Dr. SQR Ilyas decries targeting of mosques, madrassas and Muslim personal law

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By Anwarulhaq Baig 

NEW DELHI–Dr. SQR Ilyas, spokesperson for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), has expressed alarm over the targeting of mosques, madrassas and Muslim personal law  as part of a larger strategy to dismantle Muslim religious institutions and weaken their identity in the country.

At a program held at the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind headquarters recently, Dr Ilyas spoke about the threat to mosques and madrasas, and their protection.

Dr. Ilyas pointed out a common perception being created that madrasas promote a jihadist mentality among Muslims through their education. Raising concerns about the targeting of  madrasas by communal forces in India, he stated, “This is not a new issue. In 1998, when the BJP formed a government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister and LK Advani as Education Minister, a high-powered ministerial committee was formed. This committee labeled madrasas located on India’s borders with Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Nepal as ‘nurseries of terrorism’ and expressed concern about the increasing number of madrasas and called it ‘mushrooming of madrasas.’

However, the BJP government failed to substantiate these claims during its entire tenure.” Dr. Ilyas continued, “After the 9/11 incident, this issue gained renewed attention. These communal forces alleged that the Taliban emerged from Darul Uloom Deoband, implying that the institution produces jihadists.”

Addressing the recent controversy sparked by communal forces regarding an old fatwa on Darul Uloom Deoband’s website concerning “Ghazwa-e-Hind” (the Conquest of India), Dr. Ilyas explained that there are differing interpretations of whether Ghazwa-e-Hind is a historical event or a future one. “Some scholars, including Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, the President of the AIMPLB, believe it has already occurred, as stated in his recent article. However, three FIRs (First Information Reports) have been filed against Darul Uloom Deoband, alleging incitement of Muslims towards jihad and martyrdom,” he said.

Also addressing the issue raised by communal forces regarding the curriculum offered by madrasas, the AIMPLB spokesperson, said, “they claim that madrasas do not comply with the Right to Education Act, which mandates free and compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14. However, it’s important to note that madrasas were explicitly exempted from this Act when it was introduced under HRD Minister Kapil Sibal. Despite focusing on religious and theological education, communal forces allege these madrasas deprive Muslim children of modern education and hinder their progress. However, the Sachar Committee report indicates that only 4% of Muslim children nationwide receive education in madrasas. This statistics raises the question: why are madrasas being targeted?”

Dr. Ilyas emphasized that if madrasas can produce good citizens through Islamic education, why can’t religious teaching be considered education? Despite operating without government funding, many madrasas educate a large number of underprivileged children. Still, they face the threat of closure by the government.

The Muslim leader identified two main centres of Muslim religious devotion: mosques, where they gather for daily prayers, and madrassas, where they learn about their faith. Mosques, he explained, foster a sense of community and Islamic identity by bringing Muslims together. Madrassas, he emphasized, play a crucial role in transmitting Islamic teachings to the next generation by educating children about the Quran, Hadith, and jurisprudence. Dr. Ilyas then warned that these institutions are under attack in three ways. First, mosques being attacked and demolished, secondly madrassas are being targeted and maligned by communal forces in the country. Thirdly, there’s an attempt to eliminate Muslim personal law and implement a uniform civil code, starting in Uttarakhand.

Dr. Ilyas expressed alarm over the targeting of mosques and madrassas. He sees this as part of a larger strategy to weaken Muslim identity and dismantle their religious institutions. These attacks, he argues, provoke reactions from the Muslim community, which authorities then use as a pretext for further crackdowns. He cites instances where protests against government actions, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), resulted in violence against protestors and the demolition of their homes. The AIMPLB spokesperson said, “the attacks on mosques and madrasas are sensitive points for Muslims. When these are attacked, Muslims react, and this provides an opportunity for authorities to take action against them. For instance, in Haldwani, mosque and madrassa were demolished, Muslims agitated but they were shot at and tear gas was used on them during protests.” 

