The Muslim whom Qaida loves to hate

Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN | Mar 18, 2012, 06.37AM IST

There are two types of Islamic preachers: the incendiary supremacists who justify violence in the name of avenging real or imagined injustice and the pacifist moderates who hail forgiveness as the best human virtue. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri belongs to the second category. Based in Canada since 2006, the Pakistan-born eminent Sufi scholar and preacher has been on al-Qaida's hit list ever since he issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism on March 20, 2010. He has also drawn flak from a group of orthodox fellow religionists for propagating an Islam which, his detractors say, is too "inclusive" and "forward-looking".

This past week, Qadri, who was in the city on the invitation of Minhaj-ul-Quran , addressed two gatherings in the city. Fundamentalist organisations did everything in their power to stop him-the Raza Academy even approached the Bombay High Court, demanding a ban on his sermons in the city as that could cause trouble. The court admitted the petition, but allowed Qadri to deliver his lectures, saying it would hear the tapes later.

Part of the fundamentalists' ammunition against the preacher was that two weeks earlier, while addressing a crowd in Kutch, he had allegedly "thanked " Narendra Modi-an act which raised a storm in Gujarat's Urdu press. So, does he really admire Modi? "I didn't even utter Modi's name," says Qadri. "I just thanked the state government which provided me with ZPlus security and facilitated my address. It was my moral responsibility to thank them."

Many scholars before Qadri have issued fatwas against terrorism . But Qadri's fatwa, given greater legitimacy by the endorsement of the famous Cairo based seminary Al-Azhar University , is an absolute refutation of all terrorism without any excuses . Perhaps the al-Qaida got offended and marked him because of the line in the fatwa which said: "It can in no way be permissible to keep foreign delegates under unlawful custody and murder them and other peaceful non-Muslim citizens in retaliation for the interference, unjust activities and aggressive advances of their countries. The one who does has no relation to Islam and the Holy Prophet." In Mumbai, addressing the packed Birla Matoshri Sabhagar hall, Qadri had declared: "I am not saying anything new. I am just communicating the true spirit of Islam which is tolerant, inclusive and forgiving." Raising his fist, the frail preacher in black robe and Sufi-style skull cap said: "I am an enemy of terrorism and don't care if I am killed saving humanity from this scourge."

The preacher challenges critics to counter the anti-terrorism fatwa he issued. "Why hasn't anybody written even a pamphlet rebutting what I said in the fatwa?" he asks. However, he says he prefers not to reply to personal attack and goes on to recall his days in Pakistan when a maulvi wrote against him in a journal for years. "On my silence , the maulvi once shouted at a meeting, 'What did I get from attacking him all these years? He has not replied even once.'"

Qadri terms as "criminal" the silence of the majority on the depredations of a handful of misguided youth. "If there were a dozen voices like mine within the Muslim community, things would have been different," he says. The preacher has written over 1,000 books, and the DVDs and CDs of his sermons sell like hot cakes in Muslim pockets, from the markets of Multan to the bylanes of Bhendi Bazaar. No wonder, thousands turned out to hear him live.

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