'Firoz mastered language of Gods': Here's what Muslims who teach Sanskrit and Yoga feel about BHU row

Hurt by the hullabaloo at the Benaras Hindu University over Professor Firoz Khan’s appointment as a Sanskrit teacher, Muslims who teach Sanskrit and yoga feel the protests are a disservice to the idea

Published: 25th November 2019 04:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th November 2019 01:00 PM   |  A+A-

BHU, Banaras Hindu University

Banaras Hindu University (File photo | PTI)

By Express News Service

Hurt by the hullabaloo at the Benaras Hindu University over Professor Firoz Khan’s appointment as a Sanskrit teacher, Muslims who teach Sanskrit and yoga feel the protests are a disservice to the idea of a nation

‘They asked how a beef eater could protect cows’
Mohd Faiz Khan
Gau-Katha Vachak, Raipur, Chattisgarh

Mohd Faiz Khan, the 39-year-old Muslim scholar from Raipur, who quit as Assistant Professor of Political Science at a Government College in Surajpur (Chhattisgarh) for the cause of Gau Raksha (cow protection), firmly believes that knowledge is much above religion or communities.

Those opposing teaching of Sanskrit by a Muslim man at BHU are doing disservice to the Vedic tradition.

“Irrespective of religious affiliation, anyone who has attained the knowledge of Vedas or Quran should be free to preach them,” says Khan, the famous Gau Katha Vachak, who is now more popular as ‘Bhaishree’ or ‘Raskhan.’

“I quit a lecturer’s job in 2012 after reading Girish Pankaj’s famous book ‘Ek Gai ki Atmakatha,’ where the protagonist is a Muslim man. Since then, I’ve made cow protection the sole cause of my life. I’ve sat on fast for weeks in Delhi, demanding nationwide blanket ban on cow slaughter and been administering Gau Katha across the country since 2012. Presently, I am on the last leg of a 14,000-km nationwide padyatra for cow protection that started in June 2017,”  he said. 

(As told to Anuraag Singh)

‘My classes were scheduled to not clash with Namaz’
Prof Ashyab Ali
Ex-HoD, Sanskrit DDUU, Gorakhpur, UP

Prof Ashyab Ali, now 72, joined the Sanskrit department of Deen Dayal Upadhyay University, Gorakhpur in 1977 as an assistant lecturer and retired in 2010. He hardly remembers any discrimination by fellow teachers or students in a department dominated for years by Brahmins and Thakurs.

“There was one incident when a colleague made some communal remarks but mostly they praised me for my knowledge of Sanskrit”, Ali says.

Having topped both his BA and MA exams in Sanskrit in 1969 and 1971, Ali completed a comparative study of Vedic and Islamic myths for his PhD and retired as the HoD in 2010, the only Muslim professor to hold the highest departmental post.

He shares an incident of a group of Hindu students laying siege to the then Sanskrit HOD AC Banerjee’s office to protest the preference given to two Hindu teachers over him while regularising them in 1979.

“My HoD’s ensured that my classes didn’t clash with my prayers,” says Ali.   

(As told to Namita Bajpai)

‘Firoz mastered language of Gods. Respect that’
Nuruddin Ahmed 
Film Art Director, Durga idol expert, Assam

Over the past 44 years, sexagenarian art director, Nuruddin Ahmed of Guwahati, who has directed several Assamese films, has also given shape to more than 200 Durga puja pandals and shaped the Goddesses’ idol with care.

The first pandal that he erected was in northern Assam’s North Lakhimpur in 1975. And two years ago, he shot to fame by designing a 100-ft tall bamboo-Durga idol in Guwahati.  

Ahmed, whose wife is a Hindu, views his art as a ‘service to humanity.’

“I never had to face any criticism from any quarter for what I have been doing all these years.” says Ahmed. The 61-year-old is sad over the raging controversy at the Banaras Hindu University.

“As a student, I too had studied Sanskrit. Firoz Khan was possibly selected through a process of interviews in which he was found fully qualified for the post. Why then the dissent,” he asks.

“Firoz has through his hard work mastered a language, which is of the Gods. His mastery should be respected,” he adds. 

(As told to Prasanta Mazumdar)

‘Myopic vision won’t help 
establish Vedas’
Padmashree Mohammad Hanif Khan ‘Shastri’ 
Ex-Professor Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, UP

“All Indians take pride in the Sanatan way of life. The rituals and traditions of Sanatan Dharma make for a life much beyond historical documentation,” feels Padmashree Mohammad Hanif Khan, a Sanskrit scholar who was conferred with the title of ‘Shastri’ by ex-President late Shankar Dayal Sharma who was impressed by his prowess.