Discussing the recent controversies surrounding several mosques in India, including the Gyanvapi Mosque, the Mathura Eidgah, and Lucknow’sTeele Wali Masjid, Dr. Ilyas asserted that controversies were being fuelled by a Hindu nationalist agenda and that the Places of Worship Act, 1991, was being ignored. He also criticized the government for its inaction on the issue.

The AIMPLB spokesperson stated that after the taking over of Babri Masjid by the Hindu side and the enactment of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, people believed that the series of targeting Muslim religious sites in India would come to an end, and no new controversies regarding the status of places of worship existing on August 15, 1947, would be created. However, he added that despite the Act, new petitions challenging the status of mosques and other religious sites of Muslims continued to be filed, and courts were even entertaining them.

Talking about the issues of the Gyanvapi Mosque and the Shahi Eidgah in Mathura, the Muslim leader asserted that a formal agreement was reached in 1968 between the Shahi Eidgah Committee of Mathura and the temple committee trust. According to the agreement, the Muslims handed over five acres of land adjacent to the mosque to the temple committee trust. It was officially decided that whoever is where will remain there, and no new claims or issues will be raised. He said, “Despite the agreement, the Hindu side has come with a fresh claim. When these issues came to the fore, the Muslim side filed a petition in the lower courts as well as in the Supreme Court that no petition should be entertained in the presence of the Places of Worship Act, 1991. The court then replied that it is not a request to change the status, but an attempt to know what this place is.”

Commenting on the Gyanvapi Mosque case, Dr. Ilyas highlighted a series of events that have fueled the controversy. Firstly, a petition filed by five Hindu women seeking permission to worship their deity Gauri Shankar on the mosque’s western side triggered a court-ordered survey, vehemently opposed by the Muslim side. During the survey, a Hindu claim that a fountain in the mosque’s tank was actually a Shivling led to an immediate ban on using the tank. The Muslim party challenged this in the Supreme Court, but the court allowed the survey to continue, assuring them it wouldn’t affect their Namaz.

Noting that multiple petitions are being filed one after another, Dr Ilyas said, “One such petition claimed Hindu priest Vyas used to worship in the mosque basement until 1993 when the Mulayam Singh government stopped it. Despite denials from the Muslim side, the court entertained the petition. Just before his retirement, the judge ruled in favour of Hindu worshippers, allowing starting puja in seven days. The administration took no time, initiating worship overnight. Seeking immediate intervention, the Muslim party rushed to the Supreme Court at night. However, the Chief Justice directed them to the High Court. The High Court, after initially delaying a hearing, ultimately dismissed the Muslim side’s petition.”

Dr. Ilyas said, “Whenever a title suit or dispute arises in any place, it is seen what the revenue records, land records, and testimonies say, and what the statements of the people present at the scene are. Just on the basis of Astha or faith alone, worship places cannot be handed over to anybody.” He added, “What is happening in the Gyanvapi Mosque case? The Hindu side claims that the basement where Pandit Vyas used to worship, for which no evidence, no historical proof, or any factual evidence has been provided. It was only claimed and the court also accepted that the Hindu side is saying that they used to worship there till 1993. Consider why the year 1993 was used. Because the Places of Worship Act says that the position of the place of worship that existed on August 15, 1947 will remain the same. This means if the Hindu side says after 1947 that they were worshiping there till 1993, then it means that they were present there. The court gave them an opportunity through a backdoor and said that it is okay, you can conduct puja here.”

The Muslim leader further stated, “Now a new request has come that Muslims should be stopped from offering prayers on the roof above the basement, which is the main mosque building because it disturbs the Hindu side while worshipping below. There will be puja and chanting at the same place and Namaz will be offered upstairs. Now the Hindu side is demanding that the other basements of the mosque should also be surveyed.”

Dr. Ilyas informed that the Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition on the Places of Worship Act, specifically whether the ongoing objections and petitions against mosques and Muslim places of worship fall within its purview. However, he said that there was a lack of discussion on the matter while the issue of the Gyanvapi Mosque is also being pushed in a similar manner to the Babri Masjid case.

