, in the Islamic law, kufu means those who are equal or similar or matching in terms of marriage relations. There are several criteria for the kufu. Even in the Ashraaf ulema, there is contradiction regarding the number of criteria. While some follow three, there are also those who follow five or seven. But the criteria of race/caste has been considered by almost every Ashraaf ulema.
This system categorically describes how only a girl from a certain caste can be an equal match to a groom belonging to a certain race/caste (both have to be kufu). This shows that racial/caste-based discrimination has complete recognition in a huge section of the Islamic society in India. Inter-caste marriages are declared anti-Islamic and those solemnised between non-kufu declared null and void. Three out of the four most widely accepted maslaks (a term commonly used by Muslims to distinguish between different Ulema-led groups) of Islamic law recognise this practice. But the maslak by Imam Malik, the founder of one of the four maslaks in Islam, opposes caste-based kufu and prefers having faith in the religion as the main criteria for marriage.
Also read: Caste plays a role in selection of Caliph in Islam — ‘Only a Quraysh has the right’
The khutbah delivered on jummah
The religious sermon delivered prior to the prayer (namaz/sala) held every Friday is called the khutbah of jummah. There may be contradictions pertaining the khutbah of jummah in the Ashraaf ulema but racial/ethnic superiority is prevalent in the khutbahs of almost all firqas and maslaks. In Islam, firqa means sect. Both maslak and firqa roughly translate into ‘sect’ but there could be many firqa under a maslak.
In khutbah as well, only people belonging to a particular tribe — Quraysh (Saiyyad and Shaikh) — are hailed. Quraysh’s sub-tribe Banu Fatami Sayyid (descendants of Muhammad’s youngest daughter Fatima) are considered to be the holiest, highest ranked. Mention of Fatima and her sons, Hassan and Hussain, are common in almost all khutbahs. In some khutbahs, the description of the first four caliphs and uncles of Prophet Muhammad is also found.
The practice of Friday prayer was first started by a companion of Muhammad, Asad bin Zarara. But his name is omitted from any of the masalaks or firqa’s khutbah. That’s not all. No khutbah records the names of the other daughters of the Prophet, nor is there a mention of any of his other children. Even the description of Ansar Sahaba (Muhammad’s companion from the Owais and Khajraz tribes), whose sacrifice for Islam cannot be denied by anyone, isn’t brought up.
Darood and salaam
The darood (a type of Arabic mantra) recited at each namaz also contains a prayer for bringing peace to Ibrahim and his aal (children), and Muhammad and his children. The Ashraaf ulema even uses the darood to draw the argument in support of superiority of Quraysh and Sayyid castes (descendants of Muhammad) and claim that Muslims all over the world pray for Sayyids, in each of their prayers. But the Pasmanda ulema, while defending the casteless character of Islam and explaining this darood, have said that the right translation of the word ‘aal’ is not ‘children’. Instead, it’s a reference to all the Muslims who believe in Ibrahim and Muhammad. They quote those lines from the Qur’an in which the word ‘aal’ is interpreted as ‘believers and followers’ and not ‘children’.
Also read: Don’t inject caste into early Caliphs of Islam — Quraysh had Arabs’ trust, democratic right
The Ashraafs established the concept of firqas only to maintain their supremacy. And those Ashraaf who could not find leadership position in a certain firqa, forged a newer one and became its chieftain. Their leadership is unquestioned and absolute. The Ashraaf founder of any firqa is considered to be free from all kinds of accountability and shortcomings. Those who question their authority are shown the way out from Islam sect (by issue of a fatwa or by labeling them as a kafir). A Pasmanda becomes such a strong soldier of his respective firqa, that he is ever ready to sacrifice his life. That is why, when fights erupt between two firqas, it is the Pasmandas who lose maximum blood. The supremacy of the Ashraaf though remains unaffected.
Ashraaf take a conveniently ‘liberal’ stand when it comes to forging marital alliance between two firqas. But an Ashraaf marrying a non-Ashraaf (belonging to the same firqa) is looked down upon.
The virus of firqaparasti (loyalty to firqa) has gone so deep into the minds of the Pasmandas that they do not allow marriage between people belonging to different maslaka/firqas. That’s because the Ashraaf clerics of one firqa declare those having faith in a different firqa as kafirs, and the marriage to a kafir (infidel) is considered haram in Islam.
It is also understood that this entire game of Islamic maslaka-firqas was set up by the Ashraaf ulema just to weaken the movement led by Asim Bihari, the icon of Pasmanda struggle, which aimed at forming Pasmanda unity. Interpreting Islam in several ways, different firqas and maslaks were founded that go by the names of Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahle Hadith etc.
Also read: How Ashraaf Ulema use confusion about Prophet’s last speech to push casteism in Islam
How Ashraaf defend race/caste
The Ashraaf defend these divisions and the resultant discrimination in the Islamic society by saying that caste can never be eradicated because it is mentioned in the Qur’an that they have been created for the purpose of identification. Though most of the Ashraaf ulema believes that taking pride in one’s race/caste is haram (forbidden), it does not necessarily mean that the superiority of any race/caste is not a real thing. They consider it to be a divine favour.
Taking advantage of the inherent contradictions present in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (mentioned in hadith), the Ashraafs conveniently cite them to further their own interests. And the irony is not lost on anyone—even those Islamic scholars who consider racist/castiest hadith to be fabricated entries, never bother to edit them out. Rather, all such problematic entries remain preserved.
A message lost
Whether casteism is part of Islam or not can be a topic of academic debate. But as far as social change and social justice is concerned, there is no doubt that the Islam that is being practiced today is fully in the grip of racism/casteism.
Professor Shafiullah Anees, Assistant Professor of Business and Commerce at Glocal University Saharanpur captures well this corrupted state of Islam:
Islam do hai,
Ek jo aasman mein hai
Aur ek wah jo zameen per
Haqeeqat kya hai
Main kya jannon
Khun aasman me to nahi bahta
Gali aasman mein to nahi padti
Jati ka farq
Nasl ka bhed
Ye sab kya tilism hai?
Mana ke aasmani islam men yah sab nahi hai
Kya isi baat se tasalli kar loon main
Mana ke aasmani islam men yah sab nahi hai
Magar main aasman men nahi rahta
Meri haqeeqat yahin hai
Isi zamin par
The Islam in which the first caliph was appointed and his compensation decided on the basis of race and region; the third caliph killed on the basis of race; where it is mandatory to mention the significance of a particular race/tribe during Juma’s Khutba, and where racial obstacles come in the way of marriages— how can that religion claim to be free of racism/casteism?
Scholar Purushottam Agrawal writes in an article titled A new era in Muslim politics that ‘Islam emerged on the basis of the divine principle of equality among all of its followers and on the concept of brotherhood. However, as the religion got associated with the medieval feudal power systems, the gap between theory and practice widened; this gap continues to grow. The principle of brotherhood remained intact but the practice got influenced by the class system prevalent in the feudal society; the Islam of the Sultans got delinked from the Islam of the Prophet.” (Dainik Sahara, New Delhi, 23.09.1996)
Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie @FayazAhmadFyzie is an author and social activist, and a doctor by profession. Views are personal.
This is the fourth and final part of the series in ThePrint—Islam Divided.
(Translated by Ram Lal Khanna from the original in Hindi and edited by Anurag Chaubey)