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Lessons in Secularism
Mumbai High Court commends action initiated by Taiyebiyah Girls High School
By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: India is a plural country with rich diversity.Muslims have been living since centuries, in this great country.But still the attitude of the few Muslims gives Islam the bad name and projects it as an intolerant religion. Recently the behaviour of a Muslim teacher in Mumbai forced Bombay high court to pass strictures against her behaviour.

It was not easy for Principal Asma Mukadam of Taiyebiyah Girls High School to take a stand against a teacher from her own community. But she went ahead anyway, sacking Tasneema Haji for encouraging communal disharmony in the school recently. Mukadam's stand was elevated when the Bombay High Court dismissed Haji's case challenging the dismissal. The High Court even commended the school for sacking Haji. Having received complaints from teachers and parents about Haji's attitude, Mukadam, in consultation with the management of the Anjuman-e-Taiyebi Trust, decided to terminate Haji's services in April 1998. "I tried counselling Haji, but that didn't help. Even the memos I issued didn't bring about a change," she said. 

In January 1998, 14 teachers-10 Muslims and four Hindus-complained to the school principal about Haji. Their grievances included the fact that she would pick up frequent unprovoked quarrels with other teachers and was not on talking terms with them. She used harsh language with students. Even parents used to complain about her. When anyone wished Happy Diwali, she refused to respond, saying she was not a kafir. The school management issued a memo to Haji in January 1998. She responded by threatening the principal. The High Court found no impropriety or illegality in her dismissal. In fact, she was found by the court to be "totally unsuitable" for a teacher's post. The court said, "She was given sufficient opportunity to refrain from such intolerable behaviour, unbecoming of this noble profession." After the termination of her service, Haji approached the School Tribunal and with its interim order continued to be in service until February 2002. Her appeal was rejected by the tribunal, after which Haji approached the High Court. Justice Rajan Kochar, in his order of April 8, 2002, fully justified the action of the management, depreciating Haji's conduct. A Muslim school management's secular action was praised by the Bombay High Court. Justice Rajan Kochar commended the management of Anjuman Taiyebji girl's school for taking a serious view of communal slurs by a Muslim teacher, who was on probation. The teacher frequently referred to teachers of the majority community as kafirs and jahannamis.

Justice Kochar held that the teacher, Tasmeen Mohammed Umer Haji, who is in her early 30s, had "no right to use words with which she intended to condemn the majority community." Justice Kochar asked the school to reinstate her if she apologised. However, she refused to do so. The judge noted: "I have always thought economic needs were of immediate necessity than the so-called religious one. There is no place for religion in the human belly which is appeased by bread alone and not by religious chants." "The school management could not and did not tolerate any such religious bigots in their school where there were students and teachers of both communities", the judge observed, adding that if allowed to continue as a teacher, there was a possibility of her using the language of jehad (religious war).Let us all remember that in this secular state governed by a secular Constitution, there is no place for words such as kafir or jehad," the judge said. Mukadam is elated. "Our school has always stressed upon secular values and I did not want anybody to mess with that," she said. Taiyebiyah Girls High School at Bhindi Bazaar is 117 years old and has classes from nursery to SSC with over 1,000 students. Even though the school has a majority of Muslim students, it has had principals and teachers from different religions. Currently, of the 18 teachers, 8 are non-Muslims. "Trouble began', says Mukadam, when Haji joined as a probationary teacher for mathematics and science. "She didn't mix with non-Muslim teachers and made her dislike of them very obvious. Our children always wish their teachers for Diwali, Christmas and other festivals. When they wished her once during Diwali, she rebuked them, saying, 'I am not a kafir like you. I don't celebrate Diwali'. Various such instances took place when we realised she was discriminating among religions. This was unacceptable. To worsen the situation, Haji also made distinctions between different Muslim sects," confirms Mukadam. 

Its no use claiming that Islam is the best religion and that it preaches peace and tolerance.The vast non Muslim majority is not going to just believe what we say about Islam.Unless and until the masses see with their own eyes Muslim practising Islam as it is enjoined in Qur'an the misgivings about Islam are not going to vanish as Muslims wish. The need of the hour is to follow the message of Love and Compassion as practised by Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). After all Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was the benefactor of entire humanity. 

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