Imam Bukhari has often been accused of compromising on Muslims’ interests. Yet, why is he so inextricably linked with Muslims and their politics?
Here is a brief insight into the history of Bukhari Family.
- In 1656, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built a majestic Jama Masjid in Delhi
- An imam is the guy who leads the congregational prayers in a mosque.
- Shah Jahan invited “Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari” from central Asian Kingdom of Bukhara in Uzbekistan, to become the Shahi Imam or a cleric of Jama Masjid.
- After the death of the first Imam there was no scrutiny of the criteria for the post of Imam in Jama Masjid as prescribed by Shahjehan and it became customary of anointing the eldest sons of the successive Imams as their successors who also enjoyed the royal status in the court of the respective Mogul emperors.
- Since then the last 13 generations of one family are holding the position Shahi Imam in Jama Masjid, Delhi
Shahi Imam during British Empire:
- With the collapse of Mughal Empire in 1857 when the British power confiscated the Jama Majid and an army post was set up in its premises, the then Imam escaped from his residence and took shelter in the house of his cousin Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who founded Aligarh Muslim University.
- The Imam was allowed to resume his post only in 1862 when the mosque was returned on condition that it would not be used for any sort of political activities and its administration regulated under the Religious Endowment Act 1863.
- The supervisory power was vested with judiciary for scrutiny of the corruption in the management.
- The royal status of Imam also ended though; this loss remained a perpetual source of mental agony for the post-Mogul Imams. They however, carried forward the title of Shahi Imam from generation to generation perhaps to satisfy their ego.
- As long as the British were the rulers of Indian sub-continent, the Imams remained quiet.
- After partition the then Imam Maulana Syed Hameed Bukhari maintained a low profile due to the prevailing demoralization in Muslim community and was not found in any controversy. Refer: http://www.eurasiareview.com/23092011-anna-hazare-and-imam-bukhari-of-jama-masjid-analysis/
Appointment of Current Shahi Imam:
- The current Shahi Imam is Syed Ahmed Bukhari. He was appointed as Shahi Imam in October 2000, as a successor of his father Maulana Syed Abdulla Bukhari.
- There were allegations that he had forced his father’s hand. He was in a hurry because he feared that if his father died before anointing him, his brother might put a spanner in the works. Witnesses to the ceremony say that bade imam (Abdullah Bukhari) was brought to the Jama Masjid in an ambulance and taken inside the mosque on a stretcher.
- When Ahmed Bukhari became the Imam, the Waqf refused to recognize his appointment. His application lay pending in the Waqf office for nearly five years.
Entry into Politics:
- From 1977, the abuse of the Jama Masjid for political interests was started by the Bukhari family
- The Bukhari family’s political face was first unveiled in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls, when the current Imam’s father, Abdullah Bukhari, issued a fatwa against the Congress and urged Muslims to vote for the Janata Party (JP).
- Muslims were not happy with the forced sterilisations under Indira Gandhi regime during emergency.
- With the JP coming to power in 1977, Abdullah Bukhari’s obsession with political power increased. The Shahi Imam started declaring fatwas after assessing the political mood.
- Later, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed the nation from the Red Fort on 15 August, Abdullah Bukhari too started giving a counter speech from the Jama Masjid.
- In 1980, the current Imam entered the political fray by forming the “Adam Sena”. It was publicized as an organization that would protect Muslims from every danger, especially during communal riots. But despite all his efforts, it failed to win popular support. The Sena was not welcomed by the Muslim community and seeing no support, Ahmed Bukhari shut down the organisation.
Political Maneuvers of current Shahi Imam:
- In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, Ahmed Bukhari created an uproar by appealing to Muslims to support the BJP. His appeal came in stark contrast to his post-2002 Gujarat riots speeches. Later it was revealed that Bukhari supported BJP after his brother Yahya Bukhari demanded his support for BJP. Yahya Bukhari had a decade long association with BJP. Ahmad’s compulsion to please his brother played an important role in his move to support Vajpayee. Refer to this story from The Telegraph that gives insight into this issue: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1040427/asp/nation/story_3177422.asp
- Bukhari opposed the SP in the 2007 Assembly election and the 2009 Lok Sabha election
- To placate Ahmed Bukhari, in 2012, Bukhari’s son-in-law Umar Ali Khan was given an SP ticket from Behat seat of Saharanpur. In return, Bukhari appealed to muslims in UP to vote for SP.
- When his son-in-law lost election and lost his deposit, SP offered an MLC seat to Umar Ali Khan. It should be noted that this constituency has an 80 percent Muslim population. Refer: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/azam-khan-syed-bukhari-ticket-son-in-law-umar/1/183492.html
- In 2012, Bukhari demanded a Rajya Sabha ticket to his brother Yahya Bukhari. SP denied to nominate Yahya Bukhari to Rajya Sabha. Bukhari’s son-in-law returned the MLC ticket in protest. Refer: http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ws070412Pradesh.asp
- After break up with SP, Bukhari organised a rally in Etawah, Yadav’s backyard. Bukhari, who until then, had seen only flaws in BSP’s Mayawati, was found to be eulogising her. He was quoted saying that if there’s anyone who can rule India, it is Mayawati. He claimed she would work for the Muslims, just like she had worked for the development of Dalits. Refer: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/bukhari-all-praise-for-mayawati/article4645433.ece
- In 2014 Parliamentary elections, Ahmed Bukhari declared his support to Congress saying it will “strengthen” secularism and termed communalism as “bigger threat” to the country than corruption. He also announced supporting Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Congress ally RJD in Bihar. Refer: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/bukhari-supports-congress-says-communalism-bigger-threat/
Cases and Controversies:
- On 3 September 2001, when local officials tried to demolish encroachments in Lodhi Colony, Bukhari allegedly led a mob that attacked them. But the police refused to arrest the Imam on the pretext that it could have aggravated the situation. In the chargesheet, Bukhari was named as one of the accused. In January 2004, the court ordered the matter to be reinvestigated, on which the police said that Bukhari can’t be arrested because doing so could incite communal riots. A court statement made in July 2012 stated, “Seeing the records, it can be said that even an officer of the rank of commissioner doesn’t have the guts to comply with the warrant against Imam Bukhari.” Refer: http://www.tehelka.com/the-bullys-pulpit/
- Apart from his involvement in politics, Ahmed Bukhari is misusing the post of Imam. There are allegations that Bukhari is illegally occupying the land of Jama Masjid.
