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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

In defense of Asghar Ali Engineer

The Milli Gazette Online

Apropos of the letter by P. Priambaram in the Milli Gazette, dated 01-15 Feb. 2005 under the caption 'Asghar Ali Engineer's view'. 

I was shocked to see the prominence given to such a letter, which is full of blatant lies written with the sole intention of defame Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer. I doubt whether any person by name of P. Priambaram really exists. The contents of this letter clearly show that it is drafted by Bohra Sayedna's office and published under a Hindu name. Of late Bohra Sayedna's office has adopted a practice to falsely justify its side by Hindu name. Such unknown Hindus show a great mastery over matters of Islam and Fatemi Dawa'h. 

The referred Milli Gazette issue ended on 15th January but a day before on 14th January 2005 the Islamic University Jamia Hamdard conferred D.Litt (Honoris Causa) on Asghar Ali Engineer in Delhi during their 7th convocation. The citation presented to him on this occasion by the university states among other things that, "Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is one of the rare scholars who combine in him the knowledge of Islamic sources with an insight into the contemporary changes taking place in the world. He has written 48 books and numerous articles on issues relating to Islam, Indian Muslims, communal riots, communalisation of Indian society and human rights violations. He has argued for appreciation of illustrious Indian scholars of Islam such as, Muhammad Iqbal and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, passionately advocating a progressive understanding of Islam that strives to creatively respond to change. He has been advocating to Muslims to follow, in spirit, the Quranic teaching of adl, ahsan, rahmah and hikmah i.e. justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom to make this world a better place to live for everyone. In his writings, he has also been arguing for the need to study the Islamic sources in the modern context. Taaqqul (reasoning), Tadabbur (contemplation), Tafakkur (Thinking) and Hikmah (Wisdom) have been emphasized by him as important tools to face the challenge of modernity His book Rethinking Issues in Islam was a path breaker as it provided a framework for the need to revisit some of the important issues confronting Muslims in India and elsewhere."

The recognition of Dr. Asghar Ali's services towards Islam and Muslims demolishes Mr. P. Priambaram's accusation of Dr. Asghar Ali being a 'self-claimed Islamic Scholar'. 

Many Islamic scholars like Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Abdahu, Sayed Ahmed Khan, Mohammad Iqbal, Maulvi Chirag Ali, and Maulvi Mumtaz Ali Khan emphasised on intellectual assertion (Ijtihad) after stagnation came in Islamic theological thinking due to political and social reasons. Can they also be branded as 'Marist elements'? The sentence in P. Priambaram's said letter that "If religious leaders were mere interpreters of their respective religions then Prohpet Muhammad (pbuh) and Asghar Engineer are of the same calibre" is the most mischievous and deliberately planted by his masters to incite Muslims against Dr. Engineer. 

In fact all the lectures and write-ups of Dr. Asghar Ali are based on the quotes from holy Qura'n and Traditions of the holy Prophet (pbuh). The question 'What is religion?' is really important. I am a Dawoodi Bohra and I know that in my community the high priest controls every aspects of a member of the community including prayers (namaz), Zakat, Haj, Nikah and burial and insists that every Bohra should write 'Abde-Sayedna' and 'Amate-Sayedna' (Slave of Sayedna) before his or her name and prostrate (do sajda) before Sayedna. Mr. P. Priambaram being a Hindu may not find anything wrong in these traditions followed by Bohra Sayedna but any Muslim would admit that it is against the basic tenets of Islam. These are the beliefs, dogmas and traditions imposed by our Dai and are inherited by Bohras which Dr. Asghar Ali is opposing. Most of the Dawoodi Bohras are peace loving small traders caring for their family life. But when any one of their family members is excommunicated by the Sayedna they become so inhuman and so insane that they would not care when their excommunicated relative is seriously ill and would go to the extent of stopping his burial and stoning his dead body when he dies. Bohra Sayedna has reduced religion to commerce and a powerful means of exploitation. The religion followed by the Bohra priesthood is lifeless ritualism shorn of all its spirituality. This is the religion Bohra Sayedna is propagating. Is this the religion that Mr. P. Priambaram, is so vehemently defending? 