“In my memory, this is for the first time that an objection is being raised on the appointment of a Muslim professor to the Sanskrit faculty, that too in BHU,” says Khan, who was conferred with Padmashree in recognition of his contribution to Sanskrit in 2019.

A native of UP’s Sonbhadra and known popularly as ‘Shastri Khan,’ he retired as associate professor from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in 2016. Khan, who also served in BHU, fails to find any logic in the demand to oust Firoz Khan.

“With myopic vision, we can’t establish our Vedas on the global platform. We will have to broaden our outlook. 

(As told to Namita Bajpai)

‘Do BHU students need Britishers to teach English’
Rafia Naaz
Yoga teacher, Jharkhand

Rafia Naaz is committed towards her mission, ‘Yoga Beyond Religion’ (YBR) and trains more than 5,000 students in Ranchi. She believes that “Religion can never suffer from division on the lines of language, Yoga, caste or colour. If that happens, humanism would be lost.”   Even fatwa and threats have failed to deter Rafia from practicing Yoga, right from the time when she was 4.

“If people from foreign countries are coming here and doing research on Sanskrit, then why cannot a citizen of this country be allowed to teach Sanskrit,” asks Rafia.

She adds: “Those who are protesting against Professor Firoz Khan’s appointment are bringing down the reputation of this country, which has been known to the world as a rich culture united in its diversity.”

Rafia, who has bagged more than 52 medals and certificates of appreciation at national and international events asks, “If Indians cannot be appointed to teach Sanskrit, will BHU students now demand British nationals as faculty members to teach English?’ 

(As told to Mukesh Ranjan)

‘Vedic scriptures do not prescribe rigidity’
Prof Shalima Tabassum
HoD, Department of Sanskrit, Kumaon University, Uttarkhand

Shalima Tabassum (44), HoD of Sanskrit at Soban Singh Jina Campus Almora under Kumaon University, is well versed in Pali, Prakrit, English, Urdu and Hindi. Though ‘hurt’ by the controversy over Firoz Khan’s appointment in BHU, Shalima says she has hope.

“People of this country have always kept humanity above any religion. I have not faced any issue in 20-years of my teaching career.” she said. Shalima who did her MA in philosophy from AMU with ‘Avatars in Mahabharata’ as her thesis for PhD, says, “A teacher is placed even above parents and equivalent to God in Vedas.”  

Shalima recalls, “I liked Sanskrit since I was 6 and my family supported me. There was never any talk about Sanskrit being the language of another religion.”

On the BHU controversy she has one advice to students: “They should read Vedas and then decide if their stand is right.”

“Vedic scriptures are highly liberal and do not promote any rigidity in Hindu religion.

(As told to Vineet Upadhyay)

‘What has religion to do with academics?’
Sheikh Sabir Ali
Sanskrit teacher, West Bengal University

Assistant professor Sheikh Sabir Ali, a gold medalist who topped in post-graduation in Sanskrit in Kolkata University, says he is shocked by the opposition to Firoz Khan’s appointment as professor only because he is a Muslim.  

“I cannot understand why his religious identity should be brought up in academics when he fully deserves his place on merit. The BHU students should welcome Khan for their own academic interest. If students start judging teachers by their religious identity, that makes them unfit for education because through Sanskrit a larger ethos of world culture is preserved and advanced. This is a shameful episode,” said Sabir.

The former student of a school run by the Ramakrishna Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda, Sabir said, “I was attracted to Sanskrit in my school days and decided to pursue it. I never felt threatened during my days in school, college and university because of my religion. The teachers spent extra hours to help me.’’

(As told to Pranab Mondal)

‘Muslim Sanskrit teacher is symbol of sacred inclusiveness’
Arman Ali Dehlvi 
A young Hindustani classical vocalist

Based in Delhi, when 26-year-old Arman Ali Dehlvi heard about the appointment of Firoz Khan in the faculty of Sanskrit at BHU, he felt elated. “Khan teaching Sanskrit shouldn’t have been a ‘big thing’ at all. For me, it is inspiring. When the controversy erupted, I thought that if a Muslim teaches Sanskrit it is a matter of pride and great happiness. This is how our society should be,” said Dehlvi, who has received training under the tutelage of legendary Faiyaz Wasifuddin Dagar in Dhrupad, the oldest existing form of Indian classical music described in the Sanskrit text Natyashastra.

Dhrupad’s genre is devotional in nature, mostly in praise of Hindu deities, which was rendered in temples.

“We should rise above our biases. This is what I have learnt from the music. I chose Dhrupad because when I heard it for the first time, my heart said this is what I should do. This form of music  has truthfulness,”Dehlvi said.  

(As told to Parvez Sultan)


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