- In November 2005, the Delhi High Court asked Imam Abdullah Bukhari to remove all illegal constructions in and around Jama Masjid ‘voluntarily’ to restore its pristine glory. In the ensuing fight between the Waqf and Bukhari on the claim to the Jama Masjid, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of the Waqf in 2005. The verdict said that the Jama Masjid was a Waqf property and Bukhari was a Waqf employee. It also directed that no changes must be done to the structure without the Waqf’s permission. In the same HC order, Bukhari was asked to submit the detailed accounts of income and expenditures of the Jama Masjid for the past 30 years to the Waqf. In persuant to the direction of the court, the Imam submitted the accounts of the mosque since 1980 before the Waqf Board. Refer : ttp://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050715/delhi.htm#4 & http://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20051117/delhi.htm#3
- In 2006, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdullah offered monetary help for repairing the Jama Masjid. Officials in New Delhi were dumbfounded and told the prince that the Indian government could take care of the repairs. It soon transpired that it was Bukhari who had asked the Saudis for money. When he was asked about this, he denied having made any such request. Later, the Saudi ambassador said that Bukhari had indeed asked for monetary help. Sources say that Bukhari had expected that the funds would reach him without the government’s knowledge.
- It is alleged that Bukhari illegally occupied the guest house inside Jama Masjid. The guesthouse was built with government funds. He also erected a big house for his son adjacent to the guest house.
- In 2012, the Delhi High Court formed a team to probe the allegations of illegal occupancy of property of the property and the report presented by the team validated the claim of illegal construction.
- Recently, it came to light that the Jama Masjid owes Rs 4 crore in electricity bill dues. Bukhari says that the Waqf Board should foot the bill. The Shahi Imam said the property remains in the name of the Waqf Board which also receives rent for it so it was its duty to pay the bills. Refer: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/no-power-for-delhis-jama-masjid-as-electricity-bill-crosses-rs-4.16-crore-visitors-suffer/1/222721.html
- The DDA built a meeting hall in the mosque campus near Gate No 5. After some time, Yahya Bukhari occupied the hall and this continues till date. Similarly, a government dispensary situated near Gate No 9 has been occupied by Bukhari’s younger brother Hasan. Refer: http://www.tehelka.com/the-bullys-pulpit/
- There are allegations that illegal activities around Jama Masjid are thriving under the Imam’s protection. Citing an example, social activist Sheeba Aslam Fahmi says, “Four months ago, the police raided seven factories in the Choodiwalan area of Jama Masjid and freed 33 child labourers. The police had just sealed the factories and arrested their owners when Imam Bukhari slammed the rescue act from the Jama Masjid’s loudspeakers.” Rakesh Sengar, a member of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which was involved in the rescue operation, says, “Imam Bukhari went to the sealed factories and broke open the seals.” Refer: http://www.tehelka.com/the-bullys-pulpit/
- In recent past, posters came up in Jama Masjid area with the following questions for Imam:
- Where does the money collected from minaret tickets, camera tax, videography tax, etc, which amounts to Rs 20,000 daily or Rs 6 lakh monthly go?
- The income from the VIP gate parking amounts to Rs 4,500 daily or Rs 1.35 lakh monthly, the tender for which has never been opened and is not managed by the MCD. What happens to this money?
- With whose permission have you built your house on the Muqim DDA Park, which is a community space?
- You uprooted 2,000 shops in Meena Bazaar and set up seven shops under the pretext of community service. Is such service limited only to serving your kin? Refer: http://www.tehelka.com/the-bullys-pulpit/
- A Delhi court has issued a non-bailable warrant (NBW) against Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, in connection with a criminal case and directed police to arrest and produce him in court. Refer: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/warrant-for-maulana-syed-ahmed-bukhari-cops-ordered-to-execute-it/970017/
Against the backdrop of the past records of Bukhari it is the responsibility of the Government to direct Delhi Waqf Board which is supposed to be the managing body of Jama Masjid for responding and confronting the Imam against his activities which are detrimental to the communal harmony in the country. As per Government notification Jama Masjid is the property of Delhi Waqf Board. But its silence on the issue is said to be encouraging the Imam for his fundamentalist dictum which is neither to benefit the Muslims nor to the country. Even Delhi High Court criticized the Centre “for maintaining silence over the ownership of the Jama Masjid despite funding its maintenance. (The Hindu May 27, 2005).
Disclaimer: This post was prepared after referring to media reports and blogs. Most of the information is copied from the reports/blogs exactly the way it was reported. If there are any errors in this post, please let me know.