Standing near a mosque in Tehri Bazaar, a few kilometres away from the grand temple under construction in Ayodhya, a group of bearded men wearing skull caps have just returned from their Friday prayers. They are discussing the upcoming consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir, and the proposed mosque invariably comes up in discussion.
“We don’t have any negative feelings towards the temple, but we are unhappy because the work on the proposed mosque has not even started. While the Hindus will celebrate Diwali on the day of the event, we Muslims have decided to stay indoors,” said 55-year-old Sageer Ahmad, who lives in the nearby Panjitola Mohalla.
Another man boasts of his mohalla being an epitome of “Hindu-Muslim unity” and says, “We do not fear the local Hindus. They live with us in peace and harmony, but outsiders may cause trouble.” Like several other Muslims in Ayodhya, he plans to remain indoors on January 22.
Security officials are on their toes. Mohammad Zakir, the caretaker of Ayodhya’s Hazrat Sheesh Dargah, told Frontline that the annual Urs (celebration) has been delayed by over a month because of “possible tension” since the dates clashed with the consecration event.
A mosque mostly on paper
The 2019 Supreme Court verdict paved the way for the construction of the temple on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, but the court also directed that a “suitable” five acres in a “prominent place” be given to the Sunni Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh for the construction of a mosque.
In the same order, the apex court had particularly asked the government, both at the Centre and the State, to facilitate the construction of the mosque simultaneously with the temple. Yet, while Ayodhya prepares for the grand consecration of the Hindu temple, the proposed Muhammed bin Abdullah Masjid (mosque) of Ayodhya exists only as a blueprint.
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The site is roughly 25 kilometres away from the heart of Ayodhya, on the dusty plains of Dhannipur. Here, a stark silence reigns. The promised mosque waits to be built. There is no fanfare around it. No big projects have been announced around it. The work has not even begun. The full funds are still to be raised.
Abdul Majeed, 60, runs a small sweet shop near the site and believes the construction of a mosque here will be followed by development and better employment prospects for the villagers.
Raja, 22, who also lives in Dhannipur, says his “unemployment days” might come to an end. He, like others in the adjoining villages of Dhannipur and Raunahi whose inhabitants are mostly engaged in daily wage work, is pinning their hopes on the possibility of prosperity coming with a mosque. “Sabka saath sabka vikaas ki baat karte hain. Ayodhya me development ki Ganga beh rahi hai, yahan kyun nahi?” (They talk about everyone’s development. While a river of development is flowing in Ayodhya, why not in Dhannipur?) Raja asked.
“Everyone in our village was overjoyed when we got to know that the land for the mosque was allocated here. But so far, it has not given us anything,” said another local. Sohrab, another local, pointed out that most of them work as labourers and migrate in search of work.
Property rates in Dhannipur and adjoining areas are also expected to go up. Sohrab Khan, a resident of Dhannipur told Frontline that property rates in the area have already gone up by ten times. “Earlier, prices were Rs.100-500 a square feet, which has gone up to Rs.3,500-4,000 a square feet,” he said.
The people here are also hopeful about the hospital being planned on the allocated land. The nearest hospital is in Faizabad, about 30-45 minutes away. Dhannipur’s population is 2,500 and Raunahi’s population is 12,000. Muslims make up the majority in both villages combined. There are no government schools, only small madrasas and private schools. There is no primary health centre either in the two villages, which are separated by a road.
The land now allocated for the mosque was previously used for farming and an annual festival or Urs of Hazrat Gada Shah, locally known as Sharda Baba. The dargah, which will remain as it is, is said to be hundreds of years old, and it brings some money to local shopkeepers and vendors. The villagers came together for its renovation a few years back.
At present, the land is used as a playground by children, for the yearly Urs Mela, and other small events. A defunct map of the mosque adorns the board at the gate of the mazaar, but there is no mosque in sight.
The local theory is that Faizabad district was renamed Ayodhya before the judgment to justify giving the land in Dhannipur for the mosque. “We cannot say the land was not given in Ayodhya, even though it is far from there, because it is all Ayodhya now,” Sohrab Khan said.
The Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF), tasked with building the mosque in Dhannipur village, recently changed its strategy. The foundation has struggled to raise even Rs.50 lakh for the new mosque. Potential reasons for limited donations? Lingering anxieties, economic conditions of Muslims, and concerns about the project’s future. There are no political interventions to sort out bureaucratic bottlenecks.
There are administrative hurdles as well. “More than four years have passed since the court order, and efforts have been consistently hampered by administrative delays. While we acknowledge that we cannot compete with the construction of the Ram temple, the challenges we now face were not anticipated,” a senior Sunni Waqf Board member told Frontline. If there is no progress, it will cause the Muslim community to lose morale and feel left out, he said. “The fund-raising has been stopped because of the hurdles posed in the way of its construction,” he said.
In May 2023, the IICF was planning to request the Uttar Pradesh government for a full waiver of the development charges, apparently amounting to Rs.10 crore in labour cess and development tax, from the Ayodhya Development Authority (ADA) to secure plan approval.
