New Delhi: At a time when many parts of the country particularly those that have been governed by the BJP have been plagued by communal conflict and enmity, Punjab is serving as an example of communal harmony and fraternity. In contrast to Hindutva forces’ attacks on mosques and churches in the rest of the country, Sikhs and Hindus from both communities are cooperating to restore abandoned or illegally possessed mosques in Punjab. The state was in the grip of a communal frenzy at the time of partition. Every other day, news comes from Punjab about the renovation of an old mosque or the construction of new ones.
Since the beginning of the 1980s, when militancy broke out in Punjab, hundreds of mosques that had been abandoned due to the migration of Muslims from this region of Punjab to Pakistan have been restored.
Recently, a mosque was constructed at Khanan Khurd village in Muktsar district by Sikhs and Hindus for the sake of Muslims living there. The village’s Sikhs and Hindus raised money for the mosque’s construction. Every villager turned out for the mosque’s opening ceremony and watched Muslims perform namaz there.
The Punjab Waqf Board had allotted a modest plot of land for the mosque’s construction in the village, but the five Muslim families found it difficult to raise the money for construction.
Mahendra Singh, a local of Khanan Khurd, said that Muslims were unable to build a mosque on their own. He added that the first namaz the Muslims held at the mosque was a jubilant experience for everyone in attendance.
When Shahi Imam Mohammad Usman Rahmani of Punjab visited the village, he expressed gratitude for the courtesy the non-Muslim villagers had extended to their Muslim neighbours.
Similarly, a Sikh family from Bakhtgarh village in the Barnala district donated a piece of land in December of last year so that 15 Muslim houses in the village could build a mosque.
In Moga district’s village of Machike, where an old mosque had been demolished to make room for a roadway and was later restored with funding from Hindus and Sikhs.
In Barnala district’s Kutba Bahmania village, a mosque was rebuilt by the Sikh community after being abandoned during the partition in 1947. The Sikh community handed it over to Muslims in the area. The mosque has been closed for the last 76 years. Its building shares boundaries with a gurudwara. It was a historical place, and during the partition, most of the Muslims from here moved to Pakistan.
A few Muslim families, who moved to this village, spoke with the gurudwara management committee about reopening the mosque.
We are pleased that all the villagers have banded together to restore the mosque, said Charanjit Singh, a villager who participated in the reconstruction.
An elderly villager, Swaran Singh said that the mosque has never been attacked by other communities since the partition. By restoring the mosque, the people, according to him, have promoted intercommunal harmony.
Village Sarpanch Buta Singh claimed that both communities coexist in this village. They made the decision to repair the mosque because of its outdated and crumbling structure. For this purpose, money was raised. Every villager helped with the repairs. Muslims were given control of the restored mosque, Buta Singh said.
In Bhoolar village, Moga district, a new mosque was built. The village has seven gurdwaras and two temples, but no mosque.
“There was a mosque before Partition in 1947, but its structure turned to ruins with time. We have four Muslim families in the village that chose to stay back,” said the village sarpanch, Pala Singh, as reported by The Indian Express.
The village of Bakhtgarh is now constructing its first mosque. Amandeep Singh, a resident of the village who donated 250 square yards of his field, said this was being done to help the Muslim families, who must travel five kilometres to pray.
Under the name Noorani Masjid, he has the land registered with the Tehsildar’s office. Hindus and Sikhs have also contributed to the construction’s cost of Rs 12 lakh.
The village does not have a mosque, but it does have two gurdwaras and a dera. According to Singh, reported by The Times of India, “Its Muslim families travel to the nearby village for prayers, so my family gave them land for a mosque and will also contribute to its construction.”
The project manager, Moti Khan, stated, “We owe the Sikh family and many others who have supported us. We ask for a similar brotherhood elsewhere for societal harmony”.
In Barnala district’s Moom village, which is close to Ludhiana Brahmins and Sikhs have joined hands to build a mosque for their Muslim neighbours.
Sikhs make up the majority of the 4,000 residents of the 300-year-old village, while the numbers for the Muslim and Hindu population is at 400 each.
The Sikhs have supplied the money needed to build the mosque, while the Brahmins have donated the land on which the mosque was built.
Besides this, Sikhs and Hindus also took care of abandoned mosques after Muslims left this part of Punjab at the time of Partition. It said that religion is not something that divides people. For example, in Hedon Bet village near Ludhiana, 54-year-old Sikh Prem Singh has been taking care of the century-old mosque.
“This isn’t the only such mosque in Punjab. Across the state, several mosques are being taken care of by Hindus and Sikhs,” said Tayyeb Hasan Falahi, who is retired as the education and development officer of the Punjab Waqf Board.
The Punjab Waqf Board has also played an important role in the restoration of Muslim places of worship since its inception when it was earlier a combined board of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Chandigarh. Tayyeb Falahi was also deeply involved in the drive for restoration and had visited every corner of Punjab.
He told Islamic Voice that hundreds of mosques that had been abandoned or taken over by hostile parties had been rehabilitated with the aid of Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab countryside over the last two decades, serving as models of interfaith harmony.
“Before 1990, the Waqf Board was issuing licenses to individuals to keep the mosques and dargahs across Punjab functional. But a fatwa was issued saying that licenses could not be given to run mosques. After that, hundreds of mosques became abandoned overnight,” said Falahi.
The Waqf lists over a thousand mosques and 61 dargahs on its land across the state.
“At the moment, many of these mosques are not under the Waqf Board’s supervision. These are taken care of by Muslim families, if there are any, in the village, “he said.
Unfortunately, he said, other mosques have been usurped, and in some cases, the people use them as stables or storage facilities.
He claimed that the Punjab Waqf had carried out a survey that identified 200 to 250 mosques that required repair and that a sum of Rs 5 crore had also been set aside, but the project fizzled out because the then-administrator Shaukat Ahmad Tare was transferred.
There is a very cordial atmosphere prevailing in the state because of this; new mosques are being built and old ones are being restored, the former Punjab Waqf official said.
Echoing similar observations, former Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Punjab Abdul Shakoor said Muslims make up about 2% of the overall population of Punjab, and they overcame their fear mentality, especially the generation born after the partition, which has no longer experienced any fears.
Speaking with Islamic Voice, he said Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Punjab gave top priority to restoring abandoned mosques and developing good relations between Sikh and Hindu communities. In the past few years, more than 165 mosques have been restored in Punjab, he added.
After the partition, Qadianis got active and erected mosques for Muslims in numerous locations, but we chased them out and constructed other mosques, he claimed, adding that Tablighi Jamaat also contributed to the level of religious consciousness among the local Muslim population.
It is to be noted that Qadianis have their headquarters in Qadian town in Pathankot district and they run all their worldwide activities from here.
Punjab has unquestionably set an example for the rest of India by building and renovating mosques, particularly in light of the hardline Hindutva groups’ attempts to sway public opinion by claiming that some older mosques were built after destroying temples.