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The Mumbai-based Raza Academy and its role in promoting Islamism

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  • Tarek Fatah
    January 1, 2013 The Role Of The Mumbai-Based Raza Academy In Promoting Islamism By Dr. Mirza A. B. Baig Image courtesy Dinodia.com Introduction Raza Academy,
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      January 1, 2013

      The Role Of The Mumbai-Based Raza Academy In Promoting Islamism

      By Dr. Mirza A. B. Baig

      Image courtesy Dinodia.com


      Raza Academy, an orthodox Islamic organization based in Mumbai, came into prominence with a fatwa (Islamic decree) against novelist Salman Rushdie after his book Satanic Verses was published in 1988. In a statement on its website, it claims: "In 1988, the first fatwa against the ill-famed Salman Rushdie was issued by Raza Academy after obtaining it from Jaanasheene Huzoor Mufti-e-Aazam [the successor of Mustafa Raza Khan, son of the founder of Barelvi sect Ahmad Raza Khan] which was published in the Daily Hindustan on 11th November '88 and on 12th November in Inquilab and Urdu Times [both Urdu dailies]."[1] Early in 2012, the group held protests against a planned visit to India by Salman Rushdie. In the image above, Raza Academy demanded that Salman Rushdie be hanged.

      Raza Academy claims that it is an organization of Indian Muslims adhering to the Barelvi sect of Islam, named after Ahmad Raza Khan (1856-1921) of Bareilly, a northern Indian town. The Barelvis call themselves Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, or the people of the Prophet's tradition, and claim to be the legitimate form of Sunni Islam in South Asia. They are opposed to the other schools of thought like Deobandi, Wahhabi and Ahl-e-Hadith, Salafi, Ahmadiyya, whom they deem apostates.

      Raza Academy was formed in 1978 with Mohammed Saeed Noori as its founding president. Saeed Noori is also described as secretary-general of the organization.

      Raza Academy says that it champions the cause of Sunni Muslims. Some critics have described it as "protest dukaan" (shop), trying to organize Muslims for the Islamist political cause.[2] Over the years, it has articulated anti-U.S., antisemitic, and anti-West viewpoints, and, since it adheres to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam, it has also opposed the Tablighi Jamaat and Ahle-Hadith stands of Islam. The group was noticed for its role in violence after an August 11, 2012 protest meeting at Azad Maidan in Mumbai that turned violent, and its members led a mob protesting against the recent killings of minority Muslims in Myanmar and the northeastern Indian state of Assam. In 2012, it offered a reward of 100,000 Indian Rupees to anyone who could throw slippers at Salman Rushdie, as he was to attend a literary meet in the Indian city of Jaipur.

      Over doctrinal and other differences, it has opposed even Barelvi clerics and others who are not of Barelvi school. In a recent spat with Maulana Tahirul Qadri, it emerged that a rift exists among Barelvis, as Raza Academy filed a petition in Bombay High Court, saying that Tahirul Qadri be prevented from making public appearances in Mumbai and arguing that "his speech may create communal tension in Mumbai."[3] In 2008, Raza Academy also filed a court case over doctrinal differences, demanding a ban on Indian Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik's events in Mumbai.[4]

      The group appeals to Indian nationalism when doing so could potentially advance its agenda. For example, Raza Academy held anti-America protests over the issue of U.S. immigration officials frisking Indian scientist and former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam when he visited the U.S. in 2006.

      Origins And Ideology

      Initially, Raza Academy was set up for printing and publishing books authored by Ahmed Raza Khan (1856-1921), a Sunni Islamic scholar whose writings led to the emergence of the Barelvi movement in Sunni Islam. It also publishes other Islamic scholars' works to advance the Barelvi movement. On its website, Raza Academy claims to have published over 300 books.

      The website also notes: "In 1978, after the formation of Raza Academy, a madrassa [Islamic seminary] by the name of 'Raza-ul-Uloom' was started for the sole purpose of giving Islamic knowledge to children and young people as well as the elderly. In 1980, the Raza Academy published the 'Kanzul Imaan' (Urdu translation of the Holy Koran by Aala Hazrat Ahmed Raza Khan)... In 1981, the concept of Noori Mehfil [congregation of people where poems in praise of Prophet Muhammad are recited] was formed, and it was started at [the address] 47, Ghoghari Mohalla, Bombay-3, to be held every Thursday... Around 1100 mehfils [congregations] have been arranged so far. These mehfils are attended by a lot of Indians as well as foreign ulema [Islamic scholars]...."[5]

      Although Raza Academy claims to have 37 branches all over the world, including in Durban, Colombo, Johannesburg and Lahore, most of its branches are in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital. The group is influential in the region around Mumbai, where it held protests against America, Jews, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others. Raza Academy also aims to work for educational awareness among Muslims.[6]

