For India’s Muslims, Will New Mosque Near Ayodhya Offer New Hope?
Will it represent a new national resolve to offer a life of dignity & recognition of identity to Muslim community?
The ceremony on Republic Day 2021 in a village near Ayodhya, to kickstart the construction of the mosque, was in complete contrast to spectacles that are the hallmark of events associated with the campaign and construction of the Ram temple.
The watershed event, marked by the planting of trees and hoisting of the Indian tricolour, at the site allotted to representatives of the Muslim community on directions from the Supreme Court however, was a simple affair not accompanied by either religious ceremonies, or VIP presence.
While this has to do greatly with the fact that in Islam there are no rituals that mirror Hindu ceremonies of shilanyas or bhoomi pujan, the decision to formally initiate the project on Republic Day 2021, and not on any ‘regular’ day, is extremely significant.
New Mosque’s Inauguration Near Ayodhya: Why The Lack Of Media Coverage Or Pomp Of Ram Mandir?
The choice to launch the project on the day that marks the adoption of the Indian Constitution, demonstrates that the custodians of this new shrine complex are underscoring a symbiotic link between the community and what Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed as the government's only ‘Holy Book’. This belief will have to be reciprocated by those who of late have begun singing paeans to the Constitution.
The relative under-reporting of this ceremony mirrors the political reality in the country, where the supporters of the Ram temple see it as a symbol of ‘victory’ over the ‘vanquished’ Muslim community.
History, as the statement attributed to former British Premier Winston Churchill, is always written by the victors.
This explains why greater space was given to either the bhoomi pujan in August 2020, or to the ongoing door-to-door fundraiser campaign for the Ram temple. Importantly, the resource collection drive was kick-started on 15 January, with the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, making a donation in his 'personal' capacity.
Such a gesture however, has not yet been made for the mosque complex that would include a multi-speciality hospital, a community kitchen and a library.
It is worth mentioning that the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, established by the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board to construct the mosque and other facilities, is yet to receive clearance for donations being eligible for tax relief.
Contributions to the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra are however, eligible for deduction under relevant sections of the Income Tax Act.
The ‘Unassuming’ New Mosque: A Sharp Contrast To Ram Mandir
It is not to be missed that while the compound in Dhannipur village, outside the ‘religious boundaries’ of Ayodhya, will be open to people of all faiths, the temple on the land where the Babri Masjid existed prior to December 1992, shall be open only to avowed Hindus.
Importantly, as the design of the mosque unveiled in December 2020 showcases, the entire project looks into the future by opting for an architectural plan that does not adhere to that of a traditional mosque.
The mosque whose blueprint has been drawn by an academic, will neither have domes nor minarets. It will also neither be named Babri Masjid, nor have any references to any Muslim ruler, Mughals or others.
In sharp contrast, the Ram Mandir’s design was altered in July 2020 and instead of three domes as intended previously, it will now have five domes.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement, as LK Advani stated almost three decades ago, was not limited to just the construction of a temple in Ayodhya. Among other objectives, it was also to symbolise hegemony over India’s largest religious minority. This is now being marked in multiple ways, and not just in Ayodhya.
Predicament Of Muslims Over Babri Masjid Verdict: Should They Hide Their Grief Or Wear It On Their Sleeves?
The Supreme Court's verdict on 9 November 2019 that awarded the disputed property to Hindus disappointed the Muslim community, to say the least. But, the court's directive, that a suitable plot of land measuring 5 acres be simultaneously handed to the Waqf Board to construct a mosque, was viewed divergently by different groups.
While one section wanted the Board to refuse the offer, the other group, which eventually prevailed, was of the opinion that despite living with the pain of loss of a shrine, little purpose would be served by living in the past.
In a way both groups were marking their positions. The naysayers opting to stay relevant by remaining a thorn in the flesh of the majoritarian brigade, while the other group sought to carve a niche for themselves, however small and unsettled, within the new order.
The divergence of opinion within the community on the specific issue of accepting the land from the government (although allotted free, the foundation paid a stamp duty of more than Rs 9 lakhs to get the five acres registered in its name) was symbolic of the larger predicament of the community on how to ‘wear’ their identity and grief.
Should their grief be worn on their sleeves or camouflaged?
Does New Mosque Represent New Resolve To Offer A Dignified Life To Muslims?
In his speech after performing bhoomi pujan, Modi had said the temple epitomised India's culture, eternal hope, national sentiment and was a emblem of collective will of the citizens. He added, the shrine would inspire hope, devotion and determination in the minds of future generations.
Amid these claims, it needs to be asked, what does the mosque and its other facilities represent and symbolise?
Will it be representative of a new national resolve to provide a life of dignity and recognition of identity for the country's largest religious minority?
Or, will the mosque complex symbolise a marginalised community that merely exists, unseen and disregarded?
Of the 464 years that the Babri Masjid existed, 136 years were as a contested mosque. Despite ceding land to the temple being built and having been 'banished' from the precincts of the 'original' Ayodhya (the district was named Faizabad before 2018 and the town was merely a municipality), the memory of Babri Masjid will be hard to overcome.
As per the plans of the foundation, the mosque is expected to come up in two years.
Will it then become a must-visit shrine-museum-hospital complex — or become an ignored one as the foundation ceremony that took place on Republic Day 2021 was?
Ideally, this is a structure that ‘New India’ could have done without but the apex court presented the government with a fait accompli.
Why New Mosque May Become A Greater Draw For Both Muslims And Those Belonging To Other Faiths
Peculiarly, the Supreme Court, while directing the award of five acres of land, provided the government with two options. The Centre could either allot this tract from the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993, or the state government could do so at a “suitable prominent place in Ayodhya”.
Given the promise that the Sangh Parivar would not allow a new mosque within the circumference of the annual parikrama track, the second option was conveniently chosen.
Land was then allotted in Dhannipur village, 25 kilometres away from the border of the original temple town.
In the course of the agitation for the Ram temple, the Sangh Parivar claimed that the Babri Masjid had no relevance for Muslims outside the town and the community thereby should have little hesitation to hand over the property to Hindus.
In contrast, a temple raised to deify Lord Ram was the aspiration of Hindus across the globe. The argument was that the Babri Masjid could exist 'anywhere', but the Ram temple could only be built on the precise spot in Ayodhya.
Paradoxically, by allotting land for the mosque outside Ayodhya and making it difficult for Muslims there to use it for regular prayers, the new mosque shall become a greater draw for Muslims, and maybe for people of other faiths too, from outside.
Majoritarian victors shall have to take this in their stride.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent book is‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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