India mosque prayer ban

India’s assault on Muslim holy sites continues, with a court recently restricting prayers at the historic Gyanvapi Mosque in Varansi. The reasoning given is to research a claim that a Hindu temple was razed to make wake for the 17th-century mosque. The slim evidence provided is the recovery of relics relating to the Hindu god Shiva from the mosque complex. Given Varansi’s history as Hinduism’s holiest city, it is not uncommon to find artifacts left behind by pilgrims during centuries past. It is just a matter of how deep you dig. However, the claim does tie up nicely with the false claims made for several years by Indian PM Narendra Modi, his BJP, and several affiliated extremist Hindutva groups about several Muslim holy sites as they seek legal cover for their violent bigotry. While the Babri Masjid situation remains the most prominent in recent history, such claims and attacks have gone on for decades, although they have noticeably accelerated significantly since Modi came to power.

The irony is that most historians agree that there probably wasn’t a temple in the area to begin with. Reliable medieval texts, as opposed to oral histories, make no mention of the temple but do refer to lingams — sculptures or icons representing the Hindu god Shiva — in the area. However, the same texts also do not attach any unique significance or historical importance to the lingams. Several texts also suggest that the mosque complex and surrounding areas were of little importance to Hindus until, ironically, the Mughal era, when Brahminical activism and Mughals patronage led to it being treated as a sacred area. In fact, the architecture of a temple adjacent to the mosque offers clear evidence of Mughal patronage, especially when compared to several genuinely historical Hindu temples in the city. But the Modi government probably knows the truth and just doesn’t care — unlike its refusal to accept equally outrageous extremist demands to raze the Taj Mahal because they falsely believe there is a temple under it, the Gyanvapi Mosque is not a magnet for international tourism.


Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2022.

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