The curious case of Qadri

The Times of India
Jan 21, 2013, 12.00AM IST

I first met Tahir-ul Qadri last year at the Indian launch of his book Fatwa on Terrorism at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Delhi. I helped organise the event, giving the introductory speech. In his 600-page judgment, Qadri completely dismantles the ideology of Muslim extremists. The comprehensive fatwa demolishes all the theological arguments used by terrorists.

Like millions around the world, i have been following Qadri's brilliant lectures on Sufism, both in English and Urdu, which are available on television, DVDs and the internet. He has delivered over 10,000 lectures and is a prolific writer, authoring innumerable books. Delighted at the opportunity to meet him, i found him to be genuine, gentle, compassionate and erudite.

Qadri has millions of admirers in India and Pakistan. When word spread that he would be attending the Delhi function, people began to come in thousands. We had to install video conferencing on an emergency basis, for the crowds outside the auditorium continued to pour. Had his security not whisked Qadri away, his presence could have caused a stampede. His India tour last year included public speeches in Gujarat, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and the Ajmer Sharif dargah. Hundreds of thousands attended his lectures on Islamic spirituality, many of which were broadcast live on television.

Qadri is a former professor of Islamic law at the University of Punjab. In the 1980s, he was an adviser to the Pakistan government in the law and education ministries. In 1981, he founded the Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI) with headquarters in London. The organisation has branches in around 90 countries, working for the promotion of peace between communities and the revival of spiritual Islam. Additionally, MQI runs schools, universities and welfare programmes. The Indian branches of MQI facilitated Qadri`s visit to India in February 2012.

Controversy is not new for Qadri. Pakistani militant outfits have been targeting him for his condemnation of terrorism, which led him seeking asylum in Canada. Hardline clerics despise his inclusive interpretations of Islam. Amidst growing anti-Shia violence in Pakistan, Qadri prevails upon his largely Sunni followers to bury Shia-Sunni differences.

In 2011, Qadri held a `Peace for Humanity` conference in London at the Wembley Arena. It resulted in `The London Declaration for Global Peace & Resistance against Extremism`. At this interfaith initiative, Qadri asked Hindu and Sikh participants to chant `Hare Rama` and `Wahe Guru`. He often quotes from the Vedas and other sacred scriptures to emphasise common moral ethics. This resulted in orthodox Muslim clergy accusing Qadri of heresy. His advising Pakistanis to join Christians in Christmas celebrations further put him under fire with many clerics labelling him a priest.

In India, Qadri had his share of controversies. He was declared an apostate by Mufti Tausif Raza Khan of the Bareilly seminary for writing the book, Firqa Parasti ka Khaatma, against sectarianism amongst Muslims. Although a Sufi centre, the Sunni radical seminary declared Qadri a non-Muslim, accusing him of encouraging idol worship at interfaith seminars. Mufti Tausif's fatwa on YouTube warned Muslims to stay away from Qadri`s rallies in India, something that had no effect. The Raza Academy affiliated to the Bareilly seminary, unsuccessfully tried to refrain Qadri from speaking in Mumbai through legal action. They created security concerns for Qadri and were allegedly behind the stoning of his car in Mumbai.

I do not believe theories of Qadri being a stooge of the Pakistan army. Given the fragility of democracy in Pakistan, I understand the Pakistani intelligentsia`s apprehensions of Qadri's politics. However, it must be appreciated that the protesters he led remained peaceful and braved the chill and rain of Islamabad for three continuous days. Arguably, one the leading contemporary Islamic scholars — Qadri is a man of peace and amongst the best advocates of moderate Islam.

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