Islam stands for accountability both to Allah and to the society. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) and his rightful Caliphs always accounted for the Baitul Mal and even if the humblest one in society questioned them about the expenses from state treasury they most willingly accounted for it. Even the dearest ones of the Prophet (pbuh) and the members of the Ahl al-Bayt did not claim any privilege above other mu'minin (believers) and they were ever ready to serve others. The Bohra Sayedna and his family members in contrast to this basic principle of Islam for accountability most shamefully claim, even in the courts of law, that they are accountable to none, except Imam who has gone into seclusion centuries ago. They forcibly collect crores of rupees every year from the Bohras as religious taxes and most arrogantly spend it on their luxurious life-style claiming privileges of Sultan and Shahzadas. Mr. P. Priambaram calls it Halal Rizq setting no limit for it. 

The article referred is about Kanchi Shankaracharya and Mr. P. Priambaram being a Hindu does not utter a word in his defense but spends all his energy in justifying the Sayedna stand. The All-Knower of Islam, Fatemi Dawa'h and Court cases against the present Sayedna and his father, Mr. P. Priambaram deliberately avoids informing the readers that in the Chandabhoy Gulla Case (1918) the late Sayedna Tahir Saifuddin went to the extent of claiming himself as Ilahul-Ard (God on earth) and having equal powers that of Prophet Mohammaed (pbuh) just to acquire control on Bohra wealth and properties. And that the tall claims of late Sayedna were ridiculed and rejected by Justice Martine saying no one however, exalted, can claim exemption from the law of the land. Even the Arch Bishop of Canterbury cannot, if he commits any crime, though he would conceivably not. The fact is that Sayednas (both father and son) have been punished and warned in several Court cases. How can the retired advocate fron Chennai, Mr P. Priambaram knows about these old cases when he is ignorant even about the present case (writ petition no. 740 of 1986) against Sayedna in the Supreme Court. He says Asghar Ali filed this petition defying his excommunication, which is wrong. The fact is that this review petition based on the findings of two inquiry commissions, Justice Nathwani and Justice Tiwetia's report has been filed by the Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community in the Supreme Court of India to reconsider its earlier order giving exemption to Bohra Sayedna to excommunicate any one only on religious ground. But as quoted by Dr. Asghar Ali, Fakhruddin Khorakiwala sharing the same platform with him in a Iftar party was excommunicated and that had no religious ground at all. This excommunication is definitely against Islam which says 'there is no compulsion in religion and your religion is for you and my religion for me.' Again on 17th November hearing there was no discussion on the actual case and senior learned counsel, Mrs. Indira Jaising was representing the Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community and not defending Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, a blatant lie publicly told by a person who claims to be retired advocate.

The respondents in this case (Sayedna's side) in order to further delay the matter filed on 26.7.2004 IA No. 4 seeking a direction that the matter be listed before a Division Bench of two judges instead of a seven-judge-bench as instructed by the Supreme Court earlier. On 17th Nov. 2004 when a hearing took place in the Supreme Court I was present in the Court. Solicitor Fali Nariman argued the case on Sayedna's behalf and the senior Supreme Court lawyer, Indira Jaisingh on the behalf of Central Board. Rejecting Fali Nariman's plea and accepting Indira Jaisingh's argument the Supreme Court on 23 Dec. 2004 has directed that matter to be heard by a five-judge bench. There was discussion on Asghar Ali's excommunication or on core Dawoodi Bohra doctrine and unreasonably questioning the Sayedna's monies. These are lies fabricated by Mr. P. Priambaram's masters sitting in Mumbai and for which being an advocate he should know the legal consequences. I have forwarded a copy of the Milli Gazette dated 01-15 Feb. 2005 making the above-referred letter of Mr. P. Priambaram for taking up the matter with the Supreme Court. 

Saifuddin Insaf
Executive Gen. Secretary, 
The Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community, Mumbai

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