Namaz at public spaces: More than what meets the eye

Friday prayers were offered at the Hooda ground, Sector-47. It was limited to 47 sites after several outfits called for a ban on namaz in public. The police stepped up security to ensure law and order in maintained at these venues.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Saddened by the raging controversy over offering of jumma namaz at open public spaces in the Millennium City over the past few weeks, DLF Phase-III resident and freelance journalist Matloob Ahmed (68) said he never expected things to come to this when he moved to Gurugram from Delhi two decades ago.

However, he regretted that the equation between the two communities in the country had, perhaps, changed forever in the wake of BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani’s Rath Yatra in the 1990s.

Pointing out how a temple on a hillock in his neighbourhood had grown in the area despite demolition orders by the district administration, Mr. Ahmed, the president of the Indian Islamic Research Centre (IIRC), said, “It is possible to build a temple in this country but not a mosque. And now it has become difficult to even offer namaz.”

Social worker Mohammad Arshaan said Muslims were not happy to sit on roads in the blistering heat to offer namaz but there were not enough mosques to accommodate their rising population, especially in New Gurugram. “While the Muslim population in Gurugram has grown with unskilled, semi-skilled and educated Muslims thronging the city in search of livelihood, much like other religious communities, there are, however, few mosques,” he explained.

While Old Gurugram has eight mosques with a combined capacity of around 3,000, the lone mosque in New Gurugram in Sector-57 is under litigation.

Friday prayers being offered at the Hooda Ground, Sector-47. Offering of namaz in open spaces has been restricted to 47 sites in Gurugram after several outfits called for a ban on the practice. The police stepped up security to ensure law and order at these venues.

Friday prayers being offered at the Hooda Ground, Sector-47. Offering of namaz in open spaces has been restricted to 47 sites in Gurugram after several outfits called for a ban on the practice. The police stepped up security to ensure law and order at these venues.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma


Aslam Khan, the chairman of Anjuman Trust Masjid in Sector-57, said the mosque accommodated nearly double its capacity each Friday. He said a plot for the mosque was allotted by the Haryana government in 2004 but some locals were opposed to a mosque in the area and moved court on flimsy grounds. “The matter is pending before the Supreme Court and construction has been stayed,” said Mr. Khan.

Request turned down

Long before this controversy over namaz erupted in the Millennium City this past month, two Muslim outfits — the IIRC and the Muslim Minority Trust — had sought allotment of land for mosques in the city in response to the Haryana government’s scheme to offer plots for religious sites two years ago. The two organisations had cited severalfold increase in the community’s population, and holding of prayers on roads and parks as the reason for more mosques for them.

However, the request was allegedly turned down without assigning any reason in writing.

IIRC member Arshaan told The Hindu that they had explained in a detailed presentation before the government how Friday prayers in the city were being held in the open at 70 locations.

“We also gave visual evidence of large gatherings at Leisure Valley, Shankar Chowk and Udyog Vihar for jumma namaz. We had applied for three sites — Sectors 43, 50 and 52 — as there is only one mosque in New Gurugram. The Muslim Minority Trust had also applied for two sites. But our earnest money was returned last June saying that our applications were not considered,” claimed Mr. Arshaan.

He pointed out that Sector 43 was an ideal location to cater to a large number of namazis offering prayers on Golf Course Road, near Genpact office and Sector 56 in New Gurugram in the open, and would be able to accommodate around 3,000 people in a single shift.

Encroachment issue

Besides, 19 Waqf Board properties in Gurugram, mostly in villages, have either been encroached upon or locals do not allow Muslims access to these properties.

However, the district administration carried out a survey this past week claiming that a majority of these properties were free from encroachment and the authorities were ready to assist the Waqf Board to take possession of these properties. Amid claims and counterclaims, Muslim leaders maintained that it was anyway difficult to take possession of the properties in Hindu-dominated villages.

Waqf Board, Estate Officer (Gurugram), Jamaluddin said attempts to build mosques on Waqf Board plots in Jharsa, Jharsa-Fazilpur, Naurangpur and Meoka were thwarted by locals and two structures demolished.

Mahavir Bhardwaj, the convener of the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti which is leading the campaign against namaz in open spaces, said he was unaware of any scheme to allot plots for religious sites but it was the prerogative of the government to reject or accept applications. He, however, added that no community could be allowed to use public land for religious activities and all this was an attempt to grab land illegally.

“They can offer namaz in office or factory premises or on private land,” said Mr. Bhardwaj. Mr. Ahmed saw a larger political conspiracy behind what he described was “attempt to make an issue out of nothing”.

“All this talk of traffic disruption and security threat due to illegal immigrants is rubbish. Do kanwariyas and devotees at Sheetla Mata Mandir here not disrupt traffic? With the Modi government having failed on all fronts, including job creation, black money and Swachh Bharat, the only agenda left is the Hindu-Muslim divide before the next elections,” said Mr. Ahmed, an author of several books on religion.

Namaz at public spaces: More than what meets the eye

False propaganda

The Samiti, a conglomeration of various district units of right-wing organisations, has submitted a charter of nine demands to the district administration.

Besides reducing the number of open public spaces for namaz to five from the present around 90, the Samiti has also raked up the issue of illegal Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingyas, and sought their identification.

However, Muslim leaders dismissed it as yet another false propaganda to target the community.

“Bengalis from Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia districts are not Bangladeshi. Residents of districts bordering Bangladesh, these Muslims are not conversant in Urdu and speak Bengali. There are also lots of Muslims from Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Most of them work as domestic workers, rickshaw-pullers and autorickshaw drivers and construction workers,” said Ishrat Thameem, a resident of Gurugram who is involved with the community.

Contradicting him, 64-year-old Mr. Bhardwaj asserted that the sudden increase in the number of Muslims over the past two years was a matter of concern. “Their numbers have doubled over the past two years despite slowdown in real estate activities. Gurugram has a strategic location and there seems to be a deep-rooted conspiracy behind the increase in the number of Muslims. No sincere efforts have ever been made by the administration to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingyas. It seems the police carry out their drives only on papers and not on ground,” Mr. Bhardwaj alleged in response to a question on the Gurugram police having identified only one Bangladeshi immigrant so far this year.

With Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar having advocating last week that namaz should be offered only in mosques and eidgahs, the district administration seems to be doing a fine balancing act on the politically sensitive matter.

On the one hand, the police appeared to have given in to pressure from right-wing organisations to reduce the number of open public spaces for namaz to almost one-fourth this past Friday, on the other the civil administration deployed duty magistrates at all existing 76 open spaces to give an impression that it had maintained status quo.

Far from over

However, the controversy seems to be far from over, with the right-wing organisations demanding that their demands be met in a time-bound manner and the Muslims demanding legitimate spaces for prayers for the increasing numbers.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 7:52:39 PM |

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