- India - Islam - Lashkar-e-Taiba - Mumbai attacks - religion
Barely three weeks after Islamist militants stormed a handful of Mumbai’s landmark sites in a brazen attack that killed more than 170 people, Imam Umair Ahmed Ilyasi was in Paris to attend a UNESCO-sponsored interfaith meeting of imams and rabbis.
As the Secretary General of the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques - an umbrella organisation that represents half-a-million imams and a network of mosques across India - Ilyasi has been a tireless advocate of interfaith dialogue. Last year, his visit to Israel on an interfaith mission sparked condemnation by numerous Indian Muslim organisations and Urdu-language newspapers.
In India, Urdu is a language predominantly spoken by the Muslim community, who comprise more than 13 percent of the country’s population, making India home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Ilyas spoke about the situation back home in India following the Mumbai attacks.
Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, many analysts feared there would be an anti-Muslim backlash as has happened in the past. But so far, there has been no trouble or outbreaks of violence between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim populations. Why do you think this has happened?
Firstly, I want to say that terrorists have no religion. Their aim is to create havoc in the entire country. And God be praised, I am happy to say that this time their wishes have not been fulfilled. Not only do they want to create havoc, but they also want, in any way possible, to trigger communal riots (between religious communities) and God be praised, that has not happened.
India’s Muslims are totally against terrorists, we have never supported them because Islam never asks people to harm others. These groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (a Pakistan-based militant organisation) they use the name of the Prophet but what’s their work? Their work is to kill innocent people. I appeal to these people – Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, these organisations to please, please, please stop using the name of Muslims. Prophet Mohammed was a messenger of peace, Islam bears a message of peace, so don’t give Islam a bad name.
Number two: We in India, we live in a cosmopolitan society. India is the second-largest Muslim nation in the world. So we want to send our message of peace to the entire world.
For instance, this year for Eid ul-Adha, the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques issued an appeal to Indian Muslims to wear black ribbons and to tone down celebrations out of respect for the victims of the attacks.
The biggest thing we did is that we Muslims did not allow the attackers to be buried in our cemeteries because they are not Muslims. This message, our Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist brothers, they all appreciated this and they have understood that we will never support terrorists.
Is this the first time something like this has happened?
In my opinion, firstly, this was a very big attack against India. But we have had attacks in the past. The Muslim community has been against it. But unfortunately, the media did not highlight it. We made appeals, we sent condolence messages, but it was only covered in the Urdu newspapers. The leading newspapers and leading news channels did not pick it up. This time the media played a very important and a very good role and so this time, there were no problems.
As a religious leader, you have taken several controversial decisions. Let us ask you what has been the most difficult, the most challenging experience for you?
My most difficult experience was, you see, when you’re doing something important, when you’re trying to take a peace process forward, you face problems. The conflict between Jews and Muslims is old now but up until now, there has been no mediator who has developed – or tried to develop relations – between the two communities.
Last year for the first time when we went – as religious leaders – to Israel and we met Israeli President Shimon Peres, we said that we want to see a solution to the problems between Israelis and Palestinians – we are willing to help to try to achieve this. When our organisation took on this task, in the beginning there were a lot of problems. All of India’s Muslims, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq so many countries were against it. So for us, that was a very difficult time. But when we returned home, we got a great welcome. We were invited by the Aligarh Muslim University and everyone said we’re doing a good job. When you’re doing something important, it will always be difficult, but yes, that was one of the most difficult experiences.