Close the Ayodhya chapter: Muslims should build ‘mosque of knowledge’

The judgment termed the razing of the Babri Masjid in 1992 as illegal. The case is still pending in the courts and, hopefully, notice will be taken of the Supreme Court stricture and deserved  punishments will be awarded, writes  Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (retd) for South Asia Monitor
By Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (retd)

By Lt Gen Zameer Uddin Shah (retd)NOV 13, 2019

The Indian Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict of November 9, awarding 2.77 acres of disputed land to deity ‘Ram Lalla’ did not surprise me at all. The writing was always on the wall. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board should have had the sagacity to foresee that court decisions and public opinion are generally co-related. Courts will mirror the public ideological mood.

A court that is not responsive to majority opinion would stand to lose legitimacy and trigger social disorder which would detract from its social responsibility to the nation. The RSS, with their ear to the ground, during a meeting with Muslim intellectuals on November 6, accepted that it would abide by the Supreme Court verdict. I pointedly questioned Dr Krishna Gopal on this. He replied emphatically, twice, that they would. The RSS had, earlier, never confirmed that they would accept a Court verdict. Their affirmation only confirms my view that they had appreciated which direction the wind was blowing.

 Conversion of places of worship have generally followed victories after a battle or after social revolutions, seldom in peacetime. The Muslim community triggered a social revolution, ‘The Ram Janambhoomi Movement,’ by not accepting the ‘request’ to bequeath the Babri Masjid land to the majority community in exchange of an offer of removing the Masjid brick by brick and rebuilding it at a suitable alternative site. This gesture would have created immense goodwill and would have punctured attempts at polarisation of the two communities. Unfortunately, the rigid stance of intellectuals of the Muslim community added fuel to the fire which led to the demolition on December 6, 1992 and, ultimately, resulted in the change of the political map of India.

I need not go into the intricacies of the judgement but, as a compensatory gesture (or sop) to the Muslims, it has been ruled that five acres be allotted, at a prominent location in Ayodhya, to the Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque with associated facilities. No time frame has been specified, which can stretch to infinity. There are already several mosques in Ayodhya where there are no worshippers. If the Sunni Waqf Board decides to accept the offer it would be better to establish an educational institution instead. We need ‘Mosques of  Knowledge’. There is already a surfeit of places of worship, under-utilized, uncared for and now decrepit. 

The judgement termed the razing of the Babri Masjid in 1992 as illegal. The case is still pending in the courts and, hopefully, notice will be taken of the Supreme Court stricture and deserved  punishments will be awarded; not the nominal punishment of one  day’s imprisonment and a fine of INR 2000/- imposed on then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, who was subsequently rewarded with a gubernatorial appointment.

Another disappointing feature of the judgement was the nine-page reference (Pages 116-125) to the ‘Places of Worship (Special Provisions)’ which prohibits ‘conversion of any place of worship….. as it existed on 15 August 1947’. The  Ram Janambhoomi/ Babri Masjid is specifically excluded from the ambit of the Act. I had expected that, as a gesture of reassurance, the Supreme Court would add teeth to the Act.

Punishment of only three months’ imprisonment and a penalty (unspecified) for violators is not deterrence enough for such dastardly acts to be repeated in future. The victory of faith over facts may ignite disputes over other mosques too. I think the nation has had enough blood-letting on places of worship and the chapter needs to be closed once and for all time.

Prior to the judgement, Muslim organisations agreed to abide by the judicial verdict and the demand for a judicial review is misplaced. It will only keep the communal cauldron on the boil with the Muslims being further singed. I may not be as well versed in theology as other learned men of the Muslim community, but I am a rationalist and have seen terrible riots and blood-letting and do not want another drop of bloodshed in the name of religion. 

(The writer is a former Deputy Chief of Staff of Indian Army and vice-chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University)

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