AHMEDABAD: Equating Prophet Muhammad with human beings, terming him as 'bhai' (brother) and calling upon others to say so has landed a maulvi belonging to Tabligh Jamaat in the soup, as Gujarat high court (HC) has upheld invoking of charge of hurting religious sentiments and ruled that he must face a trial.

As a row between orthodox Sunni Muslims following largely the Deoband school and liberal Sufi sect adhering to the Barelvi school of ideology is boiling up, comparing himself and other human beings with the Prophet led to registration of an FIR against Kari Ahmedali Hussainali Battiwala from Saraspur.

In 2009, Battiwala addressed several gatherings including one near Juhapura. His speeches did not go down well with members of the other sect. Secretary of Sunni Awami Forum, Usman Qureshi, lodged an FIR against him in March 2010 with Vejalpur police accusing him of making derogatory remarks on principles of religion and pronouncing blasphemous statements against the Prophet.

Battiwala was accused of inciting people in his propaganda speeches against Sufi saints and calling upon people to demolish their shrines. The main charge levelled against him was that he used to address the Prophet as 'bhai' and exhorting others to call the Prophet as their 'bhai' only. Qureshi also supplied audio recording of the speeches to police. Battiwala was booked under section 295(A) of IPC for hurting religious feelings.

Battiwala was arrested, but was later released on bail. A chargesheet was also filed against him. He moved the HC for quashing of charge on the ground that the Constitution not only gives freedom of speech to an individual, but freedom of professing and propagating one's faith. Article 26 grants freedom to denominations of a religion to follow their ideologies. The words spoken were in context of a Hadith, which shows the Prophet terming his followers as his brothers and explaining this to his associates (sahabah).

It was argued on Battiwala's behalf that none present in the gathering raised an objection. The complaint was filed more than a year later and the person not present in the gathering could not have claimed that his feelings were hurt. There exists two views regarding the Prophet's status and difference in this regard is well recognized. One cannot force the other to express his view, unless he lowers the dignity of the Prophet.

For complainant, advocate Rafik Lokhandwala maintained that the Prophet can equate himself with others by terming the Muslims as his brothers, but it is unfair on the part of a person to draw this comparison.

After hearing the case, Justice B N Karia refused to interfere in the issue and opined that since the chargesheet has been filed, the accused has to face the trial. However, the HC has continued its stay, which was granted on proceedings in 2010, for one more month when Battiwala's counsel said the issue would be taken to the Supreme Court.

Courtesy TOI