Before Yogi Adityanath was sworn in as the 21st chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, he was seen as a promoter of what is called the Hindutva ideology. But the question exponentially arises: is his image changing with the time? This question is gaining significance and popularity particularly now in the wake of two surprisingly remarkable incidents. In the first instance, Adityanath focused on the religious commonality between Hindus and Muslims in India, citing an example of the resemblance between namaaz and certain asanas of the Surya namaskar. Tellingly, Muslim leaders and ulema, barring a few hardliners, supported the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's statement on Surya namaskar's asanas being akin to namaaz, welcoming it as an effort to advance the cause of religious inclusiveness in India, as this Firstpost article mentioned in detail.
Of late, a fresh instance of similar tenor was seen in a recent tweet by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister in which he wished Muslims on the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali, an Islamic figure of utmost importance, especially for Indian Muslims. In a very brief, yet meaningful tweet which has shot into a controversy now, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s Twitter account handle wrote in Hindi:
हजरत अली के जन्म दिन पर प्रदेशवासियों को बधाई
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) April 11, 2017
It is a common knowledge that such an endeavour by Adityanath is first of its kind. He is not known to have gone on wishing Muslims in India on Islamic festivals.
His tweet on the occasion of Hazrat Ali’s birthday wishing the Muslims, in particular, and the Indian people, in general, was quite unlikely. This is a great surprise by Yoginath who, before his win in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election 2017, had expressed his wish to change the names of several localities having Islamic touch. One wonders how someone who planned to convert the name of Ali Nagar to Arya Nagar is now wishing Muslims on the very Hazrat Ali’s birthday!
It is a clear signal that Adityanath, after becoming the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is inclined towards religious pluralism, showing equal respect to different religions in India, something which is the hallmark of India's unity in multiplicity and cultural composites.
But a cursory glance at the comments on this concise tweet reveals that the path to achieving this gigantic task is long and challenging. Surprisingly, Adityanath’s congratulation to the country’s Muslims on Hazrat Ali’s birthday is not seen by a section of his die-hard fans as a gesture for communal harmony. It is rather lambasted as a "letdown" on the strong expectations and emotions that these religionist Uttar Pradesh voters harboured. After the congratulatory message on Hazrat Ali’s birthday was extended to Muslims by Adityanath, a surge of pernicious "trolls" on the social media embarked on their mission.
Scores of commentators who used to be "Adityanath bhakts" accused the Uttar Pradesh chief minister of acting like a "secular" politician, castigating his tweet on Hazrat Ali’s birthday as an "unacceptable political gimmick". For instance, an "ex-fan" of Adityanath commented on his tweet: “After witnessing your secular character, I believe even staunch Hindutva turns secular after winning the chair”.
Clearly, Adityanath's tweet has turned some of his fans and followers extremely angry. They have posed tough and provocative questions to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. For instance, Rashmi Mehta, a Twitter user and former fan of Adityanath, commented: "The lure of the chair is speaking". Another fan, Aditya Kumar regrets: "Sir, we did not expect this". Another Twitter user laments: “today it has to be believed that as soon as the power is attained, even the biggest promoter of Hindutva becomes secular”. In castigation of Adityanath's tweet, an angry Twitter user has gone to the extent of flogging this fiction: "आप तो ऐसे ना थे, पूरे मौलाना बन रहे हैं।" (You were not like this, you are becoming a “Maulvi”).
However, there are also Hindu and Muslim Twitter followers of Adityanath who have warmly welcomed his tweet on Hazrat Ali’s birthday celebration. For instance, Nitin Nishant wrote:
— Nishant (@nitin753nishant) April 11, 2017
A translation of the tweet reads: This is how the changing face of India should be... Let’s get united and integrated. Congratulations to all on Hazrat Ali's birthday and Hanuman Jayanti! In the same thread, this tweet was endorsed by many Muslim twitter users like Tariq Khan who expressed best wishes on Hazrat Ali's birthday and Hanuman Jayanti.
Remarkably, this year, Hanuman Jayanti and the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali fell on the same day (11 April). Thus, Tuesday’s tweet marks not only the first time when the Uttar Pradesh chief minister wished Muslims on a religious occasion but also the changing image of a "Hindutva nationalist" who is willing to celebrate the religious commonalities and respect the differences between the two largest religious communities in India.