Haji Arafat Shaikh, the new head of the mosque development committee, appointed in November 2023, is a BJP leader from Maharashtra. He came forward with a new plan to attract funds for the mosque. This will make use of the IICF’s website, to be launched by March, for receiving donations, which can be done through a QR code.
It is expected that the new fundraising campaign will push the project. The plan is to advertise the mosque project in a manner that everyone who comes to see the Ram temple will also visit the mosque. Now that the new head is connected to the BJP, locals expect some progress.
The mosque will have a new design following objections from the community about the previous “contemporary” style of the mosque. Zufar Ahmad Faruqi, Uttar Pradesh Chairman of the Sunni Waqf Board, said, while unveiling the new design in Mumbai last year, “The community had reservations with the previous design. People told us that our mosque wasn’t looking like a mosque. This is when we decided to change the design.”
Earlier, the plan, by Prof. S.M. Akhtar, the founder dean of the faculty of architecture at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, had included a hospital, a community kitchen, a library, and a research centre dedicated to Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, who took part in the 1857 war of independence. All this was to come up in an area of 4,500 square metres.
Now, the aim of the new design, prepared by a Pune-based architect, Imran Shaikh, is to build one of the biggest mosques in India, “better than the Taj Mahal”. It will also be the first mosque in India to have five minars. Expressing his disapproval of the earlier design, Haji Arafat Sheikh said that it did not look like a mosque. The new, zero-carbon-footprint design is in the works and is likely to be completed by the end of February. The mosque construction will begin after Ramzan in 2024.
While the hospital and community kitchen will be retained, other features have been introduced, including a water-and-light show in sync with the azan (prayers) inside the mosque, and a giant aquarium. Sheikh, who is a former Chairperson of the Maharashtra State Commission for Minorities, also objected to the initial name for the mosque, Masjid-e-Ayodhya, and changed it to Muhammad Bin Abdullah Masjid, after the Prophet.
The unbuilt structure is entangled with bureaucratic apathy, financial challenges, some lingering anxieties, and the larger quest for peace and reconciliation in Ayodhya’s charged atmosphere. There are several funding hurdles and political currents that impede the mosque’s progress.
Vishal Singh, vice-chairman of the Ayodhya Development Authority and municipal commissioner of Ayodhya, told Frontline that the map has been uploaded on the authority’s portal. “The Sunni Waqf board has been asked to submit NoCs from fire services department, NHAI, and so on. They have also been asked to deposit land use change fee and map approval fee. These have been awaited from the Sunni Waqf board for the last six months,” Singh said.
Centre of prayer and care
Lucknow-based Athar Husain Siddiqui, a secretary of the IICF, told Frontline that the new mosque has been envisioned as a centre of medicine and prayers. “Dua aur dawa ka kendra,” he said. “There is limelight on this mosque and it has to be big enough for Muslims across the country to raise funds for it. Huge funds are necessary even to create a road map of what we want to achieve. The designs have been remodelled. Now it will be of Indian traditional design. The map will be cleared only after the development charges are paid, which itself amounts to a few crores,” he said.
A senior IICF official told Frontline on the condition of anonymity, “The very fact that the Sunni Waqf Board got five acres for an alternate mosque was unexpected. The Muslim community was not mentally prepared to handle it,” he said.
In January 2024, Iqbal Ansari, son of Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the Babri Masjid dispute case, accepted an invite from the temple trust to attend its consecration event. Ansari also showered flowers and stood in line to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his visit to Ayodhya on December 30 last year. Sitting in a lane near the VIP gate of the Ram Temple, Ansari says that all Muslims have accepted the verdict and have recovered. “Muslims across the country respected the verdict and accepted it peacefully. Now they want this dispute to end. They want to move on. No one wants the new mosque. This new mosque will only be a reminder of the old wounds,” he told Frontline.
He added that since there is no concept of “darshan” in Islam, the new mosque will not have many visitors. “People go to their nearby mosques for prayers. Moreover, Dhannipur already has too many mosques. In any case, they want to build a museum, not a mosque,” he added.
Although the Muslim side accepted the verdict peacefully, a sense of resentment and injustice lingers among local Muslims as well as outsiders, exaggerated by the delay in the construction of the new mosque. Khaliq Ahmad Khan, an elderly man from Kanghi Gali, points to the politics of the new mosque. “The Sunni Waqf Board, which was awarded the land, is a body of the State government. Any interest in building the new Ayodhya mosque will upset Hindu voters. Hence the apathy.” Surrounded by notebooks, diaries, reports, and court orders, he seems to still not have moved on from what he believes was an unjust verdict.
At Azra Parveen’s house in Ayodhya, the ghost of the past lingers. Azra’s father-in-law, Mohammed Shabir, a sawmill owner, and husband’s uncle, Mohammed Nazeer, were chased and killed by a mob of karsevaks on December 6, 1992. Azra said her family would stay indoors on January 22.
Mohammad Shahid, her husband, said justice was not served as the killers were never found. “We will stay indoors, but what more can they take from us? They already took the mosque.” Shahid is the grandson of Haji Abdul Gaffar, the imam who led the last namaz at the Babri Masjid on December 22, 1949.