How CPM's shadow over Samastha is pushing IUML into a conservative corner

  • IUML president succumbs to Samastha's pressure, seeks resignation of the reformist leader of Coordination of Islamic Colleges
  • Abdul Hakeem Faizy Adrisseri introduced modern secular courses in Islamic residential schools which were teaching only theological subjects
  • The move helped thousands of poor Sunni girls become graduates in modern subjects
Syed Sadik Ali Thangal (right) succumbed to the pressures of Samastha and sought the resignation of CIC's coordinator Abdul Hakeem Faizy Adrisseri (left), who is credited with introducing modern secular subjects in residential Islamic colleges. Photo: Manorama.

Kozhikode: After "years of cold war", Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama -- an influential organisation of traditionalist Sunni clerics -- has managed to take control of the Coordination of Islamic Colleges (CIC), a collective of 97 colleges, by ousting its reformist leader.

But in this battle, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), treading a tightrope, has been pushed further into the conservative corner.

For, the party's president Panakkad Syed Sadik Ali Shihab Thangal, who is also the president of the CIC and also the youth wing of Samastha Kerala, did little to push back the traditionalists and exert the independence of the CIC.

Syed Sadik Ali Thangal succumbed to the pressures of Samastha Kerala and sought the resignation of CIC's coordinator Abdul Hakeem Faizy Adrisseri, who is credited with introducing modern secular subjects in residential Islamic colleges.

To be sure, Samastha's youth wing the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS), and the student wing Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) had been relentlessly campaigning to see the back of Hakeem Faizy.

The joint secretariat of the two organisations now said the resignation of Hakeem Faizy was not enough but the entire CIC should be overhauled and Samastha should be at the helm of the organisation.

But the pushback from the Coordination of Islamic Colleges (CIC) took Samastha Kerala by surprise.

When Hakeem Faizy sent his resignation letter to Sadik Ali Thangal on February 15, 118 other office-bearers of the CIC, too, put in their papers, triggering anxiety among the exam-bound students in the affiliated colleges.

Around 2,000 students signed a joint petition and submitted it to Sadik Ali Thangal.

Fearing that Sadik Ali Thangal might change his mind on accepting Hakeem Faizy's resignation, Samastha Kerala president Jifri Muthukoya Thangal and general secretary K Ali Kutty Musliyar called on the CIC president at his residence at Panakkad in Malappuram on Friday (February 24). Veteran IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty was also present during the talks.

After the meeting, Jifri Thangal told reporters at Panakkad: "The students of the colleges under the CIC and their parents need not be worried. We have decided to take the colleges under the CIC forwards. We entrusted Sadik Ali Thangal to make arrangements for the smooth functioning of the colleges under the CIC."

Sadik Ali Thangal was sitting next to Jifri Muthukoya Thangal when he made the statement implying that Samastha was responsible for CIC's administration.

'CIC guided by Samastha but an independent society'
Abdul Hakeem Faizy Adrisseri (65), who submitted his resignation as CIC coordinator, told Onmanorama that Samastha was trying to take administrative control of the CIC after seeing its stupendous growth and influence in society. "CIC is ideologically guided by Samastha which is a body of eminent scholars. But it is an independent society," he said.

He said some people in the Samastha ecosystem are "intolerant of female education" and they want to have a say in the administration of the colleges.

"If I have to give you an everyday example, Samastha is acting like a father who deserted his children when they were young. But when the children got educated and became successful, the father would return as a frail man. It is a good thing. But he should not create trouble for the children," he said.

Now that the CIC has become big, Samastha wants a piece of it. "But they (Samastha) should see the students as their children and allow them to grow in tune with the times," he said.

He said only five or six scholars in the 40-member Central Mushawara -- the highest consultation body of Samastha Kerala -- were against the reforms introduced by the CIC. "Such people are there in all communities," he said. "But why should scholars be involved in the administration of colleges? What role should cardiologists have in a conference of dentists?"

To be sure, Samastha ousted the soft-spoken but outspoken Hakeem Faizy from the organisation in November accusing him of working against the ideals of the Samastha and principles of Sunni Islam. He was a member of Samastha's Malappuram district Mushawara.

How was the CIC formed?
Sunni Youth Sangham Working Secretary Abdul Hameed Faizy Ambalakkadav said that Samastha came to know of the independent status of the Coordination of Islamic Colleges (CIC) when it tried to get affiliated with an Egyptian university in 2007. "Since then, there was a cold war to get the CIC back into the fold of the Samastha," he said.