All you need to know about Hazrat Ali
Let us also recall that Hazrat Ali whose birthday occurred on Tuesday, was Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law. He was killed by the first extremist outfit in Islam — the Khawarij or Kharijites — for his moderate views on the religious issues. He is revered as "Hazrat Ali" by Sunni-Sufi Muslims in India and as "Imam Ali" by the Shia Muslims. Particularly known for his spiritual intellect, intellectual pursuit and humanitarian works, Hazrat Ali was honoured by the Prophet with an epithet of “Bab-ul-ilm” (gate of knowledge) wherein the Prophet reportedly referred to himself as the “Madina-tul-ilm” (city of the knowledge). Imam Ali was also elected as the Muslim caliph or Amir al-Mu’minin (chief of the believers) from 656 to 661, in an Islamic period called the “rightly-guided era”.
The corpus of the classical Islamic texts like hadith (Prophet’s sayings and traditions) and Sirah (biography of the Prophet) are replete with historical accounts highlighting the special place that Hazrat Ali holds in Islam. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “Verily, Ali is from me and I am from him (inna ‘Ali minni wa ana minhu), and he is the wali (spiritual master) of every believer after me." The Prophet went to the extent of expressing his spiritual kinship with Hazrat Ali in these words: "Ali is as my own sou' (ka-nafsi)”, as reported in several historical Arabic compilations such Al-bidaya Wal-nihaya, Tabqat Ibn Sa’ad and Al-isabah fi tamyeez al-Sahaba.
Hazrat Ali's birthday, which occurs on the 13th day of the Islamic month of Rajab, is an occasion of paramount importance in both Sunni-Sufi and Shiite Islamic traditions. Barring a few Muslim sects adhering to the Salafis-Wahhabis, Hazrat Ali’s birthday is celebrated as “Yaum-e-Ali” by the world’s mainstream Muslims with great gusto. In India, it is also marked as "Jashn Maulud-e-K’aba” (commemoration of the one who was born in K’aba). Muslims, particularly in the Uttar Pradesh localities, celebrate this annual occasion as an event to recall the peaceful, pluralistic and rationalistic messages and other notable memories of Hazrat Ali.
As for the Sunni-Sufi Muslims, they show great veneration to this day believing Hazrat Ali as the fourth righteous chief of the believers “ameer al-mu’minin” and the founder of Islamic spirituality or Tasawwuf (Sufism). However, for the Shia followers of Islam, Hazrat Ali was actually the first righteous caliph and the first imam in the long sacred chain of the Shi'ite Imams, beginning with Hazrat Ali to Imam Mahdi who is believed to appear at the end of the world. Apart from these doctrinal disagreements, both Shia and Sunni-Sufi Muslims, also known in India as Ahl-e-Sunnat, unanimously honour and celebrate the occasion of Hazrat (or Imam) Ali’s birth anniversary. Thus, both Sunnis and Shias — the two largest Islamic sects in India — are brought together on this occasion to engage collectively in the prayers while, at the same time, singing na’at and manqabat (hymns in the praise of Imam Ali). Although Hazrat Ali's birth anniversary is not yet an official holiday declared by the Indian government, Muslims in large number take off from their jobs to avidly celebrate it.
For over a century, the birthday of Hazrat Ali is widely observed in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in Lucknow, Azamgarh, Aligarh, Maunath Bhanjan and all localities with a sizeable population of the Shia Muslims. While the Ahl-e-Sunnat pay tribute to Hazrat Ali by holding spiritually-inclined gatherings and recalling his profound significance in the Sufi orders and traditions, the Shias celebrate his birthday anniversary in similar congregations in mosques and imambaras (shrines) across the country. They decorate their houses, mosques and imambaras with lights, colourful and scented flowers and share great joy and enthusiasm with their friends and family. This happens in India in full spiritual synergy with the age-old tradition of the two Shia-majority Muslim nations — Iraq and Iran. This writer bears witness to the remarkable events commemorating "Yaum-e-Ali" (Imam Ali’s birthday). Initiated and promoted by Iran’s ministry of culture and religious affairs, the anniversary was declared as an official holiday in the era of the famous 19th-century Iranian ruler, Nasiru al-Din Shah.
It is worth mentioning that Hazrat Ali’s shrine is situated in Najaf, the Iraqi city which is highly venerated by the Shia Muslims who perform pilgrimages to this city from across the world throughout the year.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 16:08:56 IST