Don’t want Namaz in public places? Re-open mosques and give access to Waqf land

The administration in the NCR should re-open 78 mosques, big and small, if they do not want a million Muslim migrant workers to offer Friday prayers in parks and roads, say community leaders

Govardhan Puja in Gurgaon
Govardhan Puja in Gurgaon

AJ Prabal

Why is it illegal to offer Namaz in a park but not hold a Gobardhan Puja in the same park and for a longer duration? The question cropped after Gurugram administration withdrew permission for Muslims to offer Friday prayers in 16 designated public spaces this week and reduced the number of such spots from 37 to 21. The administration however allowed a group, which had been objecting to Friday Prayers in Gurgaon, were allowed to conduct Govardhan Puja on Friday at a park where Muslims had been praying on Fridays for an hour or so,

Participating in a web discussion, Dr Tasleem Rahmani and Delhi High Court lawyer Shahid Ali demanded that the Government should allow the re-opening of 78 mosques in the NCR to enable Muslims to offer Friday prayers there. “On the one hand the Governments are shutting down mosques and taking over Waqf land while on the other they are restricting Muslims from praying in the open,” complained Dr Rahmani of the Muslim Political Council.

He claimed that the Khirki mosque in Delhi, where thousands congregated for Friday prayers, had been shut down by the administration. Muslims, he alleged, have been denied access to as much as 16,000 ‘bigha’ of Waqf land (one bigha is equal to 2,990 square yards or 37 Kottahs) in the country, which encompassed mosques, cemeteries, madrasas and Imambaras. On the one hand access is being denied to Muslims to mosques and madrasas, while on the other the administration is restricting their right to offer Friday prayers.

The National Capital Region (NCR), he claimed, had at least a million Muslims commuting to work in the industrial units of Faridabad, Gurgaon and Noida. If the administration fails to provide them access to mosques and Waqf land or to safe public places to offer prayers, one option before the workers would be to strike work, he said.

Advocate Shahid Ali quipped that the BJP Governments should openly declare that there would be no freedom in the country for the minorities to practice their religion. “They should go ahead and drop Article 25 from the Indian Constitution so that both minorities and the rest of the world would know the status of religious freedom in the country,” said an agitated Ali.

On Friday, November 5, a marquee (shamiana) was put up, loudspeakers blared, chairs were laid out and the Govardhan ‘puja’ got underway with great solemnity at a park in Gurgaon where last week Friday prayers were offered by Muslims. The permission to offer Friday prayers was withdrawn and permission to hold the Govardhan Puja accorded by the administration. Comically, the permission to offer Friday prayers was withdrawn following protests by Hindus that the Namaaz was disruptive and should not be allowed. Was Govardhan Puja less disruptive and last as long as the Namaaz, asked several Muslims sarcastically.

The protests, which began in September and continued on all subsequent Fridays—with protestors disturbing Namaaz with bhajans, chants, slogans, abuses and provocative placards---disturbed congregations gathering to offer Namaaz in Gurgaon since 2018, when the administration had allotted the space for the purpose.

Friday prayers are offered in open spaces without any fanfare, loudspeakers or audience. It lasts also for less than an hour as people wash their hands, offer their prayers and disperse quietly and quickly. But Ram Navami processions, Kanwar Yatras and today’s Govardhan Puja take longer, disrupt more traffic and are hardly comparable, pointed out both Hindus and Muslims.

The number of mosques in Gurgaon, say community representatives, are far fewer than what is required to cater to the needs of the devout who commute to Gurgaon for work. Following persistent protests by troublemakers, Muslims carry their identity cards all the time and in 2018 the administration persuaded the community to accept 37 designated spaces for Friday prayers. Gurgaon Police carried out background checks and extended protection to the congregations. No criminal complaint was reported since 2018. However, there is no allegation or proof of any of the designated spaces grabbed by ‘Namazis’ in GuruGram. Nor is there any evidence of the congregation breaking the peace.

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