Building Harmony Through Mosques
In October this year when Guru Ki Maseet, a semi circular three-domed mosque located in Sri Hargobindpur, a bustling town in Gurdaspur district of Punjab state, will be thrown open for prayers, life for Punjabis (the residents of the state) will come a full circle.
Built by Sri Hargobind, the 6th Guru of Sikhs, in early 17th century for the poor Muslim families of the town after he humbled an army of Mughals, the small mosque reflects how different religions blended to create a diverse landscape called India in the past. It showcases how multiple faiths coexisted and flourished under the same roof in perfect harmony till 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan.
Situated a stone’s throw from the mighty Beas river, the mosque was taken over by Tarna Dal (a group claiming allegiance to Guru Sri Hargobind) after the Partition and has since been looked after by a few Nihangs (an armed Sikh order).
A Guru Granth Sahib Prakash (a holy scripture of Sikhs) was placed in the mosque sometime after 1947 and for all purposes it was considered a Gurudwara till 2003 when Punjab state Waqf Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Sikh caretakers of the mosque to restore and open it for prayers by Muslims. With the help of local Sikh, Hindu and Muslim karsevaks (volunteers), the structure was excavated for one year.
Today Gurmeet S Rai, a conservation architect from Delhi, is constructing a separate Gurudwara next to the Mosque so that Guru Granth Sahib Prakash can be shifted there from under the central dome and the Mosque be opened for prayers for Muslims.
“We will complete the construction of the room (where the Sikh scripture will be placed) and a little verandah by October this year. Then the Jehangiri (named after Mughal emperor Jehangir) mosque will be open for prayers,” says Rai. Calling the mosque an ‘amazing milestone’, she said it was an illustration of how different religions coexisted in India before the Partition.
Interestingly, there are only a handful of Gujjars from Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh states who represent Muslim community in Gurdaspur district. There are still fewer of them in Sri Hargobindpur.
Guru Ki Maseet may be the oldest living example of cultural synthesis in India but is certainly not the first mosque which will be handed over to Muslims by Sikh and Hindu families.
According to Mohd Usman Rehmani, chairman of religious affairs in Punjab Waqf Board (PWB), around 100 such mosques have been returned to Muslims in the last few decades. “Many mosques were converted into Gurudwaras or were in a state of disuse after 1947. Over 100 such structures have been restored. Earlier this week, a mosque was handed over to us in Dharampura Bazar of Patiala and another one was given to us in Kapurthala last week,” Rehmani claimed.
Terming the gesture a call against communalism and bigotry, Rehmani said the state wished to send a message of brotherhood to the entire India and the world. He hoped Pakistan, where many temples and Gurudwaras were locked, would restore them to Hindu and Sikh communities.
Citing the instance of Punjab, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman Saani Ludhianvi, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Ludhiana, recently exhorted Hindus and Muslims to resolve Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute in the same spirit.
LA Khan, Deputy Commissioner of Excise and Taxation and former CEO of the PWB, said that the return of mosques was prompted by a realisation among all communities about futility of communal strife. “Terrorism, 1984 anti-Sikh riots and subsequent communal riots which broke out after the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya have brought a perceptible change in inter-community behavior,” Khan claimed.
“In Punjab nobody hates anybody now. Punjabis love Muslims,” Khan’s successor in the PWB Khushi Mohammad endorsed putting the number of new mosques which have been built with help from Sikhs and Hindus in last two years at 25.
Mosques built/renovated by Sikhs and Hindus in last few years:
- Vishwa Gurumat Spiritual Mission, an NGO builds a mosque in Chahar Mazra village in Ropar district.
- Sajjan Singh Ghuman, a NRI based in UK, builds a mosque in Sarwarpur, his native village in Ludhiana district, for local Muslims.
- Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims repair a mosque in Ajitwal village near Moga city.
- Baba Shah Badr Dewan, dargah of a Muslim saint who came to Masanian village in Batala from Baghdad in 10th century, currently under restoration in the supervision of Gurmeet S Rai, is being looked after by local Christians.
- Mosques restored in Dhuri, a town in Sangrur district, and Jhampur village in Fatehgarh district with generous contributions from Hindu and Sikh families.
By Narendra Kaushik from Gurdaspur