Ever since Partition, being Muslim in India has been a complex experience, one filled with discrimination, vilification and condescension. As the Sachar Committee Report shows, it means the system colludes to keep you out of positions of power, robs you of the right to succeed on your own terms. Yet, there are always groups claiming that the government — any government — is favouring you, that you are stealing jobs from more capable members of what is euphemistically called ‘the majority community’. Your allegiance to your country is routinely challenged; you are routinely asked to go to Pakistan if you don’t like it here, even if your family has been here for generations. Just because people who happen to share your religion but little else started attacking New York, or London, or Mumbai, you are considered a terrorist; the first to be arrested, if not killed, whenever there is an attack of any sort. Your religion, they tell you, is violent. It preaches violence. It’s practised by violent people.
It is this last perception that Mahmood Madani was trying to fight when he convinced the Darul Uloom Deoband to issue a fatwa against terror in 2008. The post-9/11 era had seen gross stereotyping masked as analysis; it was necessary to take a stand, to separate the vast majority of Muslims from the actions of a fanatical few. As President of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, it was Madani’s responsibility to emphasise that Islam is fundamentally peaceful. The fatwa wasn’t an isolated incident; Madani has worked assiduously to discredit terror and foster communal harmony throughout his public.
Although a respected theologian — and therefore, the stereotype suggests, a regressive misogynist — Madani has spoken out on several occasions in favour of educating girls. He famously told Pervez Musharraf to stop advising Indian Muslims, insisting that they are quite capable of solving their own problems. He has even asked secular parties to stop using Muslim sentiments to further their own political ends. In a country where Muslims are forever defined by other people, Madani’s is a strong, articulate voice that understands the real challenges they face.