Court says Shahi Imam can’t anoint his successor

Big blow to Bukhari family, who came to India 400 years ago and nominate their successors traditionally

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday said that Jama Masjid Shahi Imam's decision to anoint his son as his deputy and successor has no legal sanctity.

While the court’s observation is a big blow to the Bukhari family, which came to India on Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s invitation from Central Asia in 1656, the incumbent Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari can heave a sigh of relief with the court refusing to prevent the anointment ceremony scheduled for Saturday, terming it as a private function. 

However, the court refused to stay the anointing ceremony of Shahi Imam's son as Naib Imam of Jama Masjid. The court has also sought reply of the Centre, Wakf Board and Imam Bukhari by January 28.

Centre and the Wakf Board on Thursday had submitted before the Delhi High Court that the ceremony by Jama Masjid Shahi Imam anointing his son as his deputy and successor has no legal sanctity.

The submission was made before a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice R S Endlaw during arguments on three public interest litigations challenging the November 22 ceremony where Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid here Syed Ahmed Bukhari plans to anoint his son as Naib Imam who will be the next chief cleric. 

The Centre had said that the Mughal-era mosque Jama Masjid is a Wakf property and it has to decide how the rule of primogeniture applies on anointment of new Shahi Imam, which has come under challenge.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had also requested the court to declare the city's Jama Masjid as an ancient monument because of its national importance while contending that it needs to be protected.

The PILs filed by Suhail Ahmed Khan, Ajay Gautam and advocate V K Anand have said Jama Masjid is a property of Delhi Wakf Board and Bukhari as its employee cannot appoint his son as Naib Imam (deputy Imam).

The petitions said Shahi Imam had announced on October 30 that his 19-year-old son would succeed him as the next Shahi Imam and the ceremony of 'Dastarbandi' would be held on November 22.

"Despite knowing that Shahi Imam is an employee of the Wakf Board and it's the board which has the right to appoint an Imam, he (Bukhari) has declared his 19-year-old son to be a Naib Imam and is holding a dastarbandi ceremony for the said purpose, which is purely anti-Islamic," the pleas have said.

The pleas have alleged that the Shahi Imam was a public post and not the "personal property" of Syed Ahmed Bukhari and IMAMAT (the position of a divinely-appointed leader) is not transferable.

It has also been contended that Bukhari is merely an employee of Delhi Wakf Board which is the only authority to choose and appoint the next Imam of Jama Masjid.

"No person can hold any title given to him or his ancestors by any erstwhile Emperor, King or Shah after the Constitution of India came into force," one of the PILs has said.

Bukhari had recently sparked a controversy by announcing that he has invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the ceremony for anointing his son as the deputy Imam but did not invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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