Assam’s ‘Swachata Maulana’

TERESA REHMAN

Friday prayers are invigorating sessions for the followers of Mufti Nasihur Rahman. He is Principal, Al Jamiatul Islamia Banat Madrassa in Assam’s Mangaldai district. He is a Maulana with a difference. He calls himself a Swachata Doot. He is on a mission to make a ‘Swachh Assam’ which will eventually lead to a ‘Swachh Bharat’. He talks about cleanliness and hygiene in the khutba (lecture) before the Friday prayers. In fact, he urges Imams of all mosques to talk about cleanliness in the khutba (lecture) before the Friday prayers.

Rahman says, “A clean body and mind is the essence of Islam and is repeatedly several times in the Holy Quran. We are backward due to lack of education. And education teaches us to be clean. Lack of hygiene leads to diseases and this in turn leads to poverty. It’s a vicious cycle and it is high time we realised this.” He quotes Al Baqarah 2:222 which states, “Truly, Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.”

Cleanliness is considered part of the ‘Iman’ of faith of Muslims. For example, a Muslim is expected to say prayers (namaz) five times a day and every time she or he stands up for prayers, she or he must have had done ablutions (ozu) with water. Let aside everything else, if there is scarcity or absence of water, it would be very difficult for a good Muslim to say the obligatory prayers, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Rahman was present with other religious leaders at the Assam Conference on Sanitation (ASCOSAN) held in Guwahati recently. He is now on a Swachata Mission and plans to organise meetings, seminars and workshops for the Imams of various mosques all over the state to talk about the importance of cleanliness – one of the cardinal principles of Islam.

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2013 was a significant year for WASH causes. The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), the first global interfaith initiative to promote safe water, sanitation and hygiene, was launched at UNICEF House on 25 September that year. It is an attempt to bring together faith-based organizations to pursue a common goal of a water-secure world and equity in safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

The genesis of GIWA goes back to March 2013 at Wings for Water, a multi-stakeholder dialogue held in The Hague, the Netherlands, in advance of World Water Day. GIWA was a brainchild of Rabbi Awraham Soentendorp and Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.

Water holds a significant position in many religion and culture. “If Influential opinion leaders, such as Government, elected representatives, media and faith leaders come together, they can play a critical role in achieving the State’s target on WASH. The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) is the world’s first organization bringing together the leaders of the planet’s many faiths with the mission of ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to safe and sustainable Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH),” says Tahseen Alam, Communications Officer, UNICEF Assam

In Assam, GIWA representatives including local faith leaders have joined hands with the government to help achieve the Swacch Assam target. “We believe that religious leaders can increase the reach of WASH messages to stakeholders and be powerful influencers for lasting change,” adds Alam.

Bureaucrats too agree that as religion plays a definitive role in Indian society, involvement of religious or faith leaders in spreading awareness about the programme like SBM will bring positive results. Virendra Mittal, an IAS officer who received the Champion DC award for making the Lakua block ODF in Sivasagar district said, “The common Indian citizen when listen to the faith leaders will surely internalise the concept and implement the same in the right earnest. Such initiative will supplement the efforts of the government in making every nook and corner of our country clean and green,” he adds.

It is significant to note that just a few weeks ago, the association of Imams in at least three north Indian states have resolved that they will not be associated in any Muslim wedding where both parties to the wedding, the bride’s and the groom’s families, do not declare that they have full-fledged toilet and sanitary facilities in their houses.

 Nurul Laskar, social activist says, “As far as cooking, washing, or household cleaning is concerned, we all need water, irrespective of whether we are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, or Sikhs. When we talk about health and hygiene, it is important for us that we drink water which is potable and free from germs and chemicals that can do permanent damage to our wellbeing.

 Every day, some 1,800 children under the age of five die due to the lack of clean and healthy Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), with approximately1200-1600 deaths in India. Laskar states that in the Muslim society, a large percentage of people are ignorant and illiterate. They may not listen to a knowledgeable person but would invariably pay heed to the Maulanas in whatever sermons they preach about. Hence, the Imams of the Masjids can play a significant positive role in inculcating practices that would promote correct knowledge about WASH requirements in the society including evils of defecation in the open.

Teresa Rehman

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