Waseem Rizvi, head of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board
Waseem Rizvi, head of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board. | YouTube screengrab
Text Size:

Rizvi’s strong views contradict those of most Indian Muslims and have united his community against him. Even Hindutva groups are unsure of his motivations.

New Delhi: It would be fairly easy to guess where a Muslim man, that too the powerful leader of one branch of the religion, would stand on issues such as Babri Masjid, triple talaq and religious education at madrasas. But your guess would be wrong when it comes to Waseem Rizvi, head of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board.

Rizvi has taken a line contrary to the majority Muslim view on all of these issues, uniting Indian Muslims from across the country against him. He has, in fact, made many statements perceived as ‘anti-Muslim’ in the last few months, so much so that even Hindutva groups are unsure of his motivations.

Earlier this month, in a move that invited the wrath of not just Muslim groups across the country, but even condemnation from Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Rizvi wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to shut down madrasas as religious education institutions bred “terrorists”.

While the government has repeatedly said that madrasas contribute to the growth of the country, Rizvi told ThePrint that he had only “highlighted a deliberately buried issue, which has been destroying many generations of India’s population”.

“The mullahs and maulvis who are attacking me do not even send their own children to madrasas; their children go to convents, while they brainwash poor Muslim children and run their business of donations from across the world, particularly Saudi Arabia, in their name.”

Not the first time

This is, however, not the first time Rizvi has sparked controversy. Last November, he infuriated Muslim groups when he said that the Shia Waqf Board was in favour of a grand Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The state government, he proposed, could instead allot one acre of land for a mosque for Shia Muslims in Lucknow’s Husainabad area, “away from the religious territory of the Hindus”.

In the midst of the Parliament debate on the Centre’s bill criminalising triple talaq – which saw many Muslims groups argue that the bill was drafted with the intention to unfairly target innocent Muslims and not to ensure gender justice – Rizvi said that instead of three years, as proposed by the government, the offender should be imprisoned for a period of 10 years for giving instant divorce.

“See, the life of a woman whose husband has given her triple talaq would anyway be destroyed. If she is good looking, she might have a chance at remarriage. But if she’s not good looking and a divorcee on top of it, who would want to get married to her?” he had said.

In October, when the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh proposed the construction of a grand statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, Rizvi said that his board would gift 10 silver arrows if the 100-metre tall statue was constructed.

Uniting disparate Muslim groups

While the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue has led to innumerable sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shias in the past, Rizvi’s statements have spurred sect leaders to join hands against him.

Muslim groups came together in the capital to hold a press conference Wednesday “exposing” Rizvi’s alleged lies and political motivations. Maulana Kalbe Jawad, a prominent Shia cleric from Lucknow who was in the capital to register an FIR against Rizvi, said he was deliberately attempting to “create a rift between the two sects that would enable the government to marginalise the community as a whole”.

Leaders of Muslim groups argue that Rizvi’s statements reek of political opportunism. With over a dozen FIRs against him for alleged corruption during his tenure at the Waqf Board, a controversial political past, and a BJP government in the state, Rizvi is on the defensive, they say.

“Earlier, he was never seen without (senior Samajwadi Party leader) Azam Khan. Now, he is trying to appease the Yogi Adityanath government to keep his corruption cases buried,” said Arif Qasmi of the Imam Foundation.

Allegations against Rizvi include embezzlement of board funds to the tune of Rs 70 crore. However, Rizvi maintains these allegations are only being cooked up to “weaken his argument”.

BJP leaders are also unsure of his motivations, but are issuing warnings to him nonetheless.

“There is a misconception among some that they will win over BJP leaders by making anti-Muslim remarks,” said Basit Ali, district president of the BJP Minority Front in Meerut. “Rizvi thinks he will escape jail for his misdoings by saying these things.”

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

5 COMMENTS

Comments are closed.