Rajat Sharma

Muslim namaaz issue: How some people are trying to tarnish India’s image abroad

AKB4On Friday, I watched a report about India on Al Jazeera TV network. The headline said, ‘Muslims barred from Friday prayer sites in India’s Gurgaon’. Al Jazeera is a big news network in the Middle East, with its headquarters in Qatar. I was surprised how a small localized incident in Gurugram near Delhi, is being exaggerated by a foreign news network to say that Indian Muslims have lost their right to offer namaaz prayers.

I sent India TV reporters to Gurugram to find out the cause and extent of this localized incident. Every Friday afternoon, Muslims gather on a government plot in Sector 12A to offer namaaz and leave quietly. Local residents were opposing this. On Friday, some Hindu outfits organized Goverdhan Puja on the same plot of land, and the matter was blown out of proportion. It was reported as if Muslims in India are being persecuted and are not being allowed to offer prayers in public places, which is not so.

The Al Jazeera report said, Muslims were prevented from offering namaaz in Gurugram and pro-Hindu outfits organized a religious event on the land where Muslims used to offer namaaz. The report went on to say the local authorities had earlier allowed Muslims to offer namaaz at 37 public places, but prevented them from doing so at eight public places. The Al Jazeera report had a header titled “Islamophobia”. Clearly, it was an attempt to mislead the world that Muslims in India are not being allowed to offer prayers in public.

The unfortunate part is that this Al Jazeera report was taken up by AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who immediately tweeted: “ Protests against Friday namaz in Gurgaon are a perfect case of how radicalized these “protesters” have become. It’s plain hatred towards Muslims. How’s practising my faith or offering Jumah namaz once a week for 15-20 mins hurting anyone?” Owaisi tagged Al Jazeera in his tweet.

I was surprised how a lawyer like Owaisi put his stamp of approval on Al Jazeera report without going into details. Surprised because Owaisi always takes up cudgels against India haters at international forums. Owaisi criticizes India haters with the same zeal with which he criticizes Narendra Modi. But, what was the ground reality in Gurugram?

In Sector 12A, on Friday, two Hindu outfits Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Samyukta Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, had put up tents on the plot of land owned by HUDA(Haryana Urban Development Authority). A statue of Goverdhan (Lord Krishna) was placed by several hundred Hindu devouts. Muslims decided to gather at another place to offer namaaz in order to maintain peace. Some Muslims even joined the Hindus in distributing ‘prasad’ and the atmosphere was free of tension.

In Sector 47 too, Muslims could not offer namaz because police apprehended breach of peace. While Al Jazeera network highlighted this, it did not mention the fact that on Friday, on nearly 20 plots of government land, Muslims offered Friday prayers in Gurugram. Neither Al Jazeera nor Owaisi highlighted this fact. Some Muslims even offered prayers at an open area in Sector 12 too, but even this fact was overlooked.

Our reporter spoke to local Muslims, who said, earlier Muslims used to offer Friday prayers in more than 100 public places in Gurugram, but in some places, local residents complained to police. After talks between police, RWAs and Muslims, it was decided to allow Muslims to offer Friday prayers at 37 public places in Gurugram. More complaints from residents were received, and finally, Muslims were allowed to offer Friday prayers at 22 public places.

BJP leader Kapil Mishra, however, said, that no written permission was given by authorities to Muslims to offer Friday prayers at 37 public places. He said, written permission was given, only once, during Ramzan in 2018, for a single day, but this was construed by local Muslims as standing permission for offering Friday prayers on government land.

The Gurugram administration, too, confirmed that no written permission was given to Muslims for offering Friday prayers on 22 plots of government land. Officials said, since it was a matter of Friday prayers, once a week, it was decided not to prevent Muslims from offering prayers.

Our reporter spoke to Haji Haris, a local Muslim leader, who said that since the number of Muslims offering Friday prayers has increased it was difficult to accommodate them inside mosques. Moreover, he said, most of those offering Friday prayers were migrant labourers and not local Muslim residents.

Another local Muslim leader Haji Shehzad said that several mosques were now closed because people were tying buffaloes and storing fodder in the compounds. Our reporter spoke to local RWA office bearers, who said, earlier the number was few, in dozens, but later it swelled to several hundreds. This caused traffic obstruction and roads had to be closed. Since most of them were outsiders, it was causing security concern for residents.

I am mentioning in detail a localized issue here because India’s secular image is sought to be tarnished by vested interests abroad. Reports about localized incidents are being unnecessarily exaggerated. On the basis of a single local incident, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi questioned why Muslims are being subject to hate. He and some other leaders are saying why praying for an hour in a public place on Friday every week is being objected to. Muslims are not going to occupy government land, they argue.

Owaisi may be right, but when devouts can pray inside mosques, temples and churches, why this insistence on praying on government land? It is only then that dispute arises. Followers of any religion must not be allowed to pray in public places. Does Owaisi know that Muslims are not allowed to offer prayers in public in Indonesia, Malaysia,Singapore, Tunisia and France? Indonesia has the highest number of Muslim population, but Muslims are not allowed to squat on roads to offer namaaz.

Law should apply equally to followers of all religions. They must not be allowed to occupy public places like roads, parks, public grounds, etc. for offering prayers in whichever religion they may follow. If some people do so, it is the responsibility of police to persuade them not to do so. There is no need for Hindu or Muslim religious leaders to jump into this debate. Goverdhan Puja should not have been allowed to take place on government land. If Muslims violate norms, Hindus have no right to do a similar act in return. The law is equal for all. Small incidents like these cause unnecessary confrontation and ultimately India’s image takes a dent.

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