      Barelvis are always at loggerheads with Deobandis, Wahhabis, Salafis, Shi'ites, and Ahmadis, calling them kafir (infidel). Imam Ahmad Raza Khan, founder of the Barelvi movement, wrote to prove that non-Barelvi scholars such as Maulvi Ismail Dehlvi, Maulvi Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi, Qasim Nanautavi, Khaleel Ahmad Ambethavi and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad are apostates. During a visit to Saudi Arabia in the early 20th century, he also obtained a fatwa from about two dozen clerics of Mecca and Medina, declaring Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam, an apostate. "He also refuted Ahle-Hadith and 'Ahle-Quran'... But his main work was to receive the fatwa from the ulema of the Holy Harmain [Mecca and Medina]. They ratified ... [his] fatwa of [unbelief] and apostasy against Thanvi, Gangohi, Nanautavi, and Ambethavi and [Mirza Ghulam Ahmad] Qadiani, which he wrote in his book, Al-Moatamad-ul-Mustanad."[7]

      Like other Muslim sects, the Barelvis believe in the Koran and Sunnah and consider the Prophet Muhammad the last prophet of God. However, they also believe in Sufism and its various silsilas(orders), such as Qadri, Chishti, Naqshbandi, and Suhrawardi. They differ from other Sunnis because of their beliefs regarding the Prophet Muhammad, considering him noori basher (a human made from God's light) who is hazir (present in many places at the same time) and nazir(witnessing all that goes on in the world). The Barelvis also think that Muhammad was imbued withilm-e-ghaib (knowledge of the unseen) and is mukhtaar-e-kul, i.e. one who has the authority to do whatever he desires as granted to him by Allah.[8]

      Ahmed Raza Khan, the founding Barelvi leader, was reportedly opposed to such practices astaziah (marking the day of martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson Hazrat Imam Hussain by enacting and recreating the scene of the Battle of Karbala, as practiced by Shi'ite Muslims),qawwali (a form of singing in praise of Allah, the Prophet, and Islamic mystics such as Sufis), tawaf(circling of a holy site or tomb), sajda (prostrating before a tomb) and women visiting mazars(shrines), calling these activities bid'ah (forbidden innovations in Islam). However, Barelvis in general practice all of these will great enthusiasm.

      The Barelvi Muslims observe public celebration of the Mawlud (Muhammad's birthday). They askaulia (deceased Sufi mystics) for intercession with God on behalf of the living, which is why devout Muslims flock to Sufi shrines in India and elsewhere. Some popular Sufi shrines of India are at Ajmer, of the 12th century mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti; at Delhi, of the 13th century mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin; at Gulbarga, of 14th century Sufi Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraz; and at Bareilly, of Ahmed Raza Khan, the founder of the Barelvi movement. Numerous such shrines in India are visited by Barelvi Muslims.

      Sunni Dawat-e-Islami, another Barelvi group, works closely with Raza Academy. It introduces itself: "Some prominent intellectuals of... Mumbai had this feeling that a movement should be initiated in the field of Dawat-o-Tabligh [calling towards and propagation of Islam] to carry forward the mission of the Prophet and which could be ever-ready to crush the heads of every fitna[mischief] that comes in the way of Islam and the thought of Aala Hazrat [Ahmed Raza Khan]; and to achieve this goal with the lovely name of Sunni Dawat-e-Islami, a movement was founded on September 5, 1992. Hafiz and Qari Maulana Mohammad Shakir Noori was unanimously accepted as the leader and emir of this movement by the ulema."[9]

      The Raza Academy Leadership

      Mohammad Saeed Noori, leader of the Raza Academy (jaymaharashtra.com)

      Mohammad Saeed Noori controls the helm of affairs at Raza Academy. People call him Maulana, a titled used for Islamic scholars, though he has not received any formal higher degree from a madrassa. He is known as an activist, especially for organizing protests and for facilitating the work of Islamic scholars of the Barelvi school. An Indian media report notes: "Noori has never received a formal Islamic education though uninformed reporters happily call him Maulana (scholar). While working in the sewing thread business, he aspired to use Raza Academy to champion Sunni Islam which, unlike the Wahhabis, accepts Sufism and sanctions visiting the mausoleums of saints [e.g. Sufi mystics]... Noori, a self-styled follower of the sect, has turned Raza Academy into a protest machine."[10]

      He has been charged with rioting by police for violence during the August 2012 protest at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. A media report noted that Saeed Noori, along with another Islamic scholar Maulana Athar, was involved in rioting. "The charges slapped against some of the accused include criminal conspiracy and murder, besides damaging public property, unlawful assembly, and indulging in violence... The attackers, who went berserk, attacked police personnel, molested some policewomen, [and] pounced on media persons covering the procession and damaged their vehicles."[11]

      Other than Mohammad Saeed Noori, very few names associated with the Raza Academy come to light. Two mentionable names are: Suhail Rokadia, who as a spokesperson of Raza Academy was a member of a delegation which called on the U.S. consul-general in Mumbai in May 2005; and Mohammad Arif Razvi, whose name appears in the press releases of Raza Academy. But the organization's control remains in Saeed Noori's hands.

      Saeed Noori has been seeking to spread the work of Raza Academy and ideologically associated groups. He notes: "Over the years, the Academy set up 32 centers across India, and became a voice of the country's Sunni community."[12] The spiritual leadership of the Barelvi movement, from its base in the northern town of Bareilly, supports Noori. All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a top body of Barelvi clerics and mystics in India, the Sunni Dawat-e-Islami and the Muslim Students Organization (MSO) are some of the groups associated with Raza Academy. The AIUMB represents numerous Sufi shrines and mosque leaders. The MSO, founded in 1977 at the Aligarh Muslim University, works closely with Raza Academy as it is evident from their joint protests in 2009 and adherence to the same school of thought.

