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Gyanvapi Masjid Matter

ABU DHABI:The recent inauguration of the BAPS temple in Abu Dhabi by Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights an interesting irony. This grand temple stands in the Muslim-majority UAE, where secularization is on the rise. This event comes shortly after the inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in India. While Modi’s government in India blurs the lines between the state and Hindu faith and undermines minority rights, the UAE moves in the opposite direction. The UAE’s secularization, influencing Saudi Arabia as well, is a significant development in the Islamic world. This shift challenges India’s secular values. The UAE has attracted people of various religions and backgrounds to live and work there. Despite Islam being the official religion, the government allows diverse religious practices. Non-Muslims, forming a quarter of the population, have space to worship freely, with many churches, a synagogue, and a gurdwara present. Hindu gatherings and celebrations are also welcomed. The UAE’s tolerance extends beyond religion. Alcohol and pork are available, and Ramadan fasting rules are relaxed. Women have freedom in dress, and discrimination based on religion is rare. These progressive attitudes influence neighboring Saudi Arabia, where Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is spearheading modernization efforts by reducing Islamic influence and cutting support for radical groups worldwide. This trend towards secularization in the UAE and potentially Saudi Arabia marks a significant shift in the Islamic world. For India, reduced Saudi funding for conservative mosques could lead to a return to moderate religious guidance for Indian Muslims. The UAE’s example challenges the Hindu nationalist dream of a Hindu majoritarian state, often compared to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of non-Muslims. Modi, at the temple inauguration, praised the UAE’s diversity, contrasting India’s fading secularism. As Hindu residents in UAE face this contrast, it prompts reflection on India’s trajectory. The writer, a private equity investor, emphasizes the importance of embracing diversity and secular values in both countries.
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‘Supreme Court must act to end pleas seeking to create religious discord.’

The plot, script, narrative, characters, and director of the so-called case of the historic 500-year-old Gyanvapi masjid (Varanasi), Uttar Pradesh, are identical to the Babri masjid event. As another place of worship, the Shahi Eidgah in Mathura has been targeted; there has been a rush of such petitions being filed by disruptive forces.

On May 13, a petition was filed in a local court in Mathura pleading for a video graphic study of the Shahi Eidgah mosque in the vicinity, drawing parallels to the ongoing Gyanvapi mosque issue, which also revolves around a video survey.

The Hindu deity Krishna’s birthplace, Krishna Janmabhoomi, is in Mathura, directly across from the Shahi Eidgah mosque.

In addition to that, on May 12, the Allahabad High Court dismissed a plea seeking a “fact-finding inquiry” into the Taj Mahal’s history as well as the “opening of 22 rooms” on the world’s 7th wonder monument’s grounds, claiming that the petitioner failed to indicate which of his legal or constitutional rights were being violated.

The petitioner’s lawyer, Rajneesh Singh, the BJP’s Ayodhya unit’s media in-charge, was reprimanded by the Lucknow court for registering the PIL in a ‘casual’ manner.’

Hindutva extremists used the services of five women for the first time in the plot of Gyanvapi mosque to file a petition to pray to known and unknown deities within the Masjid, claiming that the Masjid, which was “built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple in 1669”, still contained vital Hindu relics.

In direct contravention of the Places of Worship Act 1991, which specifies that active places of worship take precedence over historical ones, Varanasi Civil Judge Ravi Kumar Diwakar issued guidelines for a video survey investigating the petitioners’ claims and ordered that the investigation begin immediately.

The scheme appears to have been well planned, as the surveyors’ submission was made public before the Court commissioner, probably to sabotage the Supreme Court’s ruling. A shivling a Hindu image depicting a phallus was discovered in the courtyard of the Gyanvapi mosque’s wuzu khana after a cursory check. Wazu khana is a body of water where Muslims perform ablution (a purification before offering the namaz). The civil judge made allegations about his safety and his family’s concerns about his safety while ruling in contempt of the Places of Worship Act.

Anyone familiar with the Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi controversy, which resulted in the iconic mosque’s demolition, communal violence, and a trail of bloodshed, will recognise that any attempt to change the character of places of worship has the goal of using religion for political purposes, retaliating for 1000 years of Muslim rule, and marginalising the country’s second largest religious community.

It’s worth recalling that the Gyanvapi Masjid was initially brought before the court three years ago, and the stay order issued by the Allahabad High Court was ignored. It is highly upsetting and distressing to file a lawsuit against Gyanvapi and then have the courts deliver such decisions.

The local court appears to have taken the survey’s allegations at face value and placed admittance and ablution restrictions on Muslim worshippers before adequately investigating the claims of recovering Shivling from the Masjid pond.

Shortly after the inspection of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi was concluded on May 16, the court ordered the District Magistrate (DM) to seal the place where a ‘Shivling’ was allegedly discovered and prohibit entrance to the area. The Varanasi court decision was prompted by a petitioner who claimed that ‘conclusive evidence’ had been unearthed in the case. On the other hand, the district magistrate indicated that no information on the survey had been released.

The local court raced to order the authorities to seal a portion of the mosque, effectively legalizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and their militant supporters’ Hindutva goals.

Lawyers for the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which oversees the Gyanvapi mosque, dismissed the accusations during the Supreme Court hearing, claiming that the item is not a “shivling” but rather a component of a fountain.

Huzefa Ahmadi, senior counsel for the Intezamia Masjid Committee, contended that the trial court’s orders were “patently without jurisdiction and non-ext.” He continued, citing the Places of Worship Act of 1991, “You cannot meddle with any building of worship existing and where worship has been held as of August 15, 1947.”

