Rita Farhat Mukand/ Siliguri
"It all started in 2005 under the sweltering sun in Moradabad, when we spread the message of Mohabbat" says great Sunni-Sufi leader, Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi, founder of All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB).
“Nafrat kisi se nahi, Mohabbat sab ke liye” (hatred for none and love for all) Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi, says, his blue eyes glowing, while his royal demeanour, trimmed white beard, donned in a flowing robe, exuded calmness, dignity, and power. He said this while speaking to Awaz-the Voice, during his ten-day visit to Semanchal and North Bengal, hosted by Dr Shahbaz Alam Islampur, the regional president of AIUMB.
He is invited to television talk shows in India and also to conferences and seminars at home and places like Istanbul, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, the USA, and Canada.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi is the descendant of Makhdoom Ashraf Jahangir Semnani, an Iranian Sufi.Semnani was a great Sufi scholar and the essence of his teachings were love, brotherhood, communal harmony, worship for Allah, and love for all creations irrespective of race, caste, religion, and language, founder of the Ashrafi Sufi order. Semnani was said to be the descendant of Prophet, Muhammad, through his grandson Husayn ibn Ali. His mother Bibi Khadija was said to be a descendant of the Turkic Sufi saint Ahmad Yasawi.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi praying
In his calm voice, Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi spoke about the birth of AIUMB. “While the groundwork started in 2005, the spirit of AIUMB goes back to the beginning. Growing up in the peaceful loving atmosphere of Kichhowchha, District Ambedkar Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, I felt a growing concern when I saw movements like ISIS, al Qaeda and other sects influenced by certain Saudi factions, falsifying the message of Islam to the world for their benefits, political agendas and erroneous interpretations where many of the masses are being misguided.”
He expressed passionately, "We saw the great need to spread the true message of Islam when we saw a false message by extremist Islamist groups circulating vitriolic literature and acts of terrorism misrepresenting Islam not only to the nation but the world and we were very concerned."
He went on to say, "On our first major groundwork in Moradabad. We started with nothing, no funds, empty pockets, but a lot of faith in our hearts, working hard in the hot sweltering sun of over 40 degrees, going door-to-door, putting up posters everywhere, attributing no glory to any particular person but focused on the subject of the Sunni-Sufi faith and our message. We gathered the masses to spread the powerful message of love which transcends all the nefarious forces working against the true essence of Islam to proclaim its message of peace and tolerance. Our hard labour paid off and it was a wonder to witness over 5 lakh people attend our meeting which was a great success. and joy to us.”
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi being served meals by locals during his visit to Seemanchal
However, we began to realize we could not work alone on such a mammoth movement, and in 2013, we gathered together all the world’s eminent scholars, speakers, philosophers, and writers on one platform to spread the peaceful message of Islam combating the rancorous wrong reports spread about Islam. With such great forces working together, the world finally began to drink in the harmonious message of Islam.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi’s All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board organised the World Sufi Forum in New Delhi in March 2016 where 200 eminent delegates from all around the world denounced terrorism and extremism. This turned out to be a milestone for the organization.
Ashraf Kichhouchhwi led a Sufi delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. To him, he raised his concerns about growing extremism in the name of Islam and sought help to build community resilience against terrorism. In another meeting, he told Modi that Indian Muslims having faith in Sufi traditions should be given representation in various bodies such as the Central Waqf Council, State Waqf Boards, Central and State Hajj Committees, and National Minority Finance Development Corporation.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi meeting his followers
He had urged the Prime Minister to establish a Sufi corridor and address historical injustices against Muslims. During that meeting, he also expressed alarm over the decline of peaceful Sufism in India and the ongoing efforts to replace it with extremist ideologies.
AIUMB presented a 25-point charter, including establishing a Sufi university and centers for promoting Sufi culture and tourism to the PM. He also appealed to the Prime Minister to establish a Sufi university in the name of the revered Sufi Saint Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz as well as a central Sufi center in New Delhi and in all capital cities to promote Sufi literature, Sufi culture, and music. To promote Sufi tourism, he asked that a ‘Sufi corridor’ be created to connect all the shrines in the country.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi is also actively engaged in relief work and helps during natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. He monitored the distribution of four trucks of relief goods during the September 2014 drastic floods in Kashmir.
He says as a result of his campaign, the Government of India acknowledged in 2019 that there are more than 70% Sunni-Sufi peace-loving Muslims in India while the rest are under the grip of Saudi-influenced Wahhabism. Besides the presence of lakhs of people in his public rallies is a big victory for his mission.
On the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, he said, "Muslims have accepted the verdict of the courts and want to move on peacefully. Muslims want harmony, they do not want to fight about this. We have to move forward, work in love and acceptance, and take the court's judgment, and this is what we teach our people. We accept Ram as a great hero who defeated King Ravana and his victory is the victory of good over evil, of righteousness over wickedness."
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhouchhwi arriving for this visit to Seemanchal
On the possibility of Muslims being asked to give up mosques for temples at Kashi and Mathura, he said, "Yes, there are worries and concerns about many things, but if we think there is an injustice anywhere, we have the courts to go to, and we can also peacefully protest against anything we feel is wrong".
He repeated, "We will only go with peaceful protests if needed. Sometimes, even if we feel we are harassed in any sphere, we do not respond in hatred because Nafrat kisi se nahi, Mohabbat sab ke liye. We may hate the wrong deed but never the person. For example, while we may hate stealing, we do not hate the thief, this is the spirit of our faith."
Syed Kichhouchhwi rebuked all groups who are perpetrating terrorist acts in the name of Islam. "Terror is terror, it has no relation to any religion, and it is a grave threat to all humanity", he had said in an earlier interview with another media. He also denounced the last terror act in Turkey. "No matter which religion it comes from, we condemn such terror incidents, he said. He desired that the summit would help rebuild deep cultural and historical relations and values between Muslim countries.
Coming from the strong peaceful roots of Islam spreading the perfume of love, tolerance, and peace, his messages resound over the nation and the globe. With conferences drawing over 500,000 attendees, he is creating a significant impact not just nationally, but globally with a positive powerful message - a great need of our times, calling for peace and unity and making waves all over the nation and the world.
Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer