For over a month, there has been a row over Muslims offering Friday namaz at public places identified by the administration. Locals have objected to it on the grounds that these permissions were given without the consent of the people and that public places shouldn’t be used for offering religious prayers. On one hand, Muslims say that they have inadequate space in mosques to offer Friday namaz, hence they should be allotted public places 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 the general public have different views on this matter, a section of media and intellectuals have declared it as 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 the business of identifying spaces for religious gatherings? Should we promote the overall idea of display of religious rituals in public? And what can be the best possible solution to this over occurring phenomena?
Public Display of Religion
India being home to almost all religious groups and offering Constitutional guarantee to anyone to profess their religion, it won’t be plausible to fully ban the display of religion at public places. Festivals like Deepawali, Dussehra, Eid, Muharram, Christmas, which are annually in occurrence can go hand-in-hand in public places as the whole of India celebrates them and people of different faiths can adjust for that matter. These are special days for others. But what about the religious gatherings which are regular in nature, like offering namaz every Friday or Sunday prayer in Christianity or Tuesday prayer for Bhagwan Hanuman in Sanatan Dharma. While Christians and Hindus haven’t shown any special requirement for these prayers to solemnise in a specific place, they can do it at their home too; Muslims have shown the reluctance of doing prayers at home rather they ask for a public place if places in mosques are inadequate. There have been several instances where Muslims can be seen offering prayers on roads, stations, parks and other public places. This has become really a contentious issue not only in India but throughout the world between Muslims vs non-Muslims.
Namaz at Mosque or Public Place?
While for the Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, there is no such necessity to perform their daily prayer at some special places only, 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 Quran doesn’t specify the number of people required in Juma-e-Salah or its requirement to only offer it in Mosque or at some public place, different Muslim scholars have different opinions about the number of people required in congregation. According to Mohammad Al-Hasan Al-Dido, a known Muslim scholar, requirement is of three people. In normal circumstances Juma-e-Salah should be performed in a Mosque in the company of Imam or at any public place. Circumstances like the pandemic rekindle this debate whether it can be done at home also; and scholars have said yes but emphasised the need of a congregation of three people.
In recent days, authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed restrictions on use of loudspeakers in mosques and even lowered the volume. When the same questions are raised in India, especially for morning Azan, Indian Muslims and their representatives simply reject them by saying it is a dictation by Hindutva groups
Popularising Liberal Interpretations
If Juma-e-Salah can be performed at home in congregation of three Muslims as interpreted by Mohammad Al-Hasan Al-Dido, then it needs to reach to common Muslims. This is not limited to Juma-e-Salah only.
Obsession to Blame Others
In recent days, authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed restrictions on use of loudspeakers in mosques and even lowered the volume. When the same questions are raised in India, especially for morning Azan, Indian Muslims and their representatives simply reject them by saying it is a dictation by Hindutva groups. It is not a secret that loudspeaker was not invented in the time of PBUH. Similarly, be it a case of triple talaq, nikah halala or offering namaz of road, Indian Muslims deny every attempt to rethink their actions by claiming it an infringement in their religion by Hindutva groups. Are Muslims not going to introspect anything just because it has been questioned? Apart from Quran and Hadith, humanitarian approach needs to be taken into account.