Anjuman argues that the case is unconstitutional. In the meantime, the Supreme Court announced that an interim order granted on May 17 to protect the area where a shivling was purportedly discovered would be upheld, and Muslims would be allowed to offer namaaz in the mosque. If no prior arrangements have been made, the court ordered the District Magistrate to make suitable arrangements for Muslims to serve wazu khana before namaaz in the mosque. The Bench refused repeated requests by the Anjuman, represented by senior attorney Huzefa Ahmadi, to “nip in the bud” a series of earlier rulings given by the civil judge, despite the fact that the complex situation required the assistance of a “seasoned” judge such as the District Judge.

According to Ahmadi, the civil judge’s ex parte directives included everything from appointing an advocate committee to conduct a video graphics surveillance of the mosque grounds to closing the premises after the shivling was purportedly detected. Unless reversed, these directions, according to the top lawyer, will “fester.”

They might even make the Places of Worship Act of 1991, which protects the identity of religious places of worship a “dead letter.” “A big police presence has been established, and iron gates have been installed,” Ahmadi stated. The decrees did more than establish a Commission; they also altered a 500-year-old status quo.” According to him, the 1991 Act prohibited the conversion of religious houses of worship and said that as of August 15, 1947, religious places of worship should preserve their nature.

The Act was made to ensure that such disputes over religious sites are avoided and that attempts to modify their existing nature are prohibited.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court shifted the Gyanvapi Masjid case from a civil judge to a district judge in Varanasi, noting the case’s sociological complexity as necessitating a “more senior and experienced judicial officer” at the helm. However, Justice Chandrachud made strange reasoning, claiming that “determining the religious nature of a location is not banned by the Act.” According to Justice Chandrachud, the advocate commissioner’s survey was just a procedural step in determining the religious nature of the location.

Muslim groups enraged

Taking a harsh lesson from the Babri Masjid matter, leading Muslim organizations, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, stated that the orders of the Varanasi court and the Supreme Court were uncommon and went completely against the interests of justice in such a critical and sensitive national issue. “The court appears to be siding with the Hindu groups’ claims about the Masjid, as the Supreme Court upheld the local court’s decision.”

They criticized the court’s decision to close the historic Gyanvapi Mosque’s wazu khana (ablution tank) after the contentious survey team labelled the wazu khana’s foundation as “Shivling.”

Community organizations have plainly stated that Muslims will not allow the degradation of Masajid, that sectarian groups were hell-bent on anarchy, and that the courts have failed oppressed people.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) convened an emergency meeting on May 17 in the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. According to a source, the Board’s legal team would provide all essential help to the Muslim side because the court is hearing the case.

While hate-mongering forces were spreading false propaganda and attacking Muslim holy sites with full force, the federal government, state governments, and political parties that claim to be secular and just were all silent on the issue and were not forthcoming with this false propaganda as they should be. Their position needs to be clarified.

“The Board hopes that secular parties would clarify their position and stand up for the constitution and the country’s secular character, raising a clear and loud voice in the process. The Board believes that the courts are also failing minorities and underprivileged people. As a result, sectarian forces pursuing a path of lawlessness are emboldened”.

Some unscrupulous elements and dishonest media aim to foment discord between the two communities by inflaming religious sensitivities, according to Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind head Maulana Mahmood Madani. He urged Jamiat appeals to all Indians, especially Indian Muslims, to refrain from taking to the streets over the Gyanvapi mosque and avoid all forms of public protest.

Maulana Madani urged Ulama, scholars, and TV debaters to avoid participation in TV debates and discussions on the issue as fierce public debates and social media remarks are not in the community’s interests.

O M A Salam, Chairman of the Popular Front of India, has described the Varanasi court judgment putting new limitations on Muslim worshippers within Gyanvapi Masjid as “one-sided.” He further stated that the order was against the rule of law.

“It is apparent that the Supreme Court is not dedicated to preserving the Places of Worship Act, 1991, as seen by its recent decision to transfer the matter to the Varanasi District Judge and the observations made therein. The Supreme Court’s reluctance to halt the survey and its failure to dismiss the Varanasi Court proceedings indicate this. He pointed out that the Apex Court’s approval of the limits imposed on Muslims entering the Wazu Khana amounted to “approving the first step of encroachment,” said Salam.

Secular parties not confronting sectarian forces

Despite all these dangerous developments, the silence of the opposition parties, especially the Congress party, during whose tenure the Places of Worship Act, 1991 was passed, is highly questionable. Except for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), all other political parties have kept mute on the issue, including the main opposition Congress, allowing the Hindutva narrative to flourish.

While speaking Islamic Voice, CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury expressed grave concern about the District Court of Varanasi’s ill-considered decision to allow videography under its supervision within the premises of the Gyanvapi Mosque, which has resulted in a situation where communal forces can exploit.

He said the Supreme Court has now interfered in the case, and the CPI (M) asks that extreme caution be exercised and that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 be followed in letter and spirit.,

Congress offered a muted response. Former law and justice minister Salman Khurshid said at a news conference in Udaipur that these are Hindutva elements’ diversionary attempts to shift public attention away from the BJP-led government’s disastrous failures on all fronts when asked by this correspondent.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer Ravindar Kumar told Islamic Voice that Justice PS Narsimha should have been rescued from the case. The whole world knows that he was one of the attorneys for the Ram Janambhoomi Niyas in the Ayodhya case.

Muslim groups warned that the judiciary’s stance would wreak havoc on the country’s communal harmony, and this should concern everybody who cares about justice and communal peace. They said the Supreme Court should act to put an end to pleas that seek to convert Muslim places of worship into ‘dispute sites.’