Sayyid Ibrahimul Khalilul Bukhari, who conducts the third largest Islamic gathering in the world on the day of Lailutal Khadar, the 27th day of the Holy Month of Ramadan, usually is a pleasant man. But throw him a question on the Islamic State (IS) and see how his composure changes — there is anger in his eyes. He says that Islam has no place for people who lead a violent life and engage in extreme actions of hatred and intolerance in the name of Islam.
Bukhari, who has followers around the world, underlines that Islam does not believe in hurting any individual or even an animal or nature. On the other hand, he says, according to the Islamic law and beliefs, those who indulge in such violent and extreme activities will be thrown into hell.
Outspoken and bold, Bukhari Thangal is a name unto himself in the Melmuri area of Malappuram district in Kerala. Bukhari categorically calls the is barbarians who never had anything to do with Islam and are, in fact, the enemies of Islam. The statement from one of the most respected Muslim leaders in the country is an eye-opener for many who have seen the IS as representative of Islam.
Bukhari, or Bukhari Thangal as he is respectfully called, belongs to one of the oldest Muslim families in India, which had migrated from Uzbekistan and settled in the northern part of Kerala. His forefathers were all scholars and had lived according to the laws prevailing in the country. He believes that even in Islam, adaptability is a major factor. “The culture of the place where one lives should be imbibed into the lifestyle of a person whether one believes in the religion/s practised in the region.”
Bukhari Thangal is credited with the formation of over 25 educational institutions at Swalathul Nagar in the backward area of Melmuri. What Bukhari Thangal started with 60 students in 1997, the Ma’din Academy (Ma’dinu Ssaquafathil Islamiyya), now has over 18,000 students, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and over 140 acres of land.
Languages are given emphasis in the institutions run by Bukhari Thangal’s organisation, as he believes in building bridges between different cultures. He has employed teachers in French, Spanish, German and other European languages.
A member of the Global Moderates Foundation, Malaysia, an umbrella body of various international organisations headed by the prime minister of Malaysia, to promote understanding among various communities, Bukhari Thangal has set up the Interfaith Foundation, which organises interfaith dialogues. The Foundation has already conducted dialogues in several European countries, Australia, Iraq and Israel.
The Interfaith Foundation has a tie-up with Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Journalist and writer Ummer Melmuri, who is also the director of Interfaith Foundation and a follower of Bukhari Thangal, says, “We are in the process of conducting dialogues throughout the globe and the (Interfaith) Foundation has been at the forefront of such activities for the past several years. We have already taken several groups from here (Kerala) to many countries, including Australia, Fiji, Iraq and Israel.”
“We believe that with such interactions there would be many opportunities to know each other and also to underline that Islam is a religion of peace and love and not of the barbaric culture, which we are witnessing under the is,” he adds.
Bukhari Thangal is known for his Lailathul Khader night programme, which is seen as a secular event, with people from all walks of life and religions taking part in it. At least six lakh people and 6,000 volunteers from different religions attend the event.
Chandran, who owns a building in Melmuri, says, “We used to provide facilities to the people who come from far and wide to hear the inspiring sermons of Thangal, who gives a fiery speech on the most auspicious day of the Ramadan. We find that as neighbours and well-wishers, we need to support him and his cause in whichever way we can.”
Harikumar, who provides land for setting up the tents for the programme, says, “Thangal has an open space of around 10 acres for accommodating people who arrive for the function. But since it is not enough, we chip in with whatever we can and this has now become more of a programme of the people of Melmuri rather than one conducted by Thangal.” The volunteers who participate in the programme hail from all religions.
Malappuram, which was the hub of the Mappilah rebellion of 1921, the Khilafat Movement against the British and against the imposition of English language, is now witnessing a reversal in imparting foreign languages, thanks to Bukhari Thangal.
Madrassa teachers are being taught how to teach English at the Ma’din English Village and after stiff resistance from the clergy and Islamic sects, now everyone feels it is a positive sign. It is believed that those who can speak English can network better with people from other places and that this is inevitable in the changing global order.