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Book Review
Retrieving a great heritage

By ABU WAQAS

Punjab wa Haryana ki Tarikhi Masajid
by Ataur Rahman Qasmi
Punjab Waqf Board Rs 200/608 pp.

Ataur Rahman Qasmi’s latest work on the mosques of Punjab and Haryana is a welcome move to survey, record and document a priceless asset

Mosques are a central feature of Islamic life. They act as a place of worship, a seminary, a community centre, and much else. Wherever Muslims go to live they make it a point to make a mosque even before their own homes are complete. The present study not only documents and records the important mosques of Haryana and Punjab, but also tells a story of their past grandeur and, in most cases, their present state of neglect. In the background one can hear echoes of march of history — the advent of Islam in this area, and the cataclysmic events of the Partition affecting the entire area of today’s Haryana, Himachal and Punjab, which was emptied of Muslims in Partition.

There are 11,840 mosques and 1,442 Muslim mausolea in Haryana and Punjab. Out of these 13,282 mosques and mausolea, 11,466 are under illegal occupation, being used as temples, gurudwaras, and residential or commercial premises. There are only 1,816 of these which are still in the possession of Muslims. These properties are being administered by the Punjab and Haryana Waqf Board. Over the last 50 years, quite a few hundred more mosques have come up with financial assistance from the board. The board also provides financial support to 370 imams and muezzins, besides providing similar assistance to 422 mosques with maktabs. This study has been carried out with the help of the board, which also supports ten schools, and ten technical institutes, besides helping 46 other schools and technical institutes run by Muslims.

The author of this work, Maulana Ataur Rahman Qasmi, is by now well-known for his two-volume Dilli ki Tarikhi Masajid (Delhi’s historical mosques) and Alwahus Sanadid (inscriptions on graves of the famous), a two-volume work on the final resting places of important Muslims in Delhi.

Qasmi says the survey for this book was extremely difficult, sometimes involving physical risk. After all, people under whose illegal possession this great heritage is today would not be pleased at the sight of researchers reading inscriptions on the buildings, taking notes and photographing the beautiful arches and domes. This is only the beginning of a work that would require years and decades of sustained effort. This work covers 104 mosques only, out of which 67 have been discussed in depth, while 37 come in for a more generalised treatment. Thus a beginning has been made which could lead to far more extensive and deeper studies. There is a wrenching account of what happened to many of these mosques after Muslims were either massacred or went away to Pakistan in 1947. Qasmi admits that even within the restricted framework of 104 mosques, quite a few major mosques eluded the study.

It is only appropriate that the book begins with the Masjid-e-Mujaddid in Sirhind, thus named after Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi Mujaddid Alf Thani. The sheikh’s title, Mujaddid Alf Thani, can be loosely translated in English as the “Renewer of Islam in the Second Millennium.” Punjab or, for that matter, India, would have been poorer without the Sheikh.

It is only in the fitness of things that the book should begin with a detailed account of the life and work of the Sheikh as well as a description of his mosque. It is a well-produced book, as well-produced as a book in Urdu can be. Let us hope that we have more volumes in the series in years to come.
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