Several Muslim groups reiterate the demand to open up historical mosques for worship, while minorities commission chairperson says the row is ‘not a big issue’.

Recent disruptions of Friday prayers in Gurugram have escalated to a nationwide row, and Muslim groups and leaders have argued that nobody is addressing the moot problem — there are limited spaces for Muslims to offer namaz.

The controversy got a fresh lease of life after Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s statement Sunday that offering namaz should be restricted to mosques, eidgahs or “private places”. Although he later clarified that he had not said anything about stopping anyone from offering namaz, the damage had been done.

“There is no masjid in that area (of Gurugram). Where do these poor people go to offer namaz, which is an integral part of our religion?” Asaduddin Owaisi, the MP for Hyderabad and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, told ThePrint. “This is plain majoritarian, Hindutva politics we are witnessing in all BJP-ruled states that is now stopping people from worshipping also.”

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“His remarks just prove that Hindutva goons have state patronage,” said Qasim Rasool Ilias, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). “Muslims barely congregate for half an hour in certain places, and that is suddenly such a big issue for the BJP government.”

He also asked for Muslims to be provided spaces for worship, saying people having a problem with Muslims praying was “in stark contrast to the Indian ethos”.

No land for namaaz
Responding to the row in the city, the Haryana Waqf Board Sunday submitted a list of 19 unused mosques/properties in Gurugram that could potentially be used for offering namaz. The sites have been lying unused either due to alleged opposition by locals or encroachments, the board submitted.

It is not just about Gurugram, however, argued Ilias. “In general, there is ‘encroachment’ of land meant for prayers for Muslims on the one hand, and cries for denying them public places on the other,” he said.

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Muslim groups have repeatedly requested the Archaeological Survey of India to open up protected historical monuments in the capital and surrounding areas, said Ilias. “There are a number of mosques in Purana Qila, Red Fort, etc. where the ASI does not permit namaz. If you have a problem with us praying in public places, then why not allow us to pray in these masjids?”

This demand had also been raised by Wajahat Habibullah, former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, in 2013. Habibullah reiterated his demand, saying: “These monuments were originally mosques. Why can people not be allowed to use them for namaz, even as the government continues to have ownership?” he asked.

“See the peculiar situation we are in. On one hand, the government does not allow use of mosques for prayers; on the other, Muslims are being attacked for offering prayers in public places.”

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‘Not a big issue’
Even as Muslim leaders took strong exception to Khattar’s statement, and saw the incidents in Gurugram as a blatant threat to the freedom to follow the religion of one’s choice, Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi, the current chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, said he didn’t want to “blow up the matter”.

“We have got no complaint regarding the issue, and it is not such a big issue that we will take suo motu cognisance of the matter,” Rizvi, who rose from the Minority Morcha of the BJP, told ThePrint.

“The issue is not over namaz, but if someone raises an objection over namaz being offered on government land. Then, the government is fair in intervening.” #KhabarLive