Punjabi Camaraderie: Sikhs Restore Abandoned Mosques, Hand Them Over to Muslims

Residents of a Punjab collectively restoring an abandoned mosque. Photo credit: The Indian Express.

India Tomorrow

CHANDIGARH—If one has to see mutual goodwill and friendship, one must go to Punjab. While state and non-state actors have bulldozed mosques, madrasas and Muslim schools on the pretext of them being illegal in BJP-ruled states like Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab have set an example of high degree of camaraderie by restoring dilapidated mosques and handing them over to Muslims.

And one may believe or not, Gurudwaras are playing a central role in this activity.

Media reports say that over 165 mosques have so far been restored and given to Muslims. In many cases, Sikhs and Hindus gave their lands and also arranged funds for construction of new mosques in villages where Muslims are poor, landless and don’t have wherewithal to collect sufficient funds for building a new mosque.

Mr. Abdul Shakoor, Punjab unit president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) says the initiative was started by his organization about 36 years ago.

Speaking to India Tomorrow over phone, he said that Punjab villages had very few Muslims because Muslims migrated to Pakistan after Partition. Therefore, the mosques remained abandoned. There was no one to use them. Some of the mosques were also converted into places of worship of other communities. Still, there were many mosques that were preserved as such by the locals as a part of their veneration for a religious place even though there were no Muslims around to take care of them or use them for prayers.

However, the demand for mosques in Punjab went up after Muslim Gujjar community migrated from forests of Himachal Pradesh under pressure from forest authorities as also the radical Hindu organisations, as well as Muslim labourers and businessmen from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar came to Punjab in search of livelihood. Meanwhile, when the overseas Sikhs in the US, Canada and other countries came in contact with Muslims in those countries, they felt that abandoned mosques be given back to Muslims who had come to Punjab from other states. This encouraged the local population to make the mosques operational.

As migrant Muslims were poor and did not have adequate funds with them to restore the mosques that had become dilapidated because of neglect over decades, they got in touch with local leaders – Sikhs and Hindus. Soon, Gurudwaras emerged as fulcrum of this activity in Punjab’s towns and villages. The reason for Gurudwaras having come forward to help Muslims is that the Sikh community has forgotten the wound of Partition days owing to the teaching of harmony and brotherhood of Sikh Gurus.

Malerkotla is the only place in entire Punjab from where Muslims did not migrate because they were provided protection by Sikhs when entire Punjab faced violence and killing. Malerkotla remained an island of peace when entire Punjab on both sides was burning due to communal riots.

In villages where the mosque was converted for some other use and Muslims did not have land for a new mosque, Sikhs and Hindus provided land free of cost. They also helped Muslims collect funds for it and built mosques for them.

Mr. Abdul Shakoor said that the first initiative was taken up in 1985 by JIH.  Many other Muslim groups subsequently also joined hands in this movement. Frequent visits by members of the Tablighi Jamaat also gave a boost to mosque restoration drive. Some Muslim groups from Kerala also built several mosques from their own funds.

Currently, construction of a new mosque is going on in Bakhatgarh village in Bathinda district on a 250 square metre land donated by a Sikh farmer Amandeep Singh. While residents of Bakhatgarh raised Rs. 2 lakh, the residents of neighbouring villages provided cement and bricks. Amandeep told mediapersons a few days ago that mosque would be ready by the next Eid.

A Congress leader Jagmel Singh has donated 1200 sq yards of land for a mosque in Jitwal kalan village. Singh’s family also contributed Rs. 51,000 for the mosque construction in 2021. Inspired by Jagmel, other villages collectively contributed Rs. 5 lakh. The mosque is currently under construction without any help from Wakf Board or any other organization.

What is happening in Punjab today is remarkable. Will other states learn from Punjab and follow the suit?


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