A religious edifice is built for prayer purposes. It is not built for historical reasons; it is not a picnic spot for tourists. It is immaterial if it was built today or a thousand years ago. There might be some undercurrents, some new ideologies and burgeoning religio-commercial cults that entertain those visitations and tours. They consider the tourists helpful to disseminate and profligate the message of their faiths, tenets and themes. Islam has very clear concept of the past, present and future of a mosque. Once it is a mosque, it is always a mosque.
In this back ground it is painful to note that there are nearly 600 mosques all over the country where Muslims cannot pray because they are officially regarded as historical monuments. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) doesn’t any prayers in these mosques as it is compulsory and obligatory in Islam. ASI wants to preserve history with the annulment of intended practice – the reason why the mosque was founded. It is weird logic indeed ! India is a social secular democratic republic. We all have equal rights. Why doesn’t the ASI apply the same logic and rules to the places of worship of other communities ? It is interesting to note that around 50 such mosques are situated in Delhi alone where Muslims are not allowed to pray. Notables among them are 17th century mosques at Red Fort, one across the road near Jama Masjid, in the Safdarjung Tomb, in Lodi Garden, Quwwat-ul-Islam at the Qutub Minar complex, Khairul Manzil mosque opposite old fort, one near Wazirabad Bridge, inside the Delhi Golf club Ground, one near Ferozshah Kotla Ground and others.
Often the Muslims have shown some audacity to pray at some of these places - the police had slapped cases against the organizers and Ulemas. Needless to say that a mosque is better preserved not only in spiritual form but in physical glory if it is taken care by those who pray there. Indifferent and ignorant care-takers are expected to damage rather than preserve the physical or spiritual sanctity of the place. The founder of the mosques had never expressed any intention, written or otherwise, for ASI to preserve them.
It is ironic while those who want to maintain and preserve are not allowed and all the while the ASI officials admit they don’t have the resources to protect and preserve all the mosques in their custody. How pathetic it was for me to watch once a group of drunk destitutes dancing at the pulpit of Sher-Shah mosque at Purana Qilla. There was no one to stop that desecration. People enter these places with their shoes – making a mockery of equality of respect of all the faiths.
A ribald out-fit would issue a hunt warrant against me if I produced a comparable list of ancient temples where prayers are held even today - where the concepts of preservation and protection of history is comfortably ignored. So, let me talk here about some ancient churches around the world where prayers are regularly held :
Church Of Nativity: Among the earliest Byzantine churches - it is thought to have been built by Roman Emperor Constantine in 326 AD.
Canterbury Cathedral: One of the England’s most famous Cathedral – dates back to 6 th century AD.
San Clemente: A beautiful 12 the century Basilica in Rome. It has a rich history as its sits atop the 3rd century Temple Of Mithras.
Way back in 1987, when I was a student in London, I attended the convocation of London University. Morning Programs were officiated at the Royal Albert Hall and in the evening we participated in prayers at Westminster Abbey, one of the most loved and revered seat of Christianity. Princess Anne, as chancellor of the Alma mater presided over both the places.
Back home on the other hand, you can see for yourselves, at every street corner of Delhi, how the real estate is grabbed in the name of dharma (religion) and “pracheen” (antiquity). I was shocked to see a small temple coming up adjacent to a royal tomb in Mehrauli, inside a public park overlooking Qutub Minar, which is under the strict vigilance of ASI - How can this be possible ? Soon a “pracheen” board(antique) will be placed there (implying it can no longer be demolished) and then a few would declare that this our “ASTHA” (our belief) and the temple will be fully justified and the land grabbed in the name of religion and history.
So much for the ASI and its responsibilities towards conservation.