But over the years, the CIC Hakeem Faizy changed the constitution of the CIC to reduce the clout of the Samastha in the organisation and brought in conditions such as female students of integrated undergraduate courses should not marry till the completion of their courses.

"Samastha intervened when several girl students in Malappuram and Ernakulam districts were expelled for marrying during their course," he said.

Hameed Faizy Ambalakkadav alleged the 2,000-odd students who signed the petitions given to Sadik Ali Thangal were "brainwashed". "In religious schools, the students are disciplined and will do what their teachers ask them to do. They are brainwashed," he said.

Hakeem Faizy gives a clearer picture of the origin of the CIC. Up to 1993, the Markazu Tharbiyyathil Islamiyyah, a residential college for girls at Valanchery in Malappuram, was imparting only theological education. In 1994, as a teacher in the institution, he introduced secular subjects. "The number of our students started increasing to the point where we could not admit them at Valanchery," he said.

Soon other residential religious colleges also started offering secular courses.

"These colleges worked together to streamline the courses and that's how the CIC was formed," he said. These colleges were following the ideology of Samastha. "We did not coordinate with colleges from other schools such as Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Mujahid," Hakeem Faizy said.

CIC was formally registered only in 2004, 10 years after secular education was first introduced at the Markaz in Valanchery.

At the peak, around 140 colleges were affiliated with the CIC. Several of them dropped out or were ousted for not maintaining the standards.

Now there are 97 colleges affiliated with the CIC and 89 of them are active with around 9,000 students, said Hakeem Faizy. "Another 12 colleges have submitted their applications for affiliation for the academic year 2023-24," he said.

The five-year integrated undergraduate courses offered for boys are called Wafy and courses offered for girls are called Wafiyya.

Amendments that antagonised Samastha
As the CIC grew, the Markaz at Valanchery asked it to find a new headquarters. Around three years ago, when the late Panakkad Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal, the elder brother of Sadik Ali, was the president of IUML and vice-president of Samastha, the CIC shifted its headquarters to Pang, 20km from Valanchery.

A section of leaders in Samastha was irked when Hakeem Faizy initiated changes to the constitution of the CIC.

Since its inception, the general body of the CIC is constituted of three administrative officials and three teachers from each member college. The office-bearers of various committees and sub-committees in the CIC are elected from the general body. "The 118 officials who submitted their resignation will continue to teach in their respective colleges. They are only giving up their roles in the CIC," said Hakeem Faizy.

He said that they resigned not to express solidarity with him but to make their stance heard.

The CIC also has a three-member advisory committee. The president of Samastha and the president of Jami'a Nooriyya, an Arabic College at Pattikkad near Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district, were ex-officio members. The third member was elected from the general body.

The general body amended the constitution to drop the president of Samastha and the president of Jami'a Nooriyya from the advisory committee. Instead, any member of Samastha's Central Mushawara may be nominated to the advisory board. The other seats are to be filled by members elected from the General Body.

Samastha was annoyed but nominated its president Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal again to the CIC's advisory committee.

Last year, CIC president Sadik Ali Thangal reportedly gave in writing to Samastha to rescind the amendment. "But since the amended constitution is already with the registration office, the general body will have to meet and bring in changes. The process will take time," said Hakeem Faizy.

Then came the CIC's condition imposed on girl students not to marry till the completion of their integrated undergraduate course. "It was imposed in the 2021-2022 academic year as requested by the member colleges," he said.

The dropout rates in these residential schools are negligible, and the dropout rates of girls are lesser than boys. "But during Covid, when students went home some parents married off their daughters. That is when the colleges asked the CIC to bring in the clause," Hakeem Faizy said.

The students would only be 20 or 21 years after the course and so the CIC did not find the clause problematic. Neither did anyone in the general body nor did any girl student oppose it. There are no such restrictions on postgraduate students. "Some female PG students come to classes and exams with their children in their arms. Women struggle a lot for their education. They are being oppressed in our country. Only those who want the community to attain a certain level of maturity will understand this," he said.

But SYS said the Samastha took exception to the restriction on marriage because a few students who got married were expelled by colleges in Malappuram and Ernakulam districts. "Some parents hurriedly married off their children because the (Narendra) Modi government was trying to raise the marriageable age to 21 years," he said.

