One of the largest religious conventions in the country, the three-day Sunni Ijtema, ended on Sunday at Azad Maidan in the city. Over three lakh people attended the series of discourses, discussions, and question-answer sessions that were part of the convention. Remarkably, for a theological convention, nearly half of the programmes at the event were dedicated to secular issues like higher education, career counselling, nation-building, property rights of women, and artificial intelligence.
The diversity of subjects reflects the ideas of Maulana Mohammed Shakir Noorie, president of the event’s organiser Sunni Dawate Islami (SDI), whose message to the youth is of ‘education and character’.
Noorie, who studied at the Darul Uloom Mohammadiya, an Islamic seminary in Mumbai, set up the SDI as a non-political religious organisation in 1991. An author of over 40 scholarly books, he was recently recognised as one of the most influential Muslims in the world by the Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. While Noorie is involved in several public projects, his focus has been education and youth.
This year’s event was the 31st such annual event. In an interview with the Free Press Journal, Noorie shared his vision for the country’s Muslims and for India.
How did the idea of the Sunni Ijtema crystalise?
I have seen such events in other countries and I felt that our youth is not getting guidance. There are two things that I think the youth needs – education and character.
The Ijtema started over three decades ago. How have the programmes adapted to the changes since then?
There have been a lot of changes in these decades. To address the changes, we now have, for instance, the SDI Ummeed. This unit organises events related to career counselling and jobs. We are promoting this work because youth is the future. With the new trends in education, a maximum number of these youth will be graduates and they will need proper guidance. If they get this guidance, their progress will not only help the community but also make the country proud.
The events at the convention reflect a diversity in topics, with sessions dedicated to secular issues like education, property rights and jobs. What is the reason for the selection of such topics?
Social trends have changed. Every 40 years or so there is a great change in the mentality of society. There is increased awareness about education, but without guidance, much of the benefits of the benefits that will come out from the changes will be lost. The Quran and Hadith offer the best solutions to issues coming from these changes. Our country has big universities and institutions of higher learning. The country offers opportunities and the government is making these opportunities available. The youth has to grab these and make the country proud.
There was a session on artificial intelligence. Why did you incorporate this subject into the list of events at the convention?
I had visited the United States recently and during an interaction with the youth, I realised that they feared the growth of artificial intelligence. They were worried that this technology would make humanity obsolete and unemployed. I thought we should talk about the subject to remove the fear. In Allah’s creation, humans are the most powerful. You will be unemployed only if you are uneducated and lack character. There is a fear about how life will proceed in the time of artificial intelligence, but Allah says that men and women doing honest work with education and character will do well.
There are different thoughts on what the Muslim community needs the most – education, employment, and political representation. What are your thoughts?
I think illiteracy is the biggest issue. Illiteracy gives rise to all evils and this illiteracy is not just in religious education but also secular education. There is an excuse for the community as far as education is concerned. If a student from a scheduled caste community can complete his education and improve his lot, the Muslim youth can do this too. Money should not be an excuse to deny children an education. Live a simple life but educate your children. Muslims are also increasingly part of the rising demand for higher education, but the numbers are still small.