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The Politics of Iftar: When will we grow up?

Paper No. 5980                                      Dated 3-Aug-2015
 
By R. Upadhyay
 
The month of Ramzan has just ended and so has the Iftar war among various political leaders. It will come again and again each year and the political parties will continue to misuse this religious occasion not only for achieving some political mileage  but also as a platform for re-grouping of political parties around the dining table against their political opponents. When are we going to grow up?
 
Iftar is a spiritual journey:
 
Although, the political leaders never claim any politics in the Iftar being hosted by them, the TV debate and the discussion in political circles on  efforts for re-grouping of opposition parties in the lavish Iftar party hosted by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and absence of the Prime Minister in the Iftar hosted by the President remained a talking point among the people
 
Fasting from sun-rise to sun-set in the month of Ramzan followed by Iftar, the breaking-fast observance is not only a month-long exercise to abstain from food and drink for the whole day but  is also  a spiritual journey that requires abandoning ill-will, ill-talk, backbiting, slander, senseless arguments and other vices that could  create obstruction in the way of self-purification and realisation of the concept of integral humanism and human transformation. 
 
Like prayer it also symbolises the personal relationship of the devout Muslims with the Supreme to achieve the divine connect but ironically, time and again this pious occasion has been misused and politicised in India. The occasion could have been used as a platform for the interfaith spiritual dialogue among the participants of different faiths as the God known as the source that creates and retains all that exists in this universe belongs to everyone. Ramzan and Iftar will come and go but its achievement lies in evolving a sense of shared destiny for creating a cohesive society and closing the gap of hatred and mistrust between the fellow humans. It is however, amazing that even the devout Muslim intellectuals do not protest  against its politicisation particularly when it is against the spiritual spirit of Islam.
 
Iftar Party and its Politicisation condemned by Islamic luminaries:
 
The rationale behind organising such religious celebrations may be a debatable issue, but one fails to understand as to how such religious functions could be officially  fitted into the 'secular' frame of Indian politicians. I do not know the exact stand of Islamic scriptures about the political Iftar hosted by 'non-believers' to the 'believers' but many prominent Muslim clergies and scholars have denounced such Iftar parties as ‘Un-Islamic’ and termed it a political gimmickry. Some from the community had  even called these gala parties with all the glitz hosted by non-believing politicians of eminence,- a farce. 
 
Many Muslim organisations, prominent Imams of the country and even members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board give their time to time statements against it and argue that “Ramdan was meant for prayers, piety and penance and not for socialising and politics”. 
 
Mufti Mukkarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid, Delhi, who is a well respected Muslim cleric ridiculed such behaviour of the political leaders. His guidance on Iftar may be an eye opener for Indian Muslims as well as the 'secularists'. He was quoted in Times of India in its issue dated December 9, 2001 that such Iftars are political 'nautankis' (drama). He said, "I avoid going for these political 'nautankis', but if I must, I carry my khazoor (dates) to break my fast because you can never be sure of the source of income of these lavish parties that politicians throw and Islam says that what you eat for Iftar must be from halal kamai (honest income)".
 
Similarly, the late Shahi Imam Abdullah Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Dehi during one of his sermons after Friday prayer had denounced the Iftar parties hosted by politicians as “Islamic Tamasha”. His son Ahmad Bukhari, the then Naib Imam and presently the Shahi Imam also repeated his father’s remarks saying - "The Ramzan parties hosted by politicians have become a political tamasha. And it hurts our religious sentiments". 
 
They were of the view -
 
 " First, convene a meeting of top Muslim clergymen to finalise an action plan, possibly to issue a fatwa to direct all Muslim politicians to stop giving iftar parties. Secondly, petition the Supreme Court to ban all iftar parties hosted by political leaders. Maulana Ikramul Haque, the Pesh-e- Imam of Patna's Jama Masjid had even issued a fatwa to all Muslim leaders who attended Bihar Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's iftar party to observe one day's roza (fast) after Eid as punishment. ( http://www.rediff.com/news/feb/08iftar.htm). 
 
In the year 2009, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema had issued a fatwa stating that holding of Iftar by political parties had no religious sanctity.( http://indiaopines.com/political-twist-iftar)
Despite the stand of respected Islamic clergies, major political players in the country have made it a practice to organise Iftar party during the month of Ramzan and extend invitations to a cross section of political leaders as well as media men. Even the atheist political luminaries are found present on this religious celebration. Many non-Muslim hosts as well as political invitees with a view to prove their secular credentials even wear the skull cap generally donned by the Muslims on this occasion despite the fact that some Muslim participants don’t feel it necessary to wear it. Two prominent Muslims namely Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Delhi Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung didn’t don the cap in the Iftar Party hosted by Arvind Kejariwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi. 
 
Conclusion:
 
For over six decades, the country is witnessing this political gimmickry. In fact the custom of political Iftar in post Independent India was initially started by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with a gathering of prominent Muslim politicians. He continued this party till he was alive but the practice was stopped by his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri. It was however, re-started by senior Janata Party leader Chandrashekhar when the party came to power in 1977. Indira Gandhi too revived the tradition of her father when she returned to power in 1980.
 
Politicisation of the Islamic ritual of Iftar hosted by the political parties at the cost of public money is a unique phenomenon in secular India where this solemn religious observance is misused and mixed with politics by the incorrigible politicians who leave no stone unturned to turn this event into an opportunity to gain some political advantage. In fact to me, it looks that the political parties have used secularism only as a political slogan and gradually turned the religion relevant to state affairs to have multi-dimensional interpretation of this term for their political gains. 
 
In the name of  secularism , it is a pity that people are continuing to be fooled by Iftar parties and the like.
 
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