The Kerala government's recent decision to leave appointments to the Waqf Board to the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) has created a brouhaha in the Muslim community. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which attempted to take leadership of the agitation against the government, faced a backlash as the largest Muslim organisation, the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama (SKJU), took a different line.
Although the SKJU has widely been considered supportive of the IUML's political lines, SKJU president Sayed Mohammed Jiffri Muthukoya Thangal's rejection of the IUML's proposal to use mosques for anti-government protests left the IUML miffed.
A different stand
However, Mr. Thangal's stand brought the rival Sunni faction led by Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar close to the SKJU. Both the Sunni groups, who roughly constitute about 80% of the Muslim community in Kerala, share the same opinion that using mosques for anti-government protests would turn Allah's houses into battlefields. Interestingly, Mr. Thangal is now increasingly being portrayed as the Sunni leader of Kerala with the highest respect after Shamsul Ulama E.K. Aboobacker Musliyar, who died 25 years ago.
Angered by the SKJU's decision against its call to use mosques for protests against the government, the IUML convened a mega rally at Kozhikode beach on December 9. Tens of thousands of people turned out for Kerala's biggest rally in COVID-19 times. The government was quick to slap cases against the rallyists even as it faced criticism for ignoring other gatherings across the State. "Personal references" made at the rally by one of the IUML speakers against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his son-in-law and Minister Mohammed Riyas brought disgrace to the IUML, the League's later apologies notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, the government invited the SKJU leaders for talks. Mr. Vijayan assured the Samastha and its leaders that the government would not go ahead with its plan without consulting different Muslim groups. The SKJU has now asked the government to initiate speedy dialogues with Muslim groups.
Taking advantage of its position vis à vis the government, the SKJU has also sought restoration of an important clause in the Waqf Board rules. It wants only those upholding the traditional Islamic faith to be appointed to the Waqf Board. Originally, the Waqf Board rules said that only traditional Muslims upholding the orthodox Islamic faith would be appointed to manage the Waqf Board properties. It was at the behest of the IUML that the government changed the rule to accommodate even those following the reformist Islamic faith, including the Wahhabis, Mujahids and Salafis.
The more orthodox Sunni faction led by the Musliyar has raised several questions against the reformist groups handling the Waqf properties. The reformists in practice do not support the Islamic tradition of keeping aside a portion of the property for such Islamic activities as conducting prayers for the dead. The Sunnis argue that the reformist groups grabbed several important masjids, including the Mohiyuddin masjid and Pattala masjid in Kozhikode, using their influence within the IUML.
The current Waqf dispute has sent home an important message that the SKJU and the IUML are no longer synonymous. There are many scholars within the Samastha who support the Congress's political ideology and not that of the IUML. Taking a contrary stand against the Samastha could be dangerous for the IUML since the Left Democratic Front is waiting in the wings with an appeasement deal for the Sunnis.
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