From the reigning fear among Muslims in the country to India’s Covid-19 vaccine prowess, Dr Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of the All India Imam Organisation spoke to CNN-News18’s Anand Narasimhan to assert that for him and others from the community ‘India will always come first’.
Dr Ilyasi: First of all, I feel surprised when people question whether I am an Indian Muslim or an Indian Christian. My biggest objection is to this question only. Our identity is with India, our country. Religions can be different, castes can be different, religious traditions can be different, and ways to worship can definitely be different, but our greatest religion is humanity and the second religion is India if you are living in India.If you go to America and somebody says that I am an American Muslim, then people get angry. This question does not come anywhere in the world. We are proud to be Indians and that I am an Indian. I feel proud to be an Indian. Please associate me with India. I am the chief Imam of India and not the Imam of Muslims. My first objection is that don’t link us with religion. Link us with India and Indianness. The nation is above all.
Anand: I fully agree with your view and I also endorse it, but I want to say that this Hindu-Muslim binary is there right from the time of Partition. The country itself was divided on the basis of religion and even today many people, many states and many countries are using religion for their own benefits against us.
Dr Ilyasi: Today, through your channel, I want to make it clear that India has always been a “World Guru”: It was, it is and it will be. India has always given shelters to others, India has always helped others. Till today, India has not attacked any country, It has not occupied any territory of any country. This is the dignity of India and this is the identity of India. And today the speed with which our India is marching ahead amongst the countries of the world, the whole world is now looking towards India. We feel proud of our scientists and researchers and laboratories who by putting in day-night efforts could produce the vaccines in a very short time. Today the whole world is expecting from us, I am receiving telephone calls from Sri Lanka, from Bangladesh, the whole world is requesting the supply of vaccines. Today we are in a position that we can supply vaccines to the whole world. Today, India is at the top of the world and I am proud of my country India.
Anand: Absolutely, we should feel proud of our doctors, scientists, researchers and laboratories. Unfortunately, there are many people including doctors who are spreading rumours about the vaccines. What will you say about such rumours?
Dr Ilyasi: You see, in every society, there are good people, there are bad people, and I feel that majority are of very good people. Those who want to do mischiefs will do mischiefs and those who want to confuse people will confuse. Today the majority of the people are well educated and they know everything about the vaccine. It is not that by spreading rumours you can misguide the people. You will remember that I had to work very hard on the polio drops. I am talking about 20 years back, when the polio drops were started some people misguided the public that please don’t take this polio drops and if you take them, you will have such and such problems/ diseases and therefore as the chief Imam, I had to intervene and give my statement. Likewise, there was a time of chickenpox and at that time too, some people spread rumours. Those who want to spread rumours especially on social media will spread them but we should not be afraid of such rumours. But we are proud that India produced vaccines and most of the countries of the world are now requesting India for the vaccine. I would rather congratulate our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji who himself remained in constant contact day and night with vaccine producing companies so that the vaccines are available at the earliest possible with the co-operation of government, with the co-operation of people and with the co-operation of every Indian and every Indian should feel proud that today whole world is requesting for vaccines from India.
Anand: Ilyasi sahib, Imam sahib, I want to ask you whether there is democracy, there is freedom in India and whether India is much safer for Muslims than other neighbouring countries?Dr Ilyasi: I will give you an example. I will not go very far. I will talk about our neighbours only. I want to tell you about China. The Muslims of China do not have the freedom of either choosing names or freedom of worship. They can neither wear a cap nor they can keep a beard. They can neither keep Roza in Ramzan nor do they have permission or freedom for any religious activity though it is our neighbouring country that boasts of its greatness. I fee that India is a country where there is freedom of every type – where every religion is respected. What is the speciality of our country? It is unity in diversity, we are all one, we celebrate together the festivals of each other. We have affection amongst each other, we go to each other’s religious places. Hindus go to mosques, Muslims go to temples. Can you tell me any other country where it happens? It is only India. I don’t want to say more. Indianness should exist. My identity is with India. When I go for Haj pilgrimage and when I check-in to the immigration counter in Saudi Arabia and show my passport, the officer doesn’t ask me my religion but he asks the name of my country. My identity is with my country and therefore I say that please strengthen India, strengthen Indianness. The country is above all.