There have been several instances where Muslims can be seen offering prayers on roads, stations, parks and other public places if there is no mosque available and has become a contentious issue in India and throughout the world between Muslims vs Non-Muslims.
There has been a row over Muslims offering Friday namaz at public places identified by the administration for over a month. Locals and right-wing groups have objected to it because these permissions were given without the people's consent, and public places shouldn't be used for offering religious prayers.
While on the other hand, Muslims say that they have an inadequate place in Mosque to offer Friday namaz. Hence, they should be allotted placed for it. Since the resentment began, namaz sites have been reduced to half, and the administration has appointed a committee to look for other space. While public has different views on this matter, a section of media and intellectuals have declared it a case of right-wing infringement on the lives of Muslims and blamed politicians for making it a communal issue.
I have different views on this ongoing matter. Rather, I have some questions to ask. Should the administration be in business to identify spaces for religious gatherings that are regular in occurrence? Should we promote the overall idea of displaying religious rituals in public? And what can be the best possible solution to this occurring phenomenon?
Public display of religious things
India is a home for almost all religious groups and has a constitutional guarantee for anyone to profess their religion, and it won't be plausible to ban the display of religion in public places completely. Festivals like Deepawali, Dushehra, Eid, Muharram, Christmas, which are annual in occurrence, can go hand in public places as the whole of India celebrates them, and people of different faith can adjust for the matter. These are special days for others. But what about the religious gathering, which is regular, like offering namaz every Friday or Friday prayer in Christianity or Tuesday prayer for God Hanuman in Hinduism?
While the Christians and Hindus have shown no special requirement for these prayers to happen in a specific place, they can do it at home, too. Muslims have shown reluctance to do prayers at home. Rather, they ask for a public place if mosques are inadequate. There have been several instances where Muslims can be seen offering prayers on roads, stations, parks and other public places if there is no mosque available. This has become a contentious issue in India and throughout the world between Muslims vs Non-Muslims. Here we once again come to the question- Is it necessary for Muslims to offer Friday prayer in mosques or public places? And whether they should be allowed to do the same?
The necessity of Friday namaz at Mosque or public places
While for the Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, there is no such necessity to perform their daily prayer at some special places. But for Muslims, Juma-e-salah (Friday prayer) needs to be performed in a mosque or in some public places among the congregation of believers. While the Holy Quran doesn't say about the number of people required in Juma-e-salah or its requirement to offer it in mosques or some public place, different Muslim scholars have different opinions about the number of people required in the congregation.
According to Mohammad Al-Hasan Al-Dido, a leading Muslim scholar, three people are required. In normal circumstances, Juma-e-Salah should be performed in a mosque in the company of Imam or any public place. Circumstances like the corona pandemic also rekindle this debate on whether it can be done at home. Scholars have said yes but emphasized the need for a congregation of 3 people. While the details mentioned about Friday prayer are circulating among scholars, general Muslims believe that Friday prayer can't be offered at home. This makes it necessary for Muslims to search a public place when there is no mosque or place in Mosque available.
Interpretation of Quran and its verses
The Holy Quran is in the form of commandments for what Muslims should do or shouldn't do. While Hadith by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) includes questions and answers. There are chances that some questions that are relevant today (Like Juma-e-Salah) weren't asked by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Some relevant questions today might not have been relevant in those days when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) walked on earth. It is now on the Muslim scholars to interpret them. They can take a liberal view according to the situation. While I am not an expert on Islam, one thing I understand is that the relation between God/Allah/Jesus (Whatever you name it) and his followers is very personal. If there are genuine reasons not to be in Mosque and objections to public places, what can be the liberal interpretation of the situation?
Liberal interpretations and their reach to common Muslims
If Juma-e-Salah can be performed at home in a congregation of 3 Muslims, as interpreted by Mohammad Al-Hasan Al-Dido, a leading Muslim scholar, it needs to reach common Muslims. This is not limited to Juma-e-Salah. The Blasphemy cases where Muslims want to kill the person accused of Blasphemy when the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself had forgiven the woman who had insulted him don't make any sense. A literal understanding of the life and saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) indicates that he was a liberal man and did change conditions according to the situation. At the hands of Muslim scholars, they usher the society in matters that were not explicable presented to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for his views. One can only wonder if Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would have insisted on the need for a congregation for Juma-e-Salah in a situation like this.
Indian Muslims and their obsession with shifting blame toward Right-wing Hindu Groups
In recent days, authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed restrictions on loudspeakers in mosques. When the same questions are raised in India, especially for Morning Azan, Indian Muslims and their representative reject it by saying it is a dictation by Right Wing Hindu Groups. It is not a secret that loudspeakers were not invented in Prophet Muhammad's time (PBUH). Similarly, be it a case of Triple talaq, nikah halala or offering namaz on the road, Indian Muslims deny every attempt to rethink their actions by claiming it an infringement in their religion by Right Wing Hindu group. Are Muslims not going to introspect anything just because Hindu groups have questioned it? Will they ever seek to justify their actions according to liberal, modern society?
Need for a more liberal approach
Muslims can't claim that they have only one sort of view, as there are various schools of philosophy in Islam. For example, Sufism is a liberal approach of Islam from music to dance, from praising other gods to celebrating diversity. Liberal views can be taken in other aspects too. The way different Muslim nations have banned the triple talaq shows that the way forward is possible within the interpretation of the Holy Quran itself. It is also from the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he saw on a cold, windy and rainy night, he ordered mu'adhin (caller to prayer) to Pray in your homes, instead of hastening to prayer. A liberal interpretation can be made about offering Friday prayer at home.
Apart from the Quran and Hadith, the humanitarian approach can also be considered as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had shown the way. While Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) didn't sanction LGBTQ people and had shown his contempt toward them, he didn't order to kill them. He said, 'LGBTQ should be left alone'. If one sees the time and culture at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), this could be seen as a humanitarian approach, as Quran says nothing clearly about the punishment be given to LGBTQ people. My point is that the liberal approach is possible within Islam and Islamic Scholars need to make way for the liberal interpretations and their reach to followers of Islam.