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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

INTERVIEW: Chaudhry Sibtey Mohammad Naqvi

Babri Masjid: the Shiite viewpoint

Chaudhry Sibtey Mohammad NaqviChaudhry Sibtey Mohammad Naqvi is 6 ft 3 inches tall and 78 years young, his zeal and zest for a socialist India equal and is unceasingly active. He has been an associate of Acharya Narendra Dev and a close comrade of Ram Manohar Lohia and was Chairman of Minority Finance and Development Corporation, UP, under the first Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 1990. He is a writer as well and has written a book Amjad Ali Shah: The Fourth King of Avadh and edited seven books on topics like socialism and Urdu poetry and Urdu literature. He also holds a degree in Aalimiyat from Jamia Sultania, Lucknow and Fazil-e-Tafseer from Oriental Department, Lucknow University both in 1948. His present engagement is editing a thrice a month Urdu magazine Hamari Tauheed from Lucknow. He speaks fluent Persian and Arabic of academic use and is an expert on Shiite Law. He has also appeared in the same capacity as a witness from the Babri Masjid side in the on-going suit in Lucknow High Court. Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas interviewed him on his appearance before the Court.

How did the opportunity come to you to stand witness in the case?
The Ram Mandir side or for that matter the Hindu side was impressing upon the Court that Shiites were not keen on getting Babri Masjid returned to Muslims and that they somehow have a different view on Babri Masjid which they (Hindu side) proposed was opposite to that of Sunnite viewpoint. This led to the Babri Masjid campaigners to find a Shiite Alim in order to quell rumours spread by the temple side. They met with very little success as no one wanted to come forward. Interestingly the opportunity came to me after the surprise withdrawal of Dr. S. Kalbe Sadiq from the Shiite Ulema witness list. Therafter, Mr. Javed Murtuza Advocate, whose father is a former jugde of High Court, came to me. He informed me that a Shiite Alim as a witness was needed in the case. I volunteered to help in whatever small way I could.

Why did Dr. S. Kalbe Sadiq withdraw?
Dr. S. Kalbe Sadiq became the Vice President of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) as the post was conferred on him after the demise of his elder brother and my friend Maulana Kalbe Abid, is also a member of the 11-member committee on Babri Masjid under the umbrella of AIMPLB from which he had once resigned and then on the orders of Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi was reinstated. The reason why he could not appear before the Court in the Babri Masjid case is best known to him and I cannot deliberate on his personal stand.

How long did you stay in the witness box? 
My deposition continued for four days. The last two-days of March and during the first week of April 2002.

What is the Shiite view on Babri Masjid case?
The Shiite view on every mosque as well as on Babri Mosque is the same as that of the Muslim view. A mosque cannot be exchanged, sold, mortgaged, gifted or bartered. Once a mosque always a mosque is our Islamic law. In my entire lifetime I have never thought for a single second that the Babri Masjid could be forsaken in any situation howsoever grave. I am privileged that Allah gave me a chance to stand before the Court and dispel the impression that Shiites under Prince Anjum Qadar of Calcutta have forsaken their claim. 

What is this Prince Anjum Qadar story?
Prince Anjum Qadar was a relative of the last king of Avadh Wajid Ali Shah who was deposed from his throne on Feb 12, 1856, then, imprisoned in Fort Williams for 24 months before returning to Metiabruz, Calcutta on July 9, 1859. The king passed away on September 21, 1887 at an age of 68. Prince Anjum Qadar is even said to have run a Trust (Wajid Ali Shah Trust) in his name. Prince Anjum Qadar was also the President of All India Shia Conference which was nothing