Several Muslims have taken objection to the PM’s website using the word ‘Mubaraka’ for a period of mourning.
For the first time since he became Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi Friday participated in a Muharram function – in fact, in any religious function of any Indian Muslim group or sect. The event was organised by the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community in Indore.
Muharram marks the month of mourning by Muslims, especially the Shia community, during which they grieve for the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussein, in the Battle of Karbala that took place in 680 AD.
But a new controversy may be in the offing with Shia Muslims now saying the Prime Minister’s Office has committed a serious religious infraction by describing the first ten-day period of mourning as ‘Ashara Mubaraka’, when it should have just been ‘Ashara’.
“The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, will attend Ashara Mubaraka – Commemoration of the Martyrdom of Imam Husain (SA), organised by the Dawoodi Bohra community, at Indore on September 14, 2018,” the PM’s official website says.
But several Muslims who ThePrint spoke with are taking objection to the use of the word ‘Mubaraka’, which they say is not just an oversight of language but an insult to the Muslim faith.
“We are mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, we are not celebrating it. Therefore, you cannot use the word ‘mubarak’. It is only on happy occasions, like Eid or Diwali, that ‘mubarak’ is used. But the occasion to mark the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson is a black day across the Muslim world,” a practicing Muslim said on the condition of anonymity.
What may have been a gesture of conciliation on the part of the PM may now be seen as grave insensitivity.
At the event in Indore, the PM said: “My relationship with the Bohra community is an old one. It is my good fortune that I have received the affection of the Bohra community. There is hardly any village in Gujarat where a Bohra trader cannot be found. The community assisted me during my tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister. It is a sheer affection of you people that has brought me here today.”
The PM is right. But religious sensitivities aside, mainstream Sunni and Shia communities in India sometimes disparagingly criticise the Dawoodi Bohras as being little more than ‘sarkari Mussalman’, who didn’t grumble too much even after the 2002 riots, although several of their shops and establishments were burnt down.
An Ismaili sub-sect of the Shia, the Bohras, in keeping with their trading profession, are mostly pragmatists. They are comfortable with the rulers of the day. Whenever Modi travels abroad, there is always a sprinkling of Bohra in the audience – the women distinctively dressed in cap and maxi frock and the men in their gold-embroidered turbans. Moving on is their favourite life-affirming phrase.
Certainly, in his last four years, the PM has met several hundred Muslims. He has met them in groups – the World Sufi Forum in March 2016 is notable, when several hundred Muslim religious scholars from India and abroad congregated in Delhi at a Vigyan Bhavan conference where the PM was the chief guest.
The last gesture is important. Perhaps, the PM was trying to atone for his 2011 refusal to wear the Muslim skullcap. The imam of a small masjid outside Ahmedabad had offered him one – he was one of scores of people the chief minister of Gujarat met during the ‘Sadbhavna’ fast. No, Modi infamously gestured to him, not that, not the skull cap. He accepted his shawl instead.
With elections around the corner and Muslims comprising a significant percentage of the voting population in at least Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, is the PM hoping to redress the past? The Hindi word Modi may be looking for is ‘prayashchit’.
It is unlikely the mainstream Muslims will be impressed with the PM’s participation at the Dawoodi Bohra function. They believe the PM is taking the easy way out by meeting the Bohras. They wonder if this will be followed by a judgment in the Supreme Court favouring those who want a Ram Mandir built.
The fear that Hindu-Muslim riots will be instigated, somehow, on the eve of the general elections is real. Addressing party workers in Jaipur earlier this week, BJP president Amit Shah said the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh will be thrown out of the country, one by one. “Hum unko chun chun kar nikalenge.”
Next door in Bangladesh, people wondered what Modi was really thinking. Only a few days before, he and Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina had inaugurated a few development projects over video-conferencing.
The PM has often taunted Rahul Gandhi for his remarks that the Congress “is a party of Muslims”. But, his own views on the Muslim question remain vague. He has applauded his government’s push to end instant triple talaq. At the World Sufi Forum in 2016, Modi said, “When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence, and that the first two names denote compassion and mercy. Allah is Rahman and Raheem”.
Only a few days ago, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu said that those who lynch people in the name of cows cannot be called nationalists.
Perhaps, the PM cannot say too much at the risk of antagonising his party cadres. Meeting the Dawoodi Bohras is all very well – there are barely 50,000 in India and their vote hardly counts.
On Monday, in any case, the PM is in Varanasi to celebrate his 68th birthday and all arrangements at the Kashi Vishwanath shrine have been made. Non-stop TV visuals of the PM praying in front of the Lord Shiva may or may not offer up comparisons with Rahul Gandhi’s trek to Kailash Mansarovar, where Shiva himself is supposed to reside, but they give rise to the question: Is the PM a Shiv-bhakt?
No matter. The PM, in Varanasi, will also watch a film on his life, called Chalo Jeete Hain, along with schoolchildren. The Maharashtra government has already decided to screen the movie in schools across the state.
But the message of atonement refuses to go away. Perhaps the universe is sending a message to the PM, which he acknowledged in a tweet Thursday. Remembering the Jain celebration of ‘Michhami Dukkadam’ in honour of saint Mahavir, the PM recalled his own Mann ki Baat message from last August which incorporated a Shakespearean quote on mercy.
Michhami Dukkadam! We pray that the values of forgiveness, brotherhood and compassion always prevail in our society.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 13, 2018