Maulana Rahmani should not have buckled under verbal assault on his opinion on azaan

Hyderabad:  Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, the in-charge General Secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, had put out tweets suggesting the limited use of loudspeakers to give the call to prayer. On the same day, he deleted the tweets. A day later, he retracted the content of the tweets and issued an apology.

So, what was it that drove the Maulana to suggest that only the one large masjid in a neighbourhood should give the azaan on speakers installed outside the masjid, and on the very next make a case for the Islamic permissibility of loud speakers? There could more than one reason. But the obvious one is trolling.

Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani’s tweets were responded to in the most unparliamentarily fashion. While some respectfully disagreed, others were less subtle in their approach. And some were downright derogatory and insulting.

This is unfortunate. The Maulana is the go-to Islamic scholar whenever crucial cases related to the protection of the shariah come to the fore. He is one of the most respected Islamic scholars not only in India, but abroad as well. His opinion on Islamic jurisprudence is sought in regions such as South Africa and West Asia. He has authored several books on fiqh (Islamic law), biographies of the Prophet, collection of fatwas and so on. He was also instrumental in opposing state interference in madrassa system when it was being deliberated in government circles on creating a Madrassa Board in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh.

The backlash the Maulana faced largely tended to ignore his immense contributions. Whether this was so on account of ignorance or ire is a different debate for another day. What is reflective in the responses on social media, especially on Twitter, where the Maulana tweeted his statements, was Cancel Culture.

So what is cancel culture?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it thus: ‘the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.’

In other words, it is an effort – at times concerted, and at times done by a disparate set of individuals – to discredit a person, usually a public figure, and to reduce his or her following in society.

 ‘Canceling’ a public personality entails deliberately or inadvertently ignoring his or her contribution to society. It may or may not have political or sectarian undertones. And in this, case, as in the cases with several notable personalities, the canceling took place on social media.

If one looks closely, one may feel that at a time when majoritarian privilege has become the norm, and by this, the Hindutva forces have been pushing the Muslim community against the wall, the Maulana’s comments may seem ill timed. There is a possibility that these comments could picked up by any of these Right Wing groups, weaponised, and fired at the Muslims. 

There is merit in the argument of those who disagree with the Maulana. Their argument is thus: Masjids are largely independent of each other. Mosque managing committees, or mutawallis, or trusts are responsible for their day-to-day administration. While it is true that in certain cases some imams refuse to be rational, bluntly reject the advice to lower the volume on the loudspeakers, the larger concern is that going on the back foot could be construed as buckling under pressure from Hindutva forces, which actively participate in upping the ante against Islamophobia. The Babri judgement then, and the Gyanvapi masjid case now, are fresh. The right wing has been consistent in its demand has been a total removal of loudspeakers from masjids. The larger issue here is that of selective application of law, and double standards.

It is this utter lack of evenhandedness that is the problem, not the Maulana’s suggestions. To think about it, has clarified that the azaan is an announcement, which should reach a large number of people. The use of loudspeakers, therefore, is not un-Islamic, but desirable. 

Against the backdrop of the furore, it may be recalled that no scholar from any Islamic institution of repute has condemned his statement.

The Maulana’s stand on the limited use of loudspeakers is in the right spirit. Why would the Muslims want to cause inconvenience to fellow citizens who are adherents of other faiths?

The larger issue is that the Islamic scholar’s buckling under pressure. It appears that the abuse forced him to retract his statement. A scholar of his stature withdrawing a meaningful statement, or in this case, suggestion, does not send the right message. It implies that insignificant, foul mouthed twitter keyboard warriors have got the better of him. Surely, an Islamic scholar should be stronger than that.