The AIMPLB spokesperson elaborated that statues were placed inside the Babri Masjid on the night of December 1949, followed by putting locks on the mosque. In 1986, the court ordered unlocking the premises and allowed the statues to remain inside. Muslims were prohibited from offering Fajr prayers on December 23, 1949, claiming the place was now disputed. However, unilaterally in 1986, permission for puja was granted to Hindus.

According to Dr. Ilyas, the principal allegation against Muslims was that they destroyed numerous temples in India and converted them into mosques. “Some claimed it was three thousand, while others claimed it was thirty thousand, and this allegation continues to spread. However, the apex court, in its order on the Babri Masjid case, admitted that there was no evidence to support the claim that a temple was demolished to construct the mosque. The Supreme Court also admitted that placing the statues inside on the night of December 22, 1949, was a criminal act and similarly, the mosque demolished on December 6, 1992, was also a crime. But the court stated that since the Hindu side also claims that the birthplace of Ram is here, hence the land should be given to Hindus, and Muslims should be given five acres of land elsewhere,” he added.

Discussing the rising communal tensions, the AIMPLB spokesperson focused on the false narrative that Mughal emperors destroyed temples to build mosques. He argued that this narrative is being used to justify the harassment of Muslims and the seizure of their mosques. The first point of contention is the claim that Muslim rulers, particularly Aurangzeb, demolished Hindu temples on a large scale. Dr. Ilyas countered this argument by pointing out that many mosques, including the ones in question, predate Aurangzeb’s reign. He also highlights the fact that Aurangzeb granted land and resources to several Hindu temples, as documented in historical records.

The Muslim leader asserted that the government and communal forces are sending a message to the Hindu community. He said, “They are reviving a false narrative that Muslim rulers destroyed temples to build mosques. This fuels sentiments of reclaiming those sites, as seen in the Babri Mosque dispute. A narrative is being created that the Modi government is ‘reclaiming’ them with a sense of pride.”

Dr. Ilyas then cited the story of Mr. B.N. Pandey, who initially served as a government officer and later became a governor after retirement. During his tenure, he visited a temple and discovered that properties were granted for the temple by Aurangzeb. Subsequently, he toured the entire country and collected documents from large temples that had been granted by Aurangzeb, containing Persian inscriptions.

However, pointing out that Aurangzeb is often accused of demolishing temples and portrayed as a villain because of his slight religious inclinations, the AIMPLB spokesperson said, “Two allegations against him are that he forcibly converted people and destroyed temples to build mosques. Mr. B.N. Pandey authored a book in which he stated that Aurangzeb was a ruler who generously granted big assets to large temples of the country,” Dr. Ilyas added.

Dr. Ilyas recounted an incident in Gurugram where a significant Muslim population, including professionals ranging from officers and managers to support staff, found the existing three to four mosques insufficient. “They requested the administration to designate a half-hour slot in parks for Friday prayers. However, two years ago, authorities reportedly denied permission to offer Namaz on government land.  Similarly, those who offered Namaz inside Lulu shopping mall faced legal action,” he said, questioning why offering namaz in public places or parks for a short duration would disrupt the public. 

The AIMPLB spokesperson suggested that the act of prayer itself is a form of conveying the message of Islam, which conveys Islamic teachings and demonstrates discipline, unity, equality, and collective efforts. That’s why he said, there are efforts by some Muslim organizations and individuals, including Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, to showcase mosques to non-Muslims potentially promoting understanding.’

However, Dr. Ilyas lamented that Muslims are facing harassment, and their mosques are being seized and converted into temples as well as during protests or religious processions or yatra, the initial target is often mosques, where slogans are raised, namaz are disrupted, or attempts are made to hoist flags.

Dr. Ilyas emphasized  that attacks on mosques, symbols of Muslim identity, highlight the need for the Muslim community to unite and protect their religious institutions. He sees these attacks as a reminder of the importance of Muslim solidarity. Facing a multitude of challenges, Dr. Ilyas believes that the Muslim community must stand together to counter this false narrative against the community through sincere efforts.

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