Time for azaan

Iqbal's poetry on his mind, a prayer on his lips, this gentle muezzin says give peace a chance
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

"I'm a Qalandar! The future tense doesn't suit the likes of me," he announced in the courtyard of the architectural marvel of Jama Masjid in the walled city of old Delhi. His hopes, ambitions and desires woven around the mosque and the community he represents, he loves his job. Maulana Nawabuddin Naqshbandi is one of the muezzins of this grandiose mosque, the centre-point of life for the devout. The Naqshbandis belong to the only sufi order which claims its spiritual lineage to the Prophet through the first caliph, Abu Bakr, whereas all the other sufi orders claim it through Ali. As it is, a muezzin remains an anonymous entity in public discourses as the imams take the centre-stage in matters of religion and politics. Even in Jama Masjid, it was only after the approval of the Shahi Imam that the maulana could share his thoughts with Hardnews.

The day for him starts even before the first rays of the sun reach the labyrinthine lanes of the inner city. His two children study in a local English medium school. A few anecdotes narrated to his children early in the morning, and he is off for the first round of his duty to call the azaan - calling the believers and those who have gone astray to the house of God.

The holy declaration 'Allahu Akbar...' which also doubles up as the call for namaz, fills the air in his trademark melodious tune, announcing a new dawn and a new day, impregnated with numerous new avenues.

Born in a family of master craftsmen who specialised in the meticulously crafted Zardozi work, life has been a pot-holed road for this holy man. Till a few years back life used to be much better as he owned a shop in front of the Flora restaurant, a few yards away from Jama Masjid. One fine day, the Delhi High Court, intending to decongest the area, asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to relocate the market. The maulana says the order affected more than 300 people who were managing their lives in the market.

Five years have passed, the MCD, despite several promises, has not given them an alternative space. The muezzin hopes that the new year will bring hope: with the order of relocation for the 300 odd people and give them a chance to survive.

The disturbing times before Independence, which culminated with a bloody crimson line artificially forced upon the people of the sub-continent, had been equally worse for his family. In 1947, they left their home in Paharganj and shifted to Gali Qasim Jaan at Ballimaran, where legendary poet Ghalib's dilapidated and forgotten haveli has been partially restored. They abandoned their belongings and ran for cover as mobs stricken with bloodlust went berserk, slaughtering anybody who came in their way. That they survived is a miracle.

Later, his father had to change many jobs to ensure two square meals for the family. The maulana as a young boy, worked in an iron moulding unit, to compliment the family's meagre income. The mornings were spent in the madarsa at Fatehpuri where he learnt to read the great works of poets like Rumi and Iqbal, along with the elementary knowledge of algebra. He sulks over the fact that education in madarsas these days remains confined to reading Quran and the Hadiths.

He feels that there should not be any more interference of the State in matters of the madarsas, but adds that the people who claim to represent the Muslims of the country should come forward for constructive and creative work, instead of getting trapped in a debate on religious lines which has not done any good to the people. "There should be equal focus on studying other languages, science and mathematics," he says emphatically.

The muezzin goes back to the days of sufi legend Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, who he says spent three years in Multan to learn Sanskrit so that he could spread his message in languages that people were familiar with. The Khwaja became a symbol of love, tolerance, giving and peace, and is revered to this day all over India and abroad, by followers spread across the religious and social spectrum. The heterogeneity and pluralism of culture, in synthesis with the idea of unity in diversity, is a novel way of knitting the secular fabric of society, with a great oral tradition of imagination, feeling and healing.

The Asian games in Delhi proved to be a boon for the maulana when he was summoned to lead the prayers for the Muslim athletes at Khelgaon in the Asian Games Village. Later, he was entrusted with the job of imam for the mosque at Safdarjung madarsa where he convinced the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, to allow regular prayers at the mosque. It was during one of those days that the Shahi Imam asked him to join the Jama Masjid to help the needy who would come to this magnificent structure of red sandstone with its exquisite arches, galleries and open-to-sky courtyard, with hope and faith in their eyes.

More than 25 years have passed by in these arches and domes, but the maulana still feels that justice has been denied to Muslims. So many commissions have been constituted but no action has been taken. The gory memories of the cold-blooded killings of ordinary Muslim folk in 1984 in Hashimpura, Maliana, near Meerut, reportedly at the hands of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, are still etched in the mind. He had gone there with relief material. When the administration disapproved of his relief work, he had to buy a hat and suit so that he could mingle with the Amnesty International's team that had come to assess the aftermath of the massacre.

On the question of jehad, the maulana believes that jehad is important when there is a danger to one's community or country. He tells us the story of Maulana Fazle Haq Khairabadi, who in 1857, gave the call for jehad against the British from this very courtyard of the Jama Masjid. However, he says, when the whole community is lagging behind, the order of the day is Jehad-bil-qalam - jehad with the pen.

The maulana owns a small shop which he has rented out. This is how he manages his small family as there are no monetary incentives for a muezzin. His life is modest. His humility is transparent.

For the new year, he has hope in his eyes. He feels that peace should be given a chance. The billion Hindus of the country, he says, should revolt against the handful of Hindutva fanatics. The government should look more sincerely into the problems of all those who have picked up arms, so that the country is free of bloodshed in 2010. Peace is the only option.

As daylight enters the evening twilight, we walk towards the shimmering pool of water in the middle of the mosque. He recites Iqbal, reaffirming his love for the motherland: "Yunaan-o-misr-o-roma sab mit gaye jahan se, ap tak magar hai baaqi naamo nisha hamara...( Greece, Egypt and Rome all have vanished from the face of earth; yet our imprints are still undiminished)." .

Quietly, gently, he bids adieu. It's time for another call of azaan to the faithful believers. It's time for prayer.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2010

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