India Today - - UPFRONT - By Syeda Hameed

Of­fer­ing na­maaz every day has been part of my life. My par­ents of­fered na­maaz, al­ways at home, every day, three times. Fajr (morn­ing), zuhr asr com­bined (af­ter­noon) and maghreb isha com­bined (evening). They taught by ex­am­ple, never com­pul­sion. Per­haps that was why I be­came a na­maazi. I don’t re­call my fa­ther ever miss­ing his na­maaz or ever go­ing to pray at the masjid. My mother and other women of the house­hold al­ways prayed at home, a per­sonal pref­er­ence which I im­bibed. Wher­ever I lived in the world, my na­maaz was of­fered in my pri­vate space. This was in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Cut to 2018, Gu­ru­gram, Haryana. (In­ci­den­tally, my fam­ily on both sides of the bor­der, also from Haryana, will al­ways call it Gur­gaon and with great af­fec­tion, it’s such a melt­in­the­mouth name!) I am a Haryanvi, and we have been so ever since my an­ces­tors from Herat set­tled here 850 years back. This was be­fore Haryana ever ex­isted. Ac­cord­ing to the Urdu press, Gu­ru­gram has more than 600,000 Mus­lims, many of them mi­grant work­ers from Bi­har and UP. On Fri­day, May 4, mem­bers of right­wing Hindu groups vis­ited six open spaces where Mus­lims had gath­ered to of­fer jumma prayer and or­dered them to leave. The six spaces be­came con­tested sites be­tween Mus­lim labour­ers and the self­styled Sanyukt Hindu Sang­harsh Samiti. The po­lice sta­tioned them­selves at strate­gic places to pre­vent vi­o­lence. Chief Min­is­ter Manohar­lal Khat­tar, on the eve of his UK and Is­rael tour, gave a state­ment that na­maaz should be of­fered at masjids and ei­dgahs and pri­vate spaces where it does not in­con­ve­nience the pub­lic.

Just be­fore this hap­pened, we had en­coun­tered the Gumti in­ci­dent in Saf­dar­jung En­clave’s Hu­mayun­pur vil­lage in Delhi. A tomb and her­itage site dat­ing back to the Tugh­lak era sud­denly meta­mor­phosed into a Shiv Bhola tem­ple. One day it was an old crum­bling relic where bones of a me­dieval noble had lain for cen­turies, the next it had be­came a bright saf­fron and white mandir, com­plete with idols and other sam­a­gri placed in­side. In 2010, and again in 2014, it had been no­ti­fied by the Delhi gov­ern­ment as one of 767 her­itage sites in the cap­i­tal and given a Grade 1 list­ing. Two saf­fron benches bear­ing the name of coun­cil­lor Rad­hika Phogat were also found in the com­plex. This flies in the face of the gov­ern­ment rul­ing. The cit­i­zen char­ter of the de­part­ment of ar­chae­ol­ogy reads, ‘One can­not paint, draw or white­wash any wall in or around the mon­u­ment and can­not spoil or ham­per the orig­i­nal­ity of the mon­u­ment.’

Here are two in­stances of en­croach­ment. One on a pub­lic space used once a week for na­maaz. The sec­ond on a me­dieval qabr for all time to come. In the first case, the state at the high­est level is­sues a po­lite but firm ban. In the sec­ond, the state is­sues a mild query though it has every rea­son to or­der an evic­tion. To me this reads: the state de­crees Mus­lims will nei­ther pray in the open nor will their an­ces­tors’ re­mains rest in peace. Need one say more?

All my life I have worn with equal pride my na­tion­al­ity and re­li­gion. There was no con­flict in my mind; I had pride in be­ing Mus­lim and be­ing In­dian. The first blow came with the de­mo­li­tion of the Babri Masjid, the sec­ond with the 2002 pogrom in Gu­jarat. Each time it hap­pened, af­ter the first death blow there was a slight glim­mer of hope even in the dark­est hours. But at this time, the in­ci­dents are too many, too fre­quent and too bla­tant for hope. To those who have adopted a ha­tred of Mus­lims as their creed, I have noth­ing to of­fer ex­cept my sor­row at how they have emas­cu­lated their own beau­ti­ful re­li­gion. To Mus­lims, I of­fer ad­vice of uni­ver­sal hu­man­ism in the words of the great re­formist poet, Altaf Hu­sain Hali, who was also a Haryanvi. In 1867, he re­minded Mus­lims of the creed of the Prophet of Is­lam:

He gives him no mercy and be­stows no grace/ With the pain of the other whose heart is un­touched/ Whose soul does not other’s dis­as­ter em­brace/ When mis­for­tune strikes, he is cold not dis­traught/ If you love his peo­ple, on this earth who dwell/ Par­adise is for you, He will cher­ish you well.

The state ef­fec­tively de­crees that Mus­lims will nei­ther pray in the open nor will their an­ces­tors’ re­mains rest in peace

Syeda Hameed is a writer and ac­tivist and a for­mer Plan­ning Com­mis­sion mem­ber

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