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Chandigarh

Posted at: May 17, 2018, 2:42 AM; last updated: May 17, 2018, 2:42 AM (IST)BROAD STROKES

Minus politics, namaz is just prayer

While it is preferable to offer namaz in the mosque, the faithful sometimes do it in the open in the absence of a mosque nearby.
Minus politics, namaz is just prayer

SANDEEP SINHA

The imposing structure of the Jama Masjid in Sector 20 of Chandigarh is not quite visible in its entirety from the roadside. Its airy, sprawling campus — clean and well maintained— located in a primarily residential area, is impressive. It’s not prayer time yet and there are only a handful of visitors who have come to see the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Maulana Ajmal Khan or visit the office of the Wakf Board located in the precincts.

Having grown up reading the stories— Idgah by Munshi Premchand and Subhan Khan by Rambriksh Benipuri – all lessons in communal amity and the fabled Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb— the visit to the mosque has been fuelled by the desire to find out about the hype over namaz being offered in the open.

 “It’s all a political stunt,” says Maulana Ajmal Khan, the Shahi Imam of the mosque. He says namaz is just prayers — prarthana or dua — and lasts barely half an hour. There is nothing much to it. He says namaz is offered by the jamaat (community) in the open mostly in areas where there are no mosques but points out that care should be taken to ensure that no inconvenience is caused to the common man. It should be done in an orderly and peaceful way and hazards like traffic jams should be avoided.

Regarding the recent controversy, the Imam says it is politically motivated. In Gurugram, there are 19-20 mosques that are under illegal occupation (kabza). If they are evacuated, it would help in resolving the problem of namaz being offered in the open there, he says urging the administration to be even-handed in its views as there is a practice even among the Hindus of staging events like Ramlila in the open.

Maulana Ajmal Khan says despite the mosque being located in a residential area, there has been no problem ever with the neighbours who he says, come over to wish on occasions like Eid. “Right now, three persons are sitting with me. Two of them are Hindus and one is a Sikh. What is communal about it,” he asks and goes on to add that religion and caste are factors that are rustled up only when elections are round the corner or political benefits are to be reaped. There are temples nearby and across the road in Sector 19 and amity has always been there.

There are around 40 mosques in Chandigarh that has an estimated Muslim population of 2.5 lakh, an aide of the Imam informs, and there never has been any instance of disaffection. This is mostly because Chandigarh is a city inhabited by the educated who are above sectarian and parochial considerations, he says, pointing out that while it is preferable to offer namaz inside the mosque, the faithful sometimes do it in the open when it’s time for the prayers and no mosque is nearby.

However, he says on occasions like Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha, namaz is offered in the Eidgah, located in the open. Where there is no Eidgah, the prayers are offered in the fields or in the open as zameen (land) is regarded as pak (pure). In Chandigarh, the Eid Ki Namaz is offered at around 15 places. While the crowd on the rest of the days is normal, it surges on Fridays when the Jumme Ki Namaz is offered and for lack of space, some of the faithful offer prayers in the park.

The Shahi Imam says that the coming Friday will mark the beginning of the holy month of Ramzan and the number of faithful who will answer to the call of the muezzin will go up, resulting in the mosque spill-over taking recourse to parks and open spaces to offer prayers.

The aide informs that the Jama Masjid also runs educational institutes—the one in Sector 26 imparts religious education, the madarsa in Sector 45 is till the class 5 or primary level while the one in Mani Majra is till class 8. The expenditure incurred by the mosque is taken care of by the Wakf Board.

I ask Mohammed Mehruddin, the chaiwala near the gate of the Jama Masjid, how long he has been in Chandigarh. “35-36 years,” he says cheerfully upon discovering that both of us are from the same part of the country. “Aise kaise jaoge? Chai toh pi lo, akhir mera bhai aaya hai,” he says.

The subaltern show of bonding was reassuring.  

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