Candidates Vying for Top Job Want India Islamic Cultural Centre Turned Into Think-Tank ‘for Muslims’
With three weeks left in the IICC management elections, the candidates are promising a shift in the fundamental functioning of the centre — right from publishing newsletters and journals to engaging in academic activities.

New Delhi: The events calendar of India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) for the month of December is packed with ghazal nights and poetry readings — just the kind of cultural concoction one seeks during winter evenings in the capital. But unfortunately, these renderings are not in consonance with the founding principles of the iconic centre.

With only three weeks left in the IICC management elections, the candidates vying for posts of president, vice president, members board of trustees and executive committee are promising a shift in the fundamental functioning of the centre — right from publishing newsletters and journals to engaging in academic activities with the intention of lending it an image of ‘think-tank’ for the Muslims.

At the helm of initiating a debate on reforms is Arif Mohammad Khan, a former cabinet member and current IICC presidential candidate. Khan told News that while there is no doubt about infrastructural developments in the centre, there “should be more to it than it just be a club.”

In 1986, Khan had resigned from the government to protest against a legislation that sought to reverse the Shah Bano verdict. “Most of the Muslims, even the progressive ones, had kept silent,” he had complained then. Today he laments about IICC having deviated from its founding principles.

Khan’s Candidature

Khan had registered his protest three years ago when the IICC had called the televangelist Zakir Naik for a talk. He was unhappy with the event as it reflected poorly on the judgment of the then IICC members who didn’t act according to the demands of times. He had decided to not visit the centre again, but after continuous appeals from his former colleagues, including Congress leaders Salman Khurshid and Anees Durrani and All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Kamal Farooqui, he decided to contest the election.

Khan, contesting for the first time, is pitted against Sirajuddin Qureshi, chairman and managing director at Hind Industries Limited and managing director and director at Hind Agro Industries Ltd. Qureshi has also been IICC president for three consecutive terms and is credited with building infrastructure of the centre.

Zakat Foundation president Zafar Mehmood, one of the voters, said that this election is exciting because of it being Khan’s first poll battle. “This is a very interesting election term in IICC. We have incumbent IICC president Qureshi contesting for the fourth time against a former cabinet minister, who brings in his experience of national politics and other walks of life,” Mehmood said.

Mahmood said the work on promoting the Indo-Islamic centre and developing it into a Muslim think-tank has not reached even one fourth and the new council must take it forward after the polls.

Key Goal: To Promote Traditional Principles

The website of India Islamic Cultural Centre says its key goal is to promote a mutual understanding and amity among the people and to depict the true face of Islam as a tolerant, liberal, progressive, rational and forward-looking religion, besides being based on cardinal principles of human values irrespective of faith, caste, creed and colour — the virtues which Khan insists need to be pursued vigorously.

Citing the clauses of the Memorandum of Association of the IICC, Khan said, “The first objective of IICC is to promote mutual understanding and tolerance among diverse citizens of India, second is to remove misunderstanding about Islam. Other points elaborate on these two objectives and see how Muslims along with compatriots play contributory role in making India a great nation.”

He added, “The focal point is to have mutual understanding and the modus operandi in achieving this objective is very clear — holding seminars, symposia, conferences, books publishing, newsletters. The whole structure was built to make it a hub of intellectual and artistic expressions, provide platform to communicate and also train for competitive exams.”

Academic Papers, Newsletters and Other Poll Promises

Khan wants to revive the training for competitive exams and bring out a newsletter, the absence of which from a centre of this stature is appalling for him and other members. “This is the place Obama wants to visit to interact with the Muslims. This is its importance, we need to have intellectual activities,” he said, adding: “We need to start the culture of newsletters, focus on bringing out journals and academic papers.”

His other plans include inching closer to academic areas so that interactions between the members of IICC and university are frequent. He also wants to start affiliated branches on the centre.

But he is not alone in demanding these. Professor Khwaja M Shahid, former V-C of Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, nods in agreement with Khan. Shahid is contesting for the post of vice president.

“IICC has achieved good infrastructure but now we want to put it to good use. A centre is not just about brick and mortar but about living by the founding principles. We have portals like Rekhta to celebrate Urdu, a language that reflects the essence of Indo-Islamic culture. Our centre should have done something to promote this culture. We missed it and someone else picked it. Holding ghazals is not the primary objective of the centre,” he said.

Like Khan, Shahid also wants to bring out a newsletter and hold seminars and conferences. Shahid is contesting after a gap of ten years when he stood for the board of trustees. There are other contenders in the fray such as advocate HR Khan Suhel, Md Irshad Ahmad, Shehzad Mohammad Khan and SM Yamin Qureshi.

Shahid said, “We have a library, which is a mere bookshelf. There is no cataloguing referencing and no issuing system. If elected, the new office bearers will start digitisation and make it an information centre in IICC.” He added, “We need to go back to our fundamentals and they don’t ask us to make IICC a baraat ghar or food court.”

The voting will take place on Jaunary 6, 2018 and the results will be announced the next day.