Sharing his thoughts on India's famed syncretic culture, internationally acclaimed poet, Munawwar Rana, while talking to Hindustan Times recently recalled how "several Hindu students belonging to the lower castes used to study in a Rae Bareli madarsa, Alamgiri Masjid, in the 1950s as they often failed to get admission in mainstream schools. Hindi was taught as 'Aa' (the Hindi alphabet) se Allah and 'Ra' se Ram."
The masjid was established by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor, who ruled over South Asia for almost five decades. Then Allah and Ram did not represent the Muslims and Hindus nor were they taught 'ha' se Hindu and 'ma' se musalmman. No one had then raised objection to Muslims teaching Hindu students in a madarsa .
Today, in the 21st century, the religion of a professor has unfortunately taken precedence over his qualifications as agitating students of faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnam of Banaras Hindu University demand removal or transfer of Dr Feroze Khan as he is a Muslim. The students ended their dharna on Friday after the Kashi unit of RSS came in support of Prof Feroze Khan.
But why did the issue arise in the first instance? The answer perhaps was given by senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader, Indresh Kumar, when he had told the media in Lucknow on Thursday: "The protest is not against any particular religion. If the teacher assures that he will follow the traditional way of Sanskrit teaching by performing all rituals, the issue will be dissolved."
But the fact is that many a Muslim teachers have taught Sanskrit just as Hindus have taught Urdu language. After all, music, culture and language never had any religious or regional boundaries.
For instance, UP's deputy chief minister and higher education minister, Dinesh Sharma, is famous for his proficiency in Hindu religious practices. He too had picked up some lessons in Sanskrit from a Muslim professor, Wallullah Khan, when he was studying at the Government Jubilee Inter College in Lucknow.
The agitating students, who owe their affiliation to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, cannot find any fault with Sharma's learnings and leanings though he studied under a Muslim professor.
BHU was founded by the BJP's icon Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya. His grandson, Justice (retired) Girdhar Malviya, has not only backed the appointment of Prof Feroze Khan, but is confident that the BHU founder would have also approved it had he been alive.
In fact MM Malviya, a firm believer in composite culture, had then invited Mahesh Prasad to join the Urdu department. Prasad, a renowned scholar of Arabic, Persian and Urdu, later became its head. Today, on the same campus, one hears slogans against the appointment of a Muslim professor staining its glorious century-old years history of social and communal amity.
In neighbouring Allahabad, the Sanskrit department was headed by a Muslim Prof Kishwar Jabin Nasreen.
Move further east of UP. Prof Ashab Ali joined as assistant lecturer on an ad hoc basis to teach the vedas at the Department of Sanskrit in DDU Gorakhpur University way back in 1977. He started sporting a beard and wearing a skull cap after Haj in 1997. Still, Hindu students fought for him when the authorities overlooked his claim on promotion while giving it to two Hindu professors.
Why this ruckus today with seers also taking a plunge in support of the students? Aren't we becoming an intolerant society raising questions that were not raised previously when many Muslim professors were teaching Sanskrit? How many of us ever tried to know the caste or the religion of our teachers?
Amid all the commotion, Dr Feroz Khan has gone underground. Though he is not accessible, it was indeed a pleasure to watch Feroze Khan's father on television the other day singing a bhajan. While Feroz has made it to the prestigious BHU as a Sanskrit professor, his other three siblings still sing bhajans, portraying the rich cultural diversity of India.
But they stained BHU's glorious history of communal amity. Why did the government take so long to react