Another much-needed change in the Wafy-Wafiyya colleges was on giving representation to female students and female alumni in the CIC senate and syndicate.

Male students and male alumni have representations in the senate and syndicate but female students and alumni do not, even though they have an alumni association, Hakeem Faizy said. He said the CIC had made many compromises and "painfully surrendered" to Samastha's demands for the larger interest of providing education to girls.

The invisible hand of the CPM
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) has no role in the disagreement in Samastha, said the party's general secretary P M A Salam. Speaking to reporters in Dammam recently, Salam said a few leaders of the IUML were at the leadership of religious organisations, including Samastha Kerala. "But the party does not interfere in the internal affairs of religious organisations," he said.

The IUML cannot afford to antagonise Samastha publicly today, said a young leader of the party. "Not when the CPM is earnestly wooing Samastha to make inroads into the Muslim community in north Kerala," the leader said, explaining the party's silence on Samastha's misogynist stances.

Historically, the IUML and Samastha Kerala have been riding piggyback on each other.

Samastha, which controls the largest number of mosques in Kerala, gives the IUML access to the believers. In return, Samastha was also happy to let the IUML do the political talking for it.

"I cannot say which organisation has more influence among the people but the bond between the two starts at the top and their chemistry can also be seen at the grassroots," said the young leader.

The IUML's president Sadik Ali Thangal entered public life through SKSSF, Samastha Kerala's student outfit. His elder brother and predecessor the late Sayed Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal was Samastha Kerala's vice president. Their elder brother Muhammed Ali Shihab Thangal, who led the party for 34 years till his death in 2009, was also the qazi of hundreds of mosques and closely worked with Samastha. The three brothers' father P M S A Pukkoya Thangal was a spiritual and community leader who headed the IUML and Samastha Kerala.

Pukkoya Thangal and his predecessor Abdurrahiman Bafaqi Thangal (1905—1973) were undisputed community and spiritual leaders of the Muslim community, steering both the political organisation and the Sunni spiritual organisation.

But with the advent of the 21st century, the anti-IUML group in Samastha started gaining prominence, said a Kozhikode-based senior journalist working for a Muslim community newspaper. "The group, a small minority in Samastha, was always sceptical of the clout of Mujahid in the IUML. And so, it wants an identity for Samastha independent of the Muslim League," he said.

By 2014, Samastha launched its own newspaper 'Suprabhatham' to rely less on IUML's mouthpiece 'Chandrika'.

In January 2017, Muhammad Jifri Muthukokya Thangal took over the mantle of Samastha after the death of Kumaramputhur A P Muhammed Musliyar. "Since then, the anti-IUML group started becoming more vocal. They found a silent ally in Jifri Thangal," said the senior journalist.

Seeing the wedge, the CPM has begun actively working to find a toe-hold in Samastha, the door to a big Muslim vote bank.

It has been actively engaging its Muslim ministers and MLAs to hold talks with the leaders of Samastha.

In December 2021, Samastha Kerala president Jifri Thangal rejected the IUML's call to organise protests inside mosques against the LDF government for planning to hand over recruitment to Kerala Wakf Board to the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC). The next day, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called Jifri Thangal and fixed a meeting to discuss the issue.

The direct access to the chief minister helped Samastha to get out of the shadows of the IUML, said the journalist.

The fallout of Samastha getting closer to the CPM is that the Sunni organisation is facing less resistance from the IUML on its misogynist stance.

In May 2022, when Samastha Kerala's senior leader M T Abdulla Musaliyar rebuked the organisers for inviting a meritorious Muslim girl to that stage in Malappuram, the IUML stayed mum.

Now, when Samastha is attacking CIC and Hakeem Faizy over amendments that would empower girls, IUML is dismissing the issue as "internal affairs of religious organisations". "IUML's muted position is the compulsion of optics and electoral politics," said the female leader.

A Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS) leader in Kasaragod said those opposing Hakeem Faizy and his reforms are a minority in the organisation. "But they are vocal and have influence in the organisation and media," he said on condition of anonymity.

Another SYS leader in Kasaragod said Hakeem Faizy's contribution to education could be held on a par with the contributions made by community leaders such as K M Seethi Sahib and C H Mohammed Koya. "He has helped thousands of poor girls from the Sunni Muslim community get modern education and become achievers in society. Else, they would have got only moral education," he said.

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