The mosque in Islamic law and faith

Published : Oct 24, 2018 12:30 IST

Namaz being offered at the Taj-ul-masjid in Bhopal.

Namaz being offered at the Taj-ul-masjid in Bhopal.

NO one who has followed Justice J.S. Verma’s pronouncement, on and off the bench, should be surprised at his sweeping and woefully ignorant remark in Ismail Faruqui’s case. “A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of religion in Islam and namaz (prayer) can be offered anywhere, even in [the] open” (1994) 6 SCC at page 418, paragraph 82).

Do you expect any better from one who discusses what Hindutva is without the slightest note of its Bible, V.D. Savarkar’s essay Hindutva ? It is like discussing Christianity without reference to the Bible, Judaism without reference to the Tora, Hinduism without reference to the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads and Islam without reference to the Quran.

What Justice Verma did instead would scare a schoolboy. He relied on Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Indian Muslims:The Need for a PositiveOutlook (1994)—only to misquote it and also the court’s earlier rulings. (For a detailed critique, vide the author’s article “The Supreme Court on Hindutva” in A.G. Noorani (2002): Citizens’ Rights,Judges and State Accountability, Oxford University Press, pages 76-83). There was good reason for this strange course. Savarkar’s Hindutva would not have helped Justice Verma in reaching his conclusion that Hindutva is but a way of life. The same disingenuous approach marks his remark on mosques.

The Royal Netherlands Academy produced the Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam by H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, scholars of high distinction (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994). It is regarded as a work of high authority. Each entry has been contributed by a scholar of eminence. The one on “Masdjid” (Masjid in simple language) is spread from page 330 to page 353 in double columns. It exposes Justice J.S. Verma’s colossal ignorance. I quote a few passages. The Masjid, or mosque, is a recognised community centre for Muslims of the area. Persecuted in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad would pray “in secret in the narrow alleys of Mecca with his male followers”.

Significantly, when he went in exile to Medina, his first thought was to build a masjid. According to the sources, it was the Prophet’s intention from the very first to build a mosque at once in Madina; according to a later tradition Gabriel commanded him in the name of God to build a house for God; but this story is coloured by later conditions. It was made quite clear that the earliest masdjid had nothing of the character of a sacred edifice. Much can be quoted for this view from Hadith and Sira . Believers and unbelievers went freely about in the mosque, tents and huts were put up there, disputes took place in it, often it had the outlook of the headquarters of an army.

The mosque was the place where believers assembled for prayer around the Prophet, where he delivered his addresses, which contained not only appeals for obedience to God but regulations affecting the social life of the community (cf. Bukhari, Salat, bab 70, 71); from here he controlled the religious political community of Islam.

In the early period the building of mosques was a social obligation on the ruler as representative of the community and on the tribes. As Islam spread, the governors built mosques in the provinces. A governor of Medina about 391/1000 is said to have endowed 3,000 mosques and hostels (Mez, Adam, DieRenaissance des Islams , page 24). Very soon, a number of mosques came into existence, endowed by individuals. In addition to tribal and sectarian mosques, prominent leaders built mosques which were the centres of their activity, for example the Masdjid ‘Ali b. Hatim (Tabari, ii, 13c) etc. As old sanctuaries entered Islam, the mosque received more of the character of a sanctuary and the building of a mosque became a pious work.

The caliph was the appointed leader of the salat and the khatib of the Muslim community. The significance of the mosque for the state is therefore embodied in the minbar (pulpit in the mosque where the imam stands to deliver sermons). The installation of the caliph consisted in his seating himself upon this, the seat of the prophet in his sovereign capacity. When homage was first paid to Abu Bakr by those who had decided the choice of the Prophet’s successor, he sat on the minbar. He delivered an address, the people paid homage to him and he delivered a khutba, by which he assumed the leadership (Ibn Hisham, page I017; Tabari, i. I828 sq.; K. Al-khamis, ii. 75; Ya’kubi, ii. I42); it was the same with the following caliphs. Even at a much later date, when spontaneous acclamation by the population was no longer of any importance, the ceremonial installation on the minbar was still important.

In general, the mosque, and particularly the minbar, was the place where official proclamations were made, of course as early as the time of the Prophet (Bakhari, Salat, bab 70, 71). Al-Walid announced from the minbar the deaths of two distinguished governors (Ibn. Taghribirdi, i. 242); the results of battles were announced in khutbas (Yakut, i. 647; al-‘Ikd al-‘farid, ii., Cairo I32I, p. I49 sq.). In the Fatimid and ‘Abbasid periods too, proclamations, orders, edicts about taxation and so on by the ruler were announced on the principal mosque (Tabari, ii. 40; iii. 2I65; Ibn Taghribirdi, II/ii. 68; Makrizi, Itt’az, ed. Bunz, p. 87 supra; Quatremere, Hist. Maml., I/ii. 89; II/ii. 44, I5I); documents appointing the more important officers were also read upon the minbar (Kindi. Wuldt, p. 589, 599, 603, 804, etc. pass.; Markrizi, ii. 246; iv. 43, 88); frequently the people trooped into the mosque to hear an official announcement.

As the Imam of the Muslim community, the caliph had the mosques under his charge. This was also the case with the sultan, governor or other ruler who represented the caliph in every respect. The administration of the mosques could not, however, be directly controlled by the usual government offices. By its endowment, the mosque became an object sui generis and was withdrawn from the usual state or private purposes. Their particular association with religion gave the kadis [officials] special influence and on the other hand, the will of the testator continued to prevail.

A. G. Noorani

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