Print edition : December 04, 2020

The Hanuman flag, hoisted on the minaret of the Allahwali Masjid in North East Delhi, on February 25, being removed with police permission. Photo: by special arrangement

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind restores a mosque vandalised by communal elements during the February riots in North East Delhi and foils an attempt to turn it into a temple.

ON February 25, 2020, a video shared on several WhatsApp groups in Delhi showed a Hanuman flag (a Hindu religious flag) being hoisted atop a mosque in North East Delhi. Many WhatsApp users sought to dismiss it as a fake video clip, but it soon came to light that the incident happened at the Maula Baksh Masjid in Ashok Nagar near Shahdara. The mosque had come under attack during the week-long riots that began on February 23 and business and residential premises of the Muslim community near it were gutted. Secular forces and some local Left leaders and human rights activists visited the mosque in a show of solidarity with the beleaguered Muslim community.

What escaped notice was the blatant attack on the Allahwali Masjid at Karawal Nagar. It was set on fire, a Hanuman flag was hoisted on its minaret, and, an idol of a Hindu deity, Durga, was placed at its entrance. The media, including leading Urdu dailies, failed to report in detail the attempt to turn a mosque into a temple. Amid stories of human deprivation and displacement following the riots, the Allahwali Masjid incident went out of collective memory.

In the last week of October, the mosque once again made news, this time for a positive reason. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind has restored the mosque to its original glory and handed it over to the community for regular use. The four-storeyed mosque has been given a facelift with Rajasthani tiles and white marble, for the walls and the floor, and Awadhi latticed screen. Besides the daily prayers, it is also hosting the Friday prayers and providing all amenities to devotees. The Jamiat has in its own silent ways foiled a Babri Masjid kind of demolition in Delhi. The attackers of the Allahwali Masjid were reportedly heard saying, “Har masjid Babri”. Similar slogans were heard at the Ashok Nagar and Gokulpuri localities, where too mosques were attacked.
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The residents of Shaheed Bhagat Singh colony in Karawal Nagar, where the nearly three-decade-old Allahwali Masjid is located, mainly belong to the majority community unlike in other parts of North East Delhi. The mosque was targeted through a series of actions such as intimidation and provocation followed by violence.

Around 11 a.m. on February 25, a mob consisting of local residents and outsiders carrying trishuls and shouting “Jai Shri Ram”, arrived at the mosque forcing the Muslim residents in the area to either lock their gates or flee their premises. The miscreants set the empty houses on fire and then reassembled outside the mosque, which remained closed after Fajr, dawn prayers. At the best of times, the mosque attracted 40 to 50 men for daily prayers and around 500 for Friday prayers. On February 25, only a handful of people showed up for morning prayers, perhaps deterred by the tension in the air.

Shouting slogans, the mob began to break the mosque's wall with trishuls, rods and pick axes. The mosque’s gate did not yield as easily as they would have anticipated. Some young men with saffron bandana tied around their heads shouted, “Ek dhakka aur, Allahwali masjid tod do” (one more push, break the mosque). Petrol bombs and gas cylinders were hurled from the pathway inside the mosque's courtyard. The floor, walls and the ceiling were damaged and the prayer rugs were reduced to ashes.

A section of the mob then cut the water and electricity connection to the mosque. Others struck at the walls with hammers and iron rods. Some copies of the Koran were found desecrated. However, a shelf full of copies of the Koran, kept near the mimbar (pulpit), was intact. One of the loudspeakers meant for pronouncing the azaan, the daily prayer call, was removed from the minaret and thrown to the ground. An idol of Durga was placed at the threshold of the mosque and a garland of marigold flowers put around it.
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Emboldened by the installation of the idol, some young men went to the roof of the mosque and hoisted a Hanuman flag on its minaret. Once again “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev” slogans rent the air. According to some eyewitnesses, the police did not enter the lane in which the mosque is located. According to others, the police failed in their feeble attempts to control the mob from gathering near the mosque. The police were not seen in the immediate proximity of the place of worship though the mosque's capture itself took more than an hour, and was recorded on camera.

