POV: WHEN THERE’S NO SPACE TO PRAY
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