RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who has been meeting Muslim leaders in an unprecedented outreach, visited a mosque in Delhi and held a meeting with its chief cleric.
Mohan Bhagwat met with Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, the chief cleric of the All India Imam Organization, at a mosque in the heart of Delhi, not far from top government and political offices. Mr Ilyasi termed Mr Bhagwat “rashtra pita“, news agency PTI reported. “Our DNA is same, only our method of worshipping god is different,” the top cleric said.
It was described as a “closed door meeting” that lasted more than an hour.
“It sends out a very good message to the country. We had discussions like a family. It was wonderful that they came on our invitation,” said Suhaib Ilyasi, the cleric’s son.
The RSS chief later visited a madrasa and interacted with students.
The RSS chief met with Muslim intellectuals recently to try and “strengthen communal harmony”, according to the organisation. The gesture is significant in the aftermath of the Hijab row in Karnataka and suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma’s comments on the Prophet, which triggered violence and protests. The group sought a meeting weeks after Mr Bhagwat’s statement questioning the need to “look for a Shivling under every mosque”, against the backdrop of a petition requesting Hindu prayers at a shrine within Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque complex.
The RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the ideological mentor of the BJP. “RSS Sarsanghachalak meets people from all walks of life. It is part of the continuous general ‘Samvad’ (discussion) process,” RSS spokesperson Sunil Ambekar said.
On August 22, Mr Bhagwat met with five Muslim intellectuals and shared his concerns about the “current atmosphere of disharmony” in the country, it is learnt. Both sides agreed to dial down divisive rhetoric and discussed what each had objections to.
Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, who was in the 75-minute meeting, said Mr Bhagwat said even he was worried about the situation in the country. “I’m not happy with the atmosphere of disharmony. It is completely wrong. the country can move ahead only with cooperation and cohesion,” he quoted the RSS chief as saying.
Mr Bhagwat discussed points of concern to him, like cow slaughter, which upsets the Hindus, he said.
“So we said it is banned practically across the country. The Muslims are law abiding and if anyone violates it, it is a huge mistake and there should be punishment,” Mr Quraishi said.
The other was the use of the word “kafir” or non-believers, which “gave the Hindus a bad feeling”, Mr Bhagwat reportedly said.
“We said the originally in Arabic, the word means non-believers. Some people believe in Islam, they are called ‘Momin’. The non-believers are ‘kafir’. It was a neutral word and now it has become abusive. We don’t have a problem stopping it,” Mr Quraishi said.
The Muslim leaders made the point “that some right-wing people call Muslims jihadi and Pakistani”.
“They are suspicious of Muslims’ loyalty and want them to prove their patriotism at every turn. The Muslims are also Indians,” Mr Bhagwat, he said, agreed. “We share the same DNA. The majority of Muslims here are converts,” he quoted the RSS chief as saying in response.
“He gave us much assurance. His statement on Shivling was also very strong and we welcome it,” Mr Quraishi said.
Delhi’s former Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, former Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah, former MP Shahid Siddiqui and businessman Saeed Shervani also attended the meeting.