The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Thin Shia-Sunni peace bleeds
- Muharram violence stretches tenuous unity between major Muslim sects

Feb. 20: Sectarian violence has staged a comeback in Lucknow at a time when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is plagued by fissures along sectarian lines.

Though no link has been established between the creation of various 'independent law boards' and the Shia-Sunni violence today in the Uttar Pradesh capital, the precarious unity between the two most influential Muslim sects has taken a beating.

The right to bring out azadaari (carrying replicas of the holy shrines of Karbala) procession in Lucknow was granted in 1997-98 after both sects gave a categorical undertaking to maintain peace. A ban had been imposed in 1977 after a clash.

The feat of Shia-Sunni unity was arrived at after noted Shia scholar Maulana Kalbe Sadiq and his Sunni counterpart, the late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi ' popularly known as 'Ali Mian' ' took painstaking confidence-building measures.

Ali Mian's legacy has been represented by his nephew Maulana Rabey Nadvi, the current chief of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).

Kalbe Sadiq's conciliatory and reformist agenda has been increasingly marginalised. Be it adoption of the two-child norm, need for a better deal for Muslim women or education, Kalbe Sadiq, the board vice-president, has been facing stiff resistance within his own community.

The recent move to set up a separate Shia personal law board was in open defiance of his life's mission of maintaining a united face of Muslims in India. Equally significant was the establishment of the parallel Shia board and a Muslim women's law board in his hometown of Lucknow.

Moderate Rabey Nadvi's fate has not been very different. The AIMPLB tried unsuccessfully to retain the Barelvi Sunni sect when Maulana Tauquir Raza went ahead with a separate board for the dominant sect.

Nadvi's call to stop the cult of fatwas and his emphasis on the need to join the national mainstream and better treatment of women have failed to get priority even within the board, where emotive issues like the Babri dispute and triple talaq have held centrestage.

Kalbe Sadiq repeatedly used majlis (gatherings) in the month of Muharram with two basic objectives: to inform and to reform. His gatherings were intended to impart knowledge about the true meaning of Islam as well as to reform people's beliefs and practices accordingly.

Kalbe Sadiq's case for Shia-Sunni unity was based principally on arguments drawn from the Quran. He consciously avoided referring to theological differences between Shias and Sunnis and, instead, repeatedly evoked the Quran to stress Muslim unity.

At one majlis, he claimed that Shias and Sunnis 'share 97 per cent of their beliefs' and that, he said, should be the basis of Muslim unity.

Kalbe Sadiq constantly reminded his listeners that terms such as 'Sunni, Shia, Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i Hadith' and other names of several contemporary Muslim sects were not mentioned in the Quran, where 'believers' are identified simply as 'Muslims'.

Hence, Muslims, irrespective of the sect they belonged to, must consider themselves as Muslims alone, he said.

A central feature of Kalbe Sadiq's discourse, including his strong case for Shia-Sunni unity, has been the 'rights of God's creatures (huquq ul-'ibad)', terming them as important as the 'rights of God (huquq Allah)'.

Kalbe Sadiq explained at a majlis that all humans, irrespective of religion, have basic rights to dignity, equality and freedom, and one cannot be a Muslim in God's eyes unless one respected these rights.

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