All good things must come to an end, they say. As the nation mourns the death of one of its finest actors Irrfan Khan, we mustn't forget that he was also one of those rare breeds of Muslim public figures who didn't mind standing up against the blind practices of orthodox Islam. In July 2016, Irrfan Khan landed himself in controversy by commenting on the tradition of Roza- the obligatory fast to be kept by every Muslim during Ramzan; and Qurbani- the ritual of animal slaughter during Bakri Eid.
Irrfan questioned the practice of animal sacrifice and said "Qurbani means sacrificing something close to your heart and sharing with others. Today, you buy a goat from the market for sacrifice. It is something to think about, and it is a matter of common sense, we all should ask ourselves how sacrificing another life earns us any goodwill."
These remarks drew a lot of flak and disdain from the Muslim clergy who hounded him for his comments. But despite being targeted by the clerics, Irrfan continued to hold on to his stand, being vocal about the subject on social media and even braved all related questions during his press interactions for the promotion of his then-upcoming movie Madaari.
Irfan called for self-introspection to replace fasting during Ramzan. "Rather than fasting during Ramzan, people should practise self-introspection."
Nearly a month later, on Times Now's Newshour Debate (then hosted by Arnab Goswami) Irrfan defended his thoughts and elaborated by narrating a story from his childhood where he first heard about "khayalonka Roza" (Roza of views) from his father, which according to him meant observing meditation and self-introspection. For Irfan Roza was about purification and purification of not just body but the mind as well.
He went on to stress the fact that today religious practices are being carried out without understanding why these practices came up in the first place, the thought process behind them and what they stood for; that the message behind the method shouldn't get lost in the process of carrying out the practice.
Irrfan didn't mince his words, and he blatantly continued questioning the conservative nature of Islamic practices. When asked about his views on Muharram, he went on to say "We, Muslims, have made a mockery of Muharram. It is meant for mourning and what we do? Take out tajiya (processions)"
On 1st July 2016, six militants opened fire in a bakery in Dhaka and took several dozen hostages. The hostages were then segregated into Muslims and non-Muslims. Later, the Muslim hostages were released. Eventually, the Commandos gained control of the place after a bloody battle with the terrorists leaving a casualty of 18 dead foreign nationals among the total killed. The ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Jamaat Ul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for this terror strike.
This episode seemed to have deeply disturbed Irrfan, which led him to take to Twitter and post "Terrorist attack in one place, and Muslims all over the world get a bad name". He added that Muslims should question the ones killing in the name of Islam and stated "Mercy and compassion are the basis of Islam. So should Muslims stay quiet and let Islam be maligned? Or should they actively try to correct these wrong ideas of Islam?"
The untimely demise of versatile actor Irrfan Khan has shocked the fans and film fraternity. Besides his acting, his human side will be remembered with various anecdotes. During the month of Ramzan, when many fundamentalist elements are hell-bent on defying the lockdown for group Namaz, Irrfan's message of introspection is the most relevant
Irrfan, in a press interaction in Jaipur during the same period also criticised Muslims for not speaking up on the issue of terrorism. "Why Muslims are silent against the issue of terrorism. People should also question the politicians over this issue," he expressed.
During a debate on India Today moderated by Rajdeep Sardesai in the same year, on being questioned about his intentions behind creating this controversy, Irrfan clarified "It was not (with) the intention to create a controversy. It's a thing which we discussed all the time with friends and in our house. There are certain things which stay with you. Certain concerns stay with you. You conclude that sometimes there are practices which are meant for a bigger purpose, to liberate you."
Irrfan was criticised by Zafaryab Gilabi, Member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), who condemned the actor by saying that Irrfan was not a religious leader and his advice was unnecessary. Maulana Khatri, Secretary of Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, also responded to the actor's comment by saying that Irrfan Khan must stick to acting, concentrate on his career and should not make random statements (on Islam).
Irrfan responded to these critics in his style. He tweeted, "Clerics don't scare me. Thank God I don't live in a country governed by religious contractors."
The nation will remember Irrfan Khan- the actor, but beyond that hope that he will also be remembered as Irrfan Khan- a true reformist Muslim of our times who dared to speak his mind without fearing the Mullahs and the Maulvis.
(The writer is the Course Director of the Post Graduate Programme in Leadership, Politics and Governance at Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (IIDL))