By Neeraj Mahajan
Look at the contradiction – the President, Prime Minister, Chief Minister of a State or Chief Justice of India has a fixed term. Except Field Marshall, all officials holding the most coveted post are called retired or former but the Imam of Jama Masjid is never retires. He continues to hold the post for life.
A 2nd or 3rd generation Gandhi, Pilot, Pawar, Mahajan or Dutt joining the profession of their forefathers is said to be promoting dynastic rule. But no one objects when 400-year-old Imamat of Jama Masjid is passed on to the 14th generation in the same family.
This brings us to the fundamental question–should Imam-hood be passed on as a hereditary right, scholarly virtues in Islamic studies, popularity or acceptance among the people.
But before we proceed, let’s find out the actual significance of the Shahi Imam’s post in Islam?
The term imam is an honorary title given to a person who leads prayers in mosques. The Imam or priest has no function- but to lead the prayers. The title of Shahi Imam or Imam-ul-Sultan, means Imam of the emperor.
Mughal Emperor Shahjahan was the one who got the Jama Masjid built at a cost of one million over a six-year period. It was originally called Masjid Jahan Numa or “mosque with a commanding view of the world”. Shahjahan ensured that the pulpit of the mosque was higher than the royal throne at Red Fort. When this mosque was ready in 1656 AD he wanted an imam who could lead the prayers. People in those days waited for the Emperor to be present during the prayers. But at times the Emperor was caught in some urgent work which meant the prayer schedule was disturbed. Hence, the need was felt for a competent religious scholar to act as Imam.
Shahjahan selected Maulana Syed Abdul Ghafoor, who come from Bukhara and joined as the “Imamul Haq” or the first Imam of the Jama Masjid. Since that day, the Bukhari family has continued to administer the mosque. Syed Ahmad Bukhari is the 13th Imam. Friends of the Bukhari family insist that Shah Jahan’s will explicitly state that Shahi Imam’s title is passed down the Imam’s family.
Why should one family monopolize the post? What if the person is unfit for the post? Do we need a Mughal’s permission for whatever happens in 2014?
Can such a competent Muslim outside the Bukhari family be stopped from holding Imam’s post? Also at a time when there is no monarchy in India, what is the justification of the title of ‘Shahi Imam’? Can a person be called Imam-UL-Sultan when there is no Emperor or Badshah. The Mughals build thousands of mosques, including the Jama Masjid of Agra why should all those Imams also not be called Shahi Imam? What is so special about Imam Bukhari?
“The title Shahi Imam should be taken away from him. When you have taken away the privy purses and privileges of the erstwhile Maharajas why should such good for good for nothing power brokers be spared” says Danish Khan, Editor, Indian Muslim Observer.
Interestingly, before conferring the title Shahi Imam on Maulana Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari – the first Imam of the Jama Masjid, Emperor Shahjahan made sure that he was a descendant of the Holy Prophet from both of his parents. His noble birth, respectable image, knowledge, learning, capabilities and overall personality was another deciding factor. On top of it all the Shah of Bukhara’s recommendations clinched the post in his favor.
Obviously there was no dearth of Muslims in Indian sub-continent but Shahjahan did not want just anybody but the best performing to officiate as the Imam of Jama Masjid? Could the same Shah Jehan approve of a below-average or unworthy person to on such a coveted post?
Since the beginning, two main duties of the Shahi Imam have been– performing the coronation ceremony of Mughal Emperors and ensuring the smooth conduct of the prayers at the Jama Masjid. Syed Ghafoor Bukhari, the first Shahi Imam performed the coronation of Emperor Aurangzeb. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s coronation ceremony was performed by Mir Ahmed Ali Shah Bukhari the eighth Shahi Imam on Sunday, 30th September, 1837.
Another role of the Shahi Imam from the early days has been conducting the prayers. Lead by Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari Emperor Shahjahan and all his ministers offered the first of Id-ul-Fitr prayer at Jama Masjid on July 24, 1656 AD. At the end of it, the Emperor appointed him Imamat-e-Uzma.
The title – Shahi Imam has no relevance or authority today.
Ahmed Bukhari belongs to the Sunni Muslim community. Though he officially neither the spokesperson or the religious head, but one of the most visible faces in the community. It is not only undemocratic and unislamic on his part to promote hereditary lineage, but also goes against the basic concept of Shunnism.
Sunnis, were the first to insist that Abu Bakr should lead the Muslims after the death of prophet Mohammed. All, because he was worthy and capable, instead of Ali his son-in-law and family member (Prophet Mohammad did not have a son). In the light of this, can Ahmed Bukhari insist on his son Shaban Bukhari takes over as naib-imam and possible the 14th Imam from the family and son-in-law Umar Ali Khan being made MLC?
“There is no concept of hereditary Imam-hood. If that were, Imams should have continued for generations in Saudi Arabia, holy Kabbah, Pakistan or Bangladesh? But that is not so. The government there appoints the Imams; they get a salary and can be changed… why not in India?” asks Danish Khan.