Last week, a circular from the UP government asked the madrassas in the state to celebrate Independence Day functions and "submit video footage to minority welfare officers in all districts", a move that many slammed as an insult to Muslim fealty, and saw it as an effort towards forced assimilation of the community.
On Independence Day this year, madrassas across the state celebrated as they have been doing for years now, but some refrained from singing the national anthem and sung Saare Jahaan Se Achha — poet Iqbal's immortal Tarānah-i-Hind —instead.
While some even recorded proceedings of the functions on smartphones cameras, in which young students in white clothes hoisted the national flag and listened to their teachers narrate stories of India's struggle for freedom, Muslims officials of several madrassas said they were hurt at the "patriotism test" they were being put through.
The BJP government of Yogi Adityanath has said the recording of the I-Day functions will inspire students. However, why only madrassas, or Islamic seminaries, needed to record video footage as proof of I-Day celebrations, while mainstream schools have no such mandatory requirement to document their patriotism, is a question plaguing many people.
Some madrasas in Uttar Pradesh defied the diktat by the government to sing the national anthem. The Hindustan Times reported that the three largest madrassas in Kanpur, Meerut and Bareilly chose 'Saare Jahan Se Achha' over 'Jana Gana Mana'. Haji Mohd Saleeh, convener of the Sunni Ulema Council, said the "government order is an attempt to test our patriotism which is wrong".
Bareilly's Manzar-e-Islam did not record the event, nor did it sing the anthem. But there's a difference of opinion among Muslims on the propriety of Jana Gana Mana too. Some, like those in Bareilly, claim it praises King George V and diminishes the import of India's freedom struggle, in which Muslims took part alongside other communities, while others say it is iconoclastic. However, for yet others, it's not a hindrance in keeping their faith while remaining patriotic.
At UP's 115-year-old Jamia Islamia madrassa, teachers wore a tricolour badge and students turned out in blue-grey uniforms. The teachers recorded the function on phones while the flag was hoisted, as students sung the national anthem, followed by Saare Jahaan Se Achha.
Maulana Mateen-ul-haq Usama Qasmi, director of the Jamia Mahmoodia Ashraful Uloom Jajmau, told Times of India that it was "sad that government issued an order to check our patriotism through videography, especially when the order was only for madrassas", adding that "hoisting the national flag and singing the national anthem has always been a part of our madrassa's culture."
A district minority officer allayed fears that madrassas not celebrating I-Day will be penalised.
"The madarssas always hold celebrations on August 15 and January 26. And no punitive action will be taken against those not celebrating it. The notice to videograph the event was for the purpose of maintaining archives, so that children can revisit them and enjoy them through the year. But we have been getting photos and videos on WhatsApp from madarssas across the district, though we have not formally asked for them," Allahabad district minority officer, Prakash Tiwari, said.
"This year's celebration is not due to the government's order. Please don't question our patriotism. Do we always have to prove our love for motherland."
Hafiz Irfaan Ahmad, the principal of Madrassa Jamia Arabia Husainia, told the Times of India that, "in the struggle for freedom, Islamic madrassas played a vital role. Many of our Ulema were killed by the British to suppress the freedom struggle. Government must correct itself. Since August 15, 1947, madrassas have always celebrated the Independence Day every year."
"This year's celebration is not due to the government's order. Please don't question our patriotism. Do we always have to prove our love for motherland?" he said.
A cleric of the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema said the national anthem has the word 'Sindh', which is in Pakistan right now, and if the government removed the word, "we will sing it proudly." While the government — at the Centre and in the BJP-ruled states — say repeatedly that all citizens will be treated equally, several prominent Muslims have claimed that they live under constant suspicion and fear of an attack on their faith and way of life in the wake of a chain of killings in the name of protecting cows.
Former Vice President Hamid Ansari was attacked by political parties affiliated to the saffron brigade for saying in his farewell speech that "a sense of insecurity is creeping in" among Muslims.
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