Muslim leaders, activists express outrage over NDMC’s move to demolish historic Sunehri Bagh Masjid

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Sunehri Bagh Masjid. Photo : By Amjad Alam .

Anwarulhaq Baig 

NEW DELHI—Muslim leaders, politicians, activists and historians have expressed their outrage over the move of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to demolish the Sunehri Bagh roundabout Masjid on the pretext that its presence causes traffic congestion.

The mosque is more than three centuries old and was constructed during the Mughal era. The Grade III heritage building, the mosque is listed among 886 heritage properties in the national capital.

The civic body on December 24 issued an ad in newspapers, inviting “objections and suggestions” from the public for removal of the mosque.

In the ad, the NDMC has given reference to a letter from the Delhi Traffic Police that has sought realignment or redesigning of the roundabout on which the mosque stands, or some other measures to ease traffic movement around the mosque.

Criticizing the action of the NDMC, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) Vice President Malik Moatasim Khan said his organization has approached the Delhi High Court seeking protection of the mosque.

Citing historical agreements, court judgments, and assurances, including the pact between the then Imam of Jama Masjid (grandfather of the current Imam) and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru guaranteeing the mosque’s protection, and a recent December 18, 2023, Delhi High Court decision assuring its preservation, Mr. Khan called it unconstitutional to seek public opinion on demolishing the mosque while its case remains sub-judice. 

He denounced the NDMC’s action as a violation of the ‘Place of Worship Act 1991’, which guarantees the preservation of all places of worship as they were in 1947. Mr Khan further pointed out that rather than seeking public opinion on the traffic problems posed by the mosque, the NDMC should take expert opinion and check the feasibility of alternative solutions like constructing an underground tunnel or an overhead flyover. “Every day there are traffic snarls due to some or the other religious, cultural, educational, political, and business events in the capital. Does it mean that we put an end to all these activities? No country in the world erases its heritage to make way for the irresponsible growth in vehicular traffic,” he added. 

JIH Assistant Secretary Inamurrahman, who filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court, highlighted that traffic in the Sunehri Bagh area is significantly less congested than around other roundabouts in the city, casting doubt on the veracity of the claims made by NDMC. Inamurrahman who recently visited the mosque and met with Imam Abdul Aziz after the notice, rejected the claims of excessive traffic around the mosque roundabout as unfounded, citing other places with roundabouts which are more congested.

In a strongly worded statement, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) warned that any attempt to demolish the 350-year-old mosque would not be tolerated. Calling the NDMC notice “vague and wrong,” AIMPLB spokesperson Dr. SQR Ilyas has explained that the mosque is not only an old mosque but also one of 123 Waqf lands on which the High Court has placed a stay. Emphasizing the mosque’s sanctity as the house of Allah and an irrevocable Waqf property, the AIMPLB spokesperson warned the NDMC to abandon its nefarious plan and refrain from inflaming communal tensions in the capital. The AIMPLB also asked both the state and central governments to desist from any action against places of worship, be it mosques, temples, Gurudwaras, or any other, as such actions would only exacerbate the delicate communal fabric of the nation.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (Mahmood Faction) President Maulana Mahmood Madani implored them with deep concern over the NDMC notice, stating that such action could significantly harm the shared cultural heritage of the country. In the letter, Maulana Madani emphasized that the mosque, with its profound historical significance, stands as a testament to the nation’s pluralistic ethos and harmonious coexistence of various communities. He urged the Prime Minister and Home Minister to kindly take cognizance of this matter and initiate the necessary steps to ensure the protection and preservation of Masjid Sunheri Bagh.

A Jamiat delegation led by Maulana Hakeemuddin Qasmi recently visited the mosque and met with its Imam, Maulana Abdul Aziz. He informed them of the mosque’s strict adherence to all government security directives, highlighting that even congregational prayers are suspended during parliamentary sessions and that measures are taken to avoid any traffic disruption.

