Friday, 18 March 2022, was an auspicious day for Muslims and Hindus, as the two communities celebrated Juma, Shab-e-Baraat and Holi. However, a group of Muslims who arrived at Lal Gumbad, locally known as the Panchsheel Enclave Purani Masjid, for the weekly congregational prayers were stopped by Delhi Police officials from offering prayers at the mosque.
The 500-year-old mosque is a protected monument under the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).
Speaking to Maktoob, Niyaz Ahmad, 50, Imam of the Lal Gumbad mosque said: “I have been living here since the 1980s and started Imamat in the 2000s in this mosque. Something like this has never happened before.”
“It is for the first time that Friday prayers were stopped in the last forty years,” Ahmed lamented. He says the police gave no reasons for the sudden action.
“I thought that maybe it is because of Holi so that no one throws colour at the mosque. I told them that the situation here is peaceful and that there is nothing to be worried about. Every five years or so, Holi and Juma fall on the same day, but never before, were prayers stopped.”
A 13-year-old student of Madarsa Zinatul Quran, some 200 yards away from Lal Gumbad mosque said, “We came to offer prayers but the police did not allow us entry into the mosque. They told us to go somewhere else.”
Danish, a resident of Panchsheel Enclave, told Maktoob that an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) and some 4-5 other police officials held the gate of the mosque. They came and told the namazis (people who pray) that they had ordered that no Friday prayer would take place in the mosque.
According to Danish, around 200 people pray at the Lal Gumbad mosque on Fridays.
“I have been coming to this mosque since I was a child. That day, after being told not to pray here, I could not find anywhere to pray Juma.”
According to Ahmad, the police told them to offer Friday prayers on 18 March at a different location. He alleged that he was not shown a written order by the police stating the reason for not allowing Friday prayers in the Lal Gumbad mosque.
Ahmad asked for a non-official verbal reason, but still, the police refused to answer.
The occupants of the mosque fought a protracted legal battle from 2002 to 2006 over the occupancy of the mosque after the residents’ welfare association of Panchsheel Enclave A block filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for the clearing of illegal additions to the monument and its surroundings.
On March 15, 2006, the ASI acting on the orders of the Delhi High Court demolished illegal additions made to the monument. According to Ahmed, the mosque was earlier under the care of the Delhi Waqf Board.
Maktoob tried to reach out to Mehfooz Mohammad, section officer with Delhi Waqf Board several times over the phone but received no response.
Maktoob visited Nilli Masjid, a Lodi-era mosque in the Hauz Khas area where Muslims were denied permission by the police administration to offer Friday prayers on March 18. This mosque also comes under the protection of the Archeological Survey of India.
Mohammad Khalid, caretaker of the Nilli Masjid told Maktoob Media that it was unprecedented.
“I asked the police officer for the reason for not allowing Juma namaz. He told me that there are 16 mosques where Juma namaz would not be allowed. I then asked him for a copy of the list and order. He refused to provide the same,” claims Khalid.
Khalid is sceptical and believes that the administration is trying to reprise the incidents that happened in Gurgaon — obstructing Friday prayer. He told that the police inquired about the location of Mohammadi Masjid, some 900 meters away from Nilli Masjid.
They also inquired about the Eidgah in Hauz Khas area near Chor Minar built by Mallu Khan during the reign of Nashuddin Mahmud Tughlaq. In both the mosques, namaz is now disallowed.
Maktoob visited the locality of Shahpur Jat, an urban village populated by Jats, Valmikis and economically-weaker Muslims, the majority belonging to the labour class, located one kilometre away from the mosque.
The Muslims of this locality offer prayers at the mosques and told us that they were “displeased” with the decision of the police administration to not allow Friday prayers there.
Some residents believed that the decision may have been taken by the police administration to maintain peace and amity as Holi also fell on the same date.
“Holi celebrations may be the reason”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a resident said, “If they [the police] did it in view of Holi, they could have just asked the mosque authority to alter the timings of Juma namaz. There was no need to close the mosque entirely for that day.”
On 18 March, in view of the advisory issued by Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali of the Islamic Centre of India, 22 mosques in Lucknow altered their timings of Juma namaz. Urging Muslims to exercise caution on the day, the advisory released by ICI asked Muslim men to offer Friday prayers at their neighbourhood mosques only.
Speaking to Maktoob, Kaleemul Hafeez, president of AIMIM Delhi State, said, “Barring Muslims from offering Juma congregational prayers is not only an attack on our fundamental rights but is clear oppression. It is problematic and wrong on the part of the Delhi Police that they did not show any written order to the mosque authorities.”
“Delhi Police has to give an answer as to who has given them the order to stop Friday prayers in 16 mosques of Delhi. Is it Amit Shah or Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi Police has to give answers,” he added.
Maktoob reached out to Misbah Noorie, conservation assistant at Archeological Survey of India. He said, “ASI issued no such order for disallowing Friday prayers on March 18. The SHO of Hauz Khas called me and I had told him to at least allow 5 people to pray. He had agreed to it.”
We further inquired about the reason Delhi Police gave for stopping the prayer, he responded, “I don’t know the reason. Maybe, there were some security concerns. He said they received some inputs.”
Maktoob contacted Shivani Malik, SHO of Hauz Khas Police Station but the call was answered by Inspector Rohit Kumar.
Responding to our questions, he said, “We are not aware of the incident. Please, reach out to officials at senior level.”
We tried reaching out to Benita Mary Jaiker, DCP South Delhi several times over a phone call but received no response.
Arbab Ali is an independent journalist based in Delhi.