      Islamic scholars, madrassa controllers, and mosque leaders closely associated with Raza Academy include: Maulana Ashraf Raza of Darul Uloom Hanafia Rizvia, Mumbai; Maulana Yaseen Akhtar, president of Darul Taleem; Maulana Musannah Miyan, chairman of Tanzeem Aimmae Masajid; Maulana Mansoor Ali Khan, secretary-general of All India Sunni Jamiatul Ulema; Maulana Saiyad Siraj Azhar, president of All India Sunni Tablighi Jamaat; Maulana Waris Jamal Qadri, president of All India Tablighi Seerat; Maulana Khalilur Rehman Noori, general secretary of Tanzeem Aimmae Masajid; Maulana Abdus Sattar, secretary of Sunni Tehreek-e-Aimmae Masajid; Maulana Mehmood Aalam Rashidi, secretary of Anjuman Barkat-e-Raza; Maulana Abdul Qader Habibi, secretary of Anjuman Gulshan-e-Madina; Muslim Council of India convenor Ebrahim Tai, and Abdul Razaque Maniyar, president of the Public Complaint Centre.[13]

      These figures and organizations are active in propagating the Barelvi movement in Sunni Islam through a chain of madrassas, mosques, khanqahs (monastery) and social organizations. With the growing impact of the puritan Tableeghi Jamaat, which is opposed to what Barelvis do in practice, the Barelvis have also formed similar-sounding groups such as All India Sunni Tableeghi Jamaat and All India Tableegh-e-Seerat (propagation of the life and deeds of Prophet Muhammad). They want to get control over mosques, leading to conflicts in lots of mosques throughout the country on big and small issues such as who should be prayer leaders.

      In 2006, leading nuclear scientist and former Indian president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was reportedly frisked, in violation of diplomatic norms, by U.S. immigration officials when he visited the country. The revelation that Dr. Kalam had been frisked came sometime in 2011, leading to Indian groups criticizing the U.S. The Raza Academy leadership too saw an opportunity for an anti-U.S. protest. A Barelvi website carried this report on November 16, 2011:

       "A prominent organization of Indian Muslims, Raza Academy, today protested against the United States of America on insulting of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York. The activists of Raza Academy, which had also held a mass rally at Azad Maidan, Mumbai in 2006 against the arrival of then-President George Bush to India, sent an old pair of shoes to Mr. Barack Obama, President of the U.S through the U.S. Consulate.

      "Mohammad Saeed Noori, general secretary of Raza Academy, told [journalists] that America is the greatest terrorist. It has been murdering innocent civilians in the name of bringing peace, since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki... Now, after leading unjustified attacks on Libya, it is preparing for a war with Iran. The war on terror has nothing to do with democracy or peace but it is a propaganda war to destabilize the growing economies... The recent insult to former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at JFK International Airport in the name of [security] checking shows how much respect it has for our highest-level leaders and politicians. India must not act like slave countries and must lodge its strong protest by summoning the Counsel of the U.S....[15]

      In January 2012, noted author Salman Rushdie was scheduled at speak at a literary festival in the Indian city of Jaipur. However, the leaders of Raza Academy issued a call for a protest, and the local police, at the behest of the ruling Congress party which was eyeing Muslim votes in the impending state elections, forced Rushdie's trip to be cancelled.

      A Barelvi website noted: "Controversial author Salman Rushdie, who has caused a lot of pain and anger in Muslim world by his evil writings, is once again coming to India to attend a literary festival in Jaipur Rajasthan. The literary festival will be held at Jaipur from 21st Jan 2012. Muslim organizations are agitated and have demanded cancellation of his visa. All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board, Raza Academy, MSO of India have threatened to protest if his visa is not cancelled. MSO ... [held] a protest meeting in Jaipur yesterday on 9th January 2012 under the patronage of Chief Mufti of Jaipur Muhammad Abduls Sattar Razwi..."[16]


      [1] http://www.razaacademy.com (India), accessed July 15, 2012. The original English of all reports used in this dispatch has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.

      [2] The Times of India (India), September 22, 2012.

      [3] http://bit.ly/130cHLV, March 15, 2012.

      [5] http://www.razaacademy.com/, (accessed on July 27, 2012).

      [6] Snninews.wordpress.com, accessed November 25, 2012.

      [7] http://www.hazrat.org/english. htm, accessed December 13, 2012.

      [8] http://www.faizaneraza.org/ book/172/page/3 accessed September 12, 2012.

      [9] http://bit.ly/10ESSuP, accessed December 1, 2012).

      [10] http://bit.ly/WVRcIC, September 2, 2012.

      [11] http://bit.ly/S1L43L, November 9, 2012. 

      [12] http://bit.ly/RMC6nr, August 14, 2012.

      [16] http://bit.ly/Vug48j, January 10, 2012.

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