The rift between two Muslim groups in the city – the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith (AH) and the Ahl-e-Sunnat ul Jamaat (ASJ) – has come out in the open. A series of incidents in a little over two years has ensured this.

The latest was the tussle between adherents the AH, popularly known as Salafis, described as hardline with their rigid interpretation of the texts, and the ASJ, or, Barelwis also known as Sufis, earlier this month when there were protests against AH preacher Jarjees Ansari outside a mosque in Santosh Nagar. The trend is worrisome for it took place in Ramzan. If not contained, the problem could snowball into a full blown conflict, reminiscent of the sectarian strife as seen in Pakistan.

The time of the occurrence gains significance as the holy month is considered by those cutting across sects and schools of thought as a period of abstinence. The shunning of violence – both verbal and physical – is considered key in Ramzan. But during the protests, a vehicle was reportedly damaged and a case against Ansari as well as a counter case was booked. Largely, the Muslim community has expressed its disgust at the incident.

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The tussle in not new to the city. It was in the late 70s that a similar incident was witnessed in the city when a controversial Salafi leaning preacher from North India was invited. Ever since there have been ebbs and flows of this sectarian issue.

The trouble between the two groups resurfaced around two years ago when the AH group was denied permission to hold a public meeting at the Quli Qutub Shah Stadium over the apprehension that differences between the two groups, after the event, could lead to a law and order problem.

The second incident was when the AH had planned to conduct another public meeting last year at the Khilwat Grounds. However, ASJ organisations rallied against this and submitted representations to the deputy commissioner of police urging him not to accord permission. The AH later knocked on the doors of the High Court but found no relief. The ball was thrown back into the police’s court who ultimately denied permission, again, on grounds of law and order.

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At the national level, there have been attempts by religious leaders adhering to different theological schools of thought to find common ground and put differences aside, at least for a short while. It was earlier this year that a prominent Barelwi scholar, Maulana Tauqeer Raza met Deobandi clerics Mufti Abdul Qasim Nomani at the Darul Uloom, Deoband. At a time when a large number of Barelwis, including two from the city’s influential Islamic seminary Jamia Nizamia, were attending the World Sufi Forum in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi waxed eloquent on the tolerance of the Sufis, Raza had alleged that the conference was an attempt to divide the Muslim community. But despite this, the severe differences between both groups at the grassroots level remain.

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Back to the city, the cops are not taking the tussle in Santosh Nagar lightly. In fact, any speech by an AH preacher from outside the city will now require prior permission from the cops. At a meeting held last week, heads of 25 AH mosques in the Old City were instructed not to allow preachers to deliver any speech which could “hurt” adherents of any other school of thought, and, in turn, could lead to disruption of peace. And even as these instructions were given, it was on July 19 that cops declined to accord permission to members of Masjid-e-Quba in Hafez Baba Nagar for organising speeches of a preacher from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh.

There are many who maintain that the differences are centuries old and that nothing can be done to bring the two groups together. But, defeatism must be countered. After all, nobody wants a manifestation of sectarian violence as seen in Pakistan. #KhabarLive