Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Works for All Indians

Last week MISHAB IRIKKUR and ABHAY KUMAR interacted with 53-year old JIH leader at his headquarters in New Delhi on a whole range of issues, including the present marginalisation of Muslims.

It has been five months since MOHAMMED SALIM ENGINEER was appointed Secretary General (Qayyim-e-Jamaat) of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hindi (JIH). His association with the JIH began in 1981 when he was doing his B.Tech at the Malaviya Regional Engineering College [now MNIT (Malaviya National Institute of Technology), Jaipur. Last week MISHAB IRIKKUR and ABHAY KUMAR interacted with 53-year old JIH leader at his headquarters in New Delhi on a whole range of issues, including the present marginalisation of Muslims. Excerpts:

When did you become associated with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind?
I came in contact with the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in 1981 when I was a student of engineering at the Malaviya Regional Engineering College, Jaipur. In 1987, when I was 25, I became the member of JIH and I was asked to associate with the SIO [Students Islamic Organisation of India, JIH’s student-wing]. Senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Muhammad Nazir, who was my father’s teacher, brought me close to the Jamaat and introduced me to its literature. I studied the writings of Maulana Sadruddin Islahi and Maulana Nayeem Siddiqui, but I was particularly impressed by Maulana Maudoodi [Abul A’la Maudoodi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami].

Could you tell us about some of the influences of Maulana Maudoodi on you?
A big change came inside me. I strengthened my Islamic spirit afresh after reading him. I used to read about socialism, communism, Marx, Lenin, and Gandhi and used to ask questions about myself and Islam. Earlier I was only a traditional Muslim, but after reading Islamic literature of Maudoodi I became a true Muslim.

While Maulana Maudoodi is regarded as one of most influential Islamic thinkers of our time, he is also criticised for being a “reactionary” and “anti-intellectual”, if we borrow the words of a noted scholar Ziauddin Sardar.  How would you address such apprehension?

I would only say – read Maulana Maudoodi with an open mind.  If one first makes a conclusion and then starts studying him, the apprehension would not vanish. That is why I would reiterate – read him with an open mind and without any bias.

Could you tell us about your educational and career background?
Since IX Std, I have opted Science and Mathematics to study. After XI Std, I got admission in BE (Electronics) at the Malaviya Regional Engineering College, Jaipur. Then I joined the State Electricity Board, Rajasthan as an Engineer. But after six months I resigned the job and joined the Malaviya Regional Engineering College, Jaipur as a faculty member. Then I did my M.Tech (Communication System) at IIT Kanpur. Later I went to Sheffield Hallam University, UK for a research project. In 2012, I completed my PhD from MNIT Jaipur on Fourth Generation (4G) Mobile Communication.
For the last 31 years, I have been teaching at MNIT Jaipur. From 2010-2013, I was the Head of the Department of Electronics and Communication. I am still working there as an Associate Professor. Because of the present responsibilities in JIH, I think I have to wind up my teaching profession, very soon.

Your past responsibilities in the Organisation?
My organisational responsibilities began from SIO. I was Assistant Zonal President and later Zonal President of SIO Rajasthan. I was a CAC member of the SIO. After retirement from SIO in 1993, I was named Assistant Ameer-e-Halqa of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Rajasthan. Then I was Ameer-e-Halqa of Jamaat-e- Islami Hind Rajasthan for four consecutive terms, stretching about 16 years. Since 1995, I am a member of Central Council of Representatives (Majlis-e-Numaindagan) and since 1999, I am the member of Central Advisory Council (Markazi Majils-e-Shura). I was appointed National Secretary of JIH in 2011.

Many modern thinkers predicted that religion would not survive for long in the age of science and reason. For example, you are a Professor of Science and Technology, yet you are deeply religious. How do religion and science sit so harmoniously with you?
I was born in a traditional Muslim family. As I grew up, I specialised in science. I wanted to understand everything, including the aim of life through logic and rationality. Islam, too, encourages man to understand the things reflecting outside the world and inside human beings. I have no hesitation in saying that Islam has shown science the ways what it should be doing.

But the believers of other faiths would also make a similar claim.
I can only talk about my own religion.  Like me, one has the right to talk about one’s religion.

When you were growing into a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in the 1980s and the 1990s, this was also a period of unrest, riots and intensified communal polarisation. Would you like to share some of your experiences?
We used to hear from our father about communal violence which broke out during Partition but our generation had not known of communal disturbances until the period around Advani’s Rath Yatra over the Babri Masjid issue.