In a tweet, Maulana Syed Arshad Madani, head of the Jamiat (Arshad Faction), called the mosque’s demolition a conspiracy and vowed the organization would fight every legal battle to protect Sunehri Bagh Mosque. “After the Babri Masjid verdict, communal forces have been emboldened. They have their eyes on our places of worship. We will take every step to protect the mosque. The administration should refrain from illegal action,” he added.

Raza Academy, a prominent Mumbai based body representing the Sunni school of thought, on its X, denounced the planned demolition of the 350-year-old Sunehri Mosque as a dangerous attempt to spread chaos in the country, claiming traffic concerns were merely a pretext.

Expressing deep concern over the notice, Shahi Imam, Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, declared that the NDMC’s plan would be a profound loss to our nation’s heritage and a devastating blow to interfaith harmony. He urged the Prime Minister to intervene and stop this potential action, emphasizing that it would not only hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslim community but also fuel tensions and damage India’s image around the world.

Veteran historian and academician, Syed Irfan Habib on his X writes, “Sunehri bagh masjid is not just a mosque, it has a history that is closely associated with several of our freedom fighters. Hasrat Mohani, member of our Constituent Assembly used to stay here while attending the meetings. Care for its illustrious history.” 

Renowned author Tushar Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson, announced on his X, “Have written to the Chief Architect NDMC registering my protest about the proposed demolition of the Historic Sunehri Masjid. #Save_Sunehri_Masjid.”

Asking his followers to file their objections against the NDMC notice, noted Muslim scholar and former chairman of Delhi minority commission, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan writes on a micro blogging site, “a mosque in Delhi is slated to be demolished for the sake of smooth traffic. Please file your objection.”

Another historian Rana Safvi on her X writes, “It is in this mosque that Hasrat Mohani, poet, nationalist, who coined slogan inquilab zindabad, was first to ask for Purna Swaraj (Complete freedom) in 1930, slept, when attending Parliament sessions. He refused govt accommodation & transport.”

Hasib Ahmed, a former bureaucrat who prayed at this mosque for 15 years while posted at Udyog Bhawan, expressed strong objection to the NDMC notice, stating, “This mosque is inside the roundabout, not on the road. In fact, the mosque was built first and the road was built later. There is no traffic obstruction due to the mosque.”

Reacting to it, Supreme Court advocate and former student leader of AMU, Z.K. Faizan, alleged that it is a well-planned conspiracy and strategy of the BJP to damage the communal atmosphere of the country and polarize Hindu votes. Terming sending suggestions to NDMC against the move as not the solution, Advocate Faizan urged all Muslim organizations, leaders, and workers to take out strong protest marches and agitations on the streets across the country against the move, apart from approaching the court.

In a letter to the NDMC’s Chief Architect, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi strongly condemned the NDMC proposal to remove the historic mosque, terming it ‘an irredeemable loss to India’s heritage’ and calling for its immediate withdrawal.” Owaisi highlighted the masjid’s pre-NDMC existence and asserted its status as a wakf property, protected by the Wakf Act, 1995.  The AIMIM chief criticized the absence of any data from NDMC or Delhi Traffic Police justifying the necessity of removing the mosque.  Owaisi raised concerns about the proposed action violating the fundamental rights of Muslims to practice their religion under Article 25 and the collective right of citizens to protect their culture under Article 29 of the Indian Constitution. 

Dr. Mohammad Jawed, Member of Parliament from Bihar’s Kishanganj, raised strong objection to the NDMC’s notification in a letter to the chief architect, shared on X. He urged NDMC to “devise an alternative plan to save this site of immense cultural importance and heritage.” 

Congress leader and MP from Assam Abdul Khaleque also wrote to NDMC chairman Amit Yadav, saying that demolishing the Sunheri Masjid would be “a significant loss to the cultural fabric of and collective identity of New Delhi city.” He urged NDMC to consider alternative proposals that address traffic concerns without compromising heritage.

A group of architects of Delhi in a letter which was widely circulated on internet write, “The Sunehri Bagh masjid is not merely a structure of bricks and mortar; it stands as a testament to our historical legacy and architectural grandeur. Its demolition would result in an irrevocable loss to the cultural fabric”. 

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