Zafarul Islam Khan, editor of the New Delhi-based fortnightly ‘Milli Gazette’, was recently elected President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, a conglomeration of various Indian Muslim organizations. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about his plans for the Majlis.
YS: Briefly, what are the aims of the Majlis?
ZIK: The Majlis was established in the early 1960s as an advocacy group on behalf of several Indian Muslim organisations with basically two aims. Firstly, to liaison with the government and civil society organizations to put across Indian Muslim points of view. And secondly, to interact with the Muslim community to promote internal reforms and development and to advise the community on how to react to issues and new developments.
YS: Critics argue that the Majlis does not seem to have much of a presence today. Do you agree?
ZIK: The Majlis has been active since the 1960s. True, it has gone through several phases, and in some phases it has not been as active as it should have been. Let me say that the Majlis has been as active or otherwise as the Muslim community itself. There have been certain periods where the Majlis has faced internal problems. For instance, the Majlis spilt in 2000, when some 20 per cent of its members set up their own faction. But still, despite the split, the then President of the Majlis, Syed Shahabuddin, worked hard to put the organization back on its feet, seeking to highlight Muslim views and opinions before the government and the general public. Moreover, we have been trying to reach out to the other faction to bring them back with us.
YS: How exactly is membership in the Majlis structured?
ZIK: New members of the Majlis are co-opted by existing members. The latter suggest the names of prospective members and these are discussed in our meetings and, if approved of provided they meet certain criteria, they are given membership. Presently, the Majlis has 92 members but I hope to expand this to between 150 and 200 in the next two years or so.
YS: Many Muslim organizations give little representation, if at all, to women. Further, many such organizations that are based in Delhi tend to consist overwhelmingly of people from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, leaving out Muslims from other parts of the country. Is this true for the Majlis as well? Also, does it have representation from all the Muslim sects?
ZIK: As of now, the Majlis has just one woman member. However, I would like to increase this to at least ten or twenty soon. It is true that the majority of our members are from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Bihar, but we do have representatives from some other parts of the country also. As for sect, we are open to all Muslims, so we have a number of people who are Deobandis, Ahl-e Hadith or from the Jamaat-e Islami. Our Vice-President, Maulana Aqeel ul-Gharavi, is a leading Shia scholar and community activist, and we have several other Shia members. We do not, however, as yet have any noted Barelvis with us, but we will try to include them as well.
One problem that we face is that we have very few youth members. We hope to co-opt some talented and promising young people into the Majlis in the near future.
YS: What are your plans for the Majlis for your tenure as President?
ZIK: One of my plans is to reactivate the Majlis’ Supreme Guidance Council, which the Majlis’ Constitution allows for, but which has so far existed only on paper. This Council would consist of eminent people from different walks of life who would keep a watch on the activities of the Majlis and guide it on policy matters. This will also help promote the acceptability and credibility of the Majlis within the community.
I also intend to constitute a number of committees to deal with various issues, such as economics, education, social reforms, liaisoning with government, political parties and members of Parliament. I would also like to see the Majlis expand its work across the country. Presently, it is mainly active in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and to a lesser extent in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal etc.. Further, it has so far been limited only to the national and state levels, but I think we need to have a three-tier membership, including at the district level too.
Another thing that I plan to do is to revive the annual Community or Milli Convention, which the Majlis should organize annually, but which has not been held for some time now. I want to make this a regular feature, where leaders of various parties, eminent people, social activists and others can discuss Muslim issues.
Yet another thing that we could consider is a community-wide network. Work on this has already started, and although this is right now not a Majlis initiative, I think the Majlis might be interested in making this one of its activities. This initiative would involve opening at least one information centre in every district, which would have certain basic facilities, such as a reading room with a computer, internet facilities and literature on such issues as career counseling and guidance, information about various government schemes for the poor and for minorities, local NGOs offering various services etc..
We could have counselors who could regularly be available at these centres and provide relevant guidance. These centres would, besides providing concrete help to people, also serve to provide us with news about local developments affecting the community in their respective areas.
YS: What political role, if at all, do you see for the Majlis?
ZIK: The Majlis is a non-political umbrella group of several Muslim organizations. However, individual members and organisations are free to participate in political activities and to vote for any party they want, or to stand for elections themselves or to join political parties of their choice. At the same time, the Majlis can advise Muslim voters to vote for the best secular candidates at the time of elections.