As Spiritual Light Fades, South Indian Muslims Face Many Woes
by P.M. Muhammed Muhsin
As his grand title Thajul Ulama (the crown of religious scholars) indicates, he was the favorite at all mass conferences of traditional Muslims, who remained calm and awaited rather patiently his powerful words and prayers. Through the example of his public activism, Seyyid Al-Bukhari proved conclusively or defined explicitly what it means to be a spiritual leader, particularly in the modern age with society troubled by frequent internal and external crises, and how to make people well-disposed to the values of the religion and of humanity, and above all, teaching them how to purify their hearts and minds of ill thoughts.
Born in 1922 at Calicut [Kozhikode] in the family of Seyyid Ahmed Al-Bukhari, who emigrated from Yemen to the southwestern coast of India, for the purpose of Islamic propagation, Seyyid Abdurrahman Al-Bukhari had a passionate enthusiasm for Islamic scholarship from childhood. As the historical chronicles of Kerala affirm, the Bukhari family assumed a predominant role in shaping the Muslims of Kerala into a vibrant culture and society beginning in the 8th century, because most of them were blessed with extraordinary qualities of leadership, like, for example, Bichan Kutty, who with a group of people led a freedom movement against the colonial powers that dominated India after 1498, and was imprisoned. Seyyid Al-Bukhari's accomplishment was to keep alive the great tradition expanded and enriched by his forefathers.
With an in-depth study of Islamic theology, Seyyid Abdurrahman Al-Bukhari stood apart by his dynamic approach. His classmates called to mind that he had learnt by heart most of the relevant Islamic classics, such as Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (The Necessary Classic for Elucidation of Study), which is the most authoritative work on Islamic jurisprudence in the Shafi'i madhdhab. After acquiring a religious degree as 'Baqavi' with the first rank from Baqiyat Swalihat Arabic College at Vellur, Tamilnadu, one of the neighbor states of Kerala, he moved to Ullal in Karnataka, and was appointed as the leading Islamic teacher (Mudarris in Arabic), and then, in 1971, as principal of Seyyid Madani College, a religious institution established beside the Dargah of this distinguished Sufi from five centuries ago. On 7 November 1978, realizing the aspirations of the people of Ullal, Seyyid Abdurrahman Al-Bukhari was elected unanimously and assumed office as the premier Qazi (one who issues fatawa or religious opinions when needed) of a vast region. In honor of his sixty years of excellent service, the authorities of the Dargah offered him huge felicitations on 11 October 2010. A former Indian minister of state, C. M. Ibrahim, participating in the event as chief guest, wanted the felicitations to the spiritual leader not to be confined to this particular ceremony. He exhorted the disciples, well-wishers and admirers of the Ulama to organize various functions all over the country, spreading information on the services rendered by this leader to the religious sector. "Ullal Tangal does not belong to just Karnataka or Kerala. Because of his profound knowledge and brilliance, he has earned a special place for himself in the hearts of people across the country and abroad. His services to the community have been exemplary. Through his service, Ullal was also catapulted to national fame. He did everything for others, without being selfish, and by imbibing simplicity in life, has led a model life."
In Kerala where he was born, Seyyid Al-Bukhari was also very active. In his youth he was appointed chairman of the Islamic educational board, one of the main departments under Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, intended to spread Islamic studies all over the country, He acted efficiently in realizing the dreams of senior religious scholars to make the Muslim communities in the state exemplary in terms of genuine Islamic culture and spiritual wisdom, and to keep them away from the threats of the Wahhabis. He then became the vice president of Samastha. And in 1989, he was elected unanimously as its grand president, fulfilling successfully this supreme post until his death, though he kept away later from public appearances because of old-age ailments. Moreover, Seyyid Al-Bukhari had been the head of more than 60 religious institutions, and the Qazi of hundreds of masajid in Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamilnadu. The relentless pursuit of religious teaching brought him tens of thousands disciples who still engage in various Da'wa activities across and outside the country.
Beyond the fanatical dogmas that the radicals introduced in the guise of religion and dared to disseminate throughout the land, Seyyid Al-Bukhari held aloft the principle of peace through spiritual wisdom, as the first and foremost meaning of Islam. He was committed to unending effort to convince people of the beauty of Sufism and love of humanity emanating from divine love or love toward Almighty Allah, and gave lectures in a lucid style, easy to apprehend even among illiterate people. Several personalities from other faiths, as well as secular, political leaders, and additional prominent figures, could taste the spirit of Sufism and felt what Islam really is, by engaging in friendly conversations with him, while visiting the Dargah of Ullal. There was a charm and appeal in his words and prayers that made him unique.
Receiving news of the death of the respected leader, countless people rushed to his ancestral home in the small village of Ettikkulam, in Kannur district. Visiting the place, I experienced a crowding together, in which one was almost suffocated, by the virtuous people waiting for their last gaze at the face of their beloved. It is the reflection of his sincere contributions to the society that so many hundreds of thousands of people participated in the funeral that was held at 10 A.M. on 2 February.
"He was of course a visionary, a great Islamic intellectual, a fine tactician and a spiritual guide who attempted to lead the whole Muslim community along the straight path. I lost my spiritual Guru, who was always a shelter about whom words are insufficient for explanation, in times of trouble during my life," said Sheikh Aboobacker Ahmed, the general secretary of the All-India Sunni Jamiyyathul Ulama (Association of Sunni Scholars of India) and his lifelong eldest companion. Thajul Ulama promoted and presided over the Keralayathra, a gigantic Sufi expedition under the banner of 'Awakening Humanity' led by Sheikh Aboobacker.
How may the Muslims of South India now overcome their deep grief? And who is the likely successor? Everyone asks the same questions. But it is important to preserve the tradition of Seyyid Abdurrahman Al-Bukhari, which will surely lead them to success.