A first information report (FIR) was filed only six days later, on March 1, in which no person was named for the attack. Fazlur Rehman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said: “Muslim residents of the colony claimed they could recognise some of the men who attacked the masjid, but were too scared to name them.” The Jamiat, which, under its chief Arshad Madani, has been trying to rehabilitate the victims of the violence, helped obtain bail for 16 men in false cases filed against them. Arshad Madani said: “Muslims have to live in the colony. They own houses there, and were understandably not ready to come forward to name the attackers. As a result nobody was named in the attack. More than eight months after the attack, nobody has been arrested or held responsible for the attempt to place idols of a Hindu deity or hoist a bhagwa [saffron-coloured] flag at the mosque.”

Attempted demolition

Asjad Hussain, a plywood dealer who offers his morning prayers at the mosque regularly, said: “The attempted demolition of the mosque and its capture were planned to perfection. A similar attempt was made on February 24 but nobody came to our rescue.”

Madani said: “A mob gathered at the mosque on February 24 evening. It was armed with hammers, rods and pickaxes, and raised slogans of Jai Shri Ram. The local Muslims had gathered in good numbers as it was prayer time. They foiled the bid to damage the mosque and .shouted Allahu Akbar.”
Also read: The aftermath of the Delhi riots

The next morning, the goons arrived in greater numbers, armed with trishuls, iron rods and hammers, and idols of Durga, Siva and Hanuman. But even after they left the place, no Muslim dared to come out of his house to go the mosque for Zuhr (afternoon) prayers. By February 27, all the Muslim residents fled the colony. The media did not talk about the destruction and displacement. Incidentally, no prayer was offered at the mosque from February 25 until its recent repair and reconstruction. In contrast, the Farooqia Masjid, located two kilometres away, began Friday prayers within 72 hours after it had been set on fire.

The Jamiat convinced the Muslims to go back to their houses. It first repaired their houses.

Madani said: “It was a long struggle to repair the mosque. The mob had used gas and petrol cylinders to cause a blast at the mosque. Some cylinders burst, others did not. Forget the floor or the ceiling, even the water taps of wuzukhana [place for ablution] had been destroyed. It would have been easier to build a mosque from scratch than to restore the badly damaged mosque.”

On March 1, an FIR was filed with the local police station at the behest of the Jamiat. Although no individuals were blamed for the attack, the FIR mentioned the placement of the idol at the threshold and the hoisting of the flag on the minaret of the mosque. Fazlur Rehman said: “Our men went there within hours of the attack. The Jamiat officials met the police and asked them to get the flag and the idol removed from the premises. We told them this action would tell the victims that the police were stepping in to control the damage. The SHO agreed.”
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Soon, a police team, accompanied by a team from the Special Cell and Jamiat officials, reached the mosque. The local residents objected but the team brushed aside their objections. The police gave permission to remove the flag and the idol, but the Jamiat insisted that it be done by members from the majority community in order to send out a signal of communal harmony.

A young man volunteered, and in the presence of the police removed the flag. The idol was wrapped in a clean cloth and given to him.

It was only in Ramzan, in May, that repair and reconstruction of the mosque started. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures delayed the work. The mosque was restored to its original glory at the start of the Islamic month heralding the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Madani said: “We have repaired the mosque with our own funds. Today, around 25 men can stand together in a row for prayer. There can be eight such rows of worshippers at any given time. We are glad we could protect our masjid.” He said, “We are supporters of peace and communal harmony. That is why, even after the mosque incident, the Jamiat provided relief to all impacted people irrespective of their religion.”

Shortly after the Tablighi Jamaat incident in March, the Jamiat’s aid team was stopped in Shiv Vihar in North East Delhi. Some local people accused its volunteers of spreading the coronavirus. The police arrived at the scene and confiscated the list of people in need of relief. But when they discovered that the first 12 names on the list were Hindus, their attitude changed, and they helped provide aid to all. Incidentally, during the February violence, 19 mosques and dargahs were targeted in North East Delhi. But an attempt was made to convert the Allahwali Masjid into a temple. Until March 1, a new garland was placed on the deity every day and wayfarers started to worship the idol. Fazlur Rehman said: “The idea was to repeat Babri Masjid. We are glad we could avert it with timely action.”
Also read: Targeting mosques