Now you have been appointed Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. What are your priorities?
The Jamaat is a cadre-based organisation. It has its presence all over India. We have a collective leadership. We will analyse the situation at both national and local levels. The Jamaat makes plans for next four years, which guides our actions. As a result, a big change from previous policies is not likely to take place. But depending upon the situation, we plan our strategy and focus. We should keep in mind that India is a big country and states have their own specific problems, which require them to design their strategy independently. Given that, it is not the business of one person. Rather the decision of the Jamaat is taken collectively and the priorities too are collectively decided. My role is to implement decision effectively, and achieve targets decided collectively.

But there must be some priorities of yours in this organisation?
One of them is to establish better communication with the units of our organisation from the bottom to the top. We are trying to establish better and fast communication with cadre and states units. For this to happen, we would like to use new technology such as computer, internet and social media. Another priority is to work for maintaining communal harmony in the country which is under threat after the coming of the BJP government. The issue of safety and security of minorities and dialogue and discussion with various communities is also a key issue. Besides, the aspirations of the youth of this country should be adequately addressed. The Jamaat is working for building up a society based on moral values, justice, peace, equality, fraternity and human dignity, which are derived from Gods’ revelation, the Qur’ān, and the Prophetic traditions.

But what about JIH’s agenda of making Muslim community politically empowered? Would you share the perception that the Muslim community has become politically marginalised? If yes, would you see the failure of the Jamaat in this regard?
Let me make it clear that the JIH does not work only for Muslims. We follow Islam. We take inspiration from the Qur’ān. That is why, the JIH works for all. Our concern is not only Muslims but also other deprived sections. We equally oppose injustice against Muslims, Hindus, Christians, women, and Dalits, etc. But of course I agree with you that we [the JIH] are still very far to go. We are still not able to reach out to every corner of a big country like India. But one should not forget that the political parties of our country have been just exploiting Muslims and nobody has bothered to sincerely address our issues. Worse still, after the coming of the Modi Government, communal tension and the incidents of riots have grown. In the name of terrorism, Muslims youths are falsely framed and jailed while the real terrorists remain beyond the reach of law. Even the recent hanging of Yakub Memon has shown that India has failed to prove that the yardstick for justice and mercy is not the same for all citizens.

While you are criticising the Modi Government for failing to arrest the incidences of violence, JIH student wing SIO shared dais with some speakers, alleged to have associated with the RSS, in a recent seminar at Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
As far as I know, it was a joint programme of the Department of Political Science of BHU and the SIO. It was a rumour that somebody from the RSS was joining the programme. One should not forget that when they are organising a seminar in collaboration with a department of a university, they have to democratically decide the names of speakers. Since it was an intellectual discussion, they can talk to anyone. For example, we have sharp differences with the Government, but that does not mean that we would not have dialogue with it.

But Muslim leaderships do not seem to be of one opinion about whether they should have a dialogue with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi or not? Will the Jamaat meet the PM Modi?
The Government managed to get some people from the Muslim community and created a false image that Muslims are with them. On the question of meeting Modi, we have not decided not to meet him. We will meet him at the right time. India is a democratic country and thus the Government is the Government of every Indian. That is why the Jamaat feels that we will discuss and meet the Prime Minister Modi at the right time. But even without meeting him, we have been conveying our apprehensions to the government through media and other modes.

Some states, including Bihar, are going to polls. What is the Jamaat doing to influence the agenda?
We have always wished and made required efforts to promote secular ideology. In the upcoming assembly elections too, we would work to stop the advancement of communal and fascist forces. In Bihar, we are continuously in discussion with secular parties. We welcome the alliance between the RJD and the JD(U), yet we are not giving a clean chit to any party. The secular parties were in power, but they have not done enough for Muslims and other deprived sections of the society. Despite that we want a secular government to come to power, which would genuinely work for maintaining law and order, peace, harmony as well as carrying out developmental work for deprived sections, including  women and children.

While you have emphatically said that the JIH works for deprived sections. But the critics of the JIH contend that the representation of women and lower castes are abysmally low in your organisation. How far is this correct?
This is a wrong perception. Such people may not have properly interacted with members of the Jamaat.  The JIH is the only organisation with which a large number of women are associated, who are protesting in the streets and some of them are working in media.

At the national level, we have a department of women and a women organisation is constituted at the state level. At the local level, we have sometimes noted that women are more active than men. The Girls Islamic Organisation of India, the JIH’s girls wing, is working at school and colleges. Besides, out of 150 members of Jamaat’s Council of Representatives, 24 are women. But it is also true that the ratio is still not satisfactory. This has to do with low educational level of women.

Even the charges about caste are not true. Islam does not recognise caste system. Rather, Islam wants to bring everyone at equal level. In our organisation, we do not bother to know who belongs to which caste. Even the Sachar Committee and Ranganath Misra Commission reports have indicated that Muslims as a whole backward are backward. The discourse of the caste, therefore, is an attempt to divide the Muslim society. We feel that the whole Muslim community is at the same level.

(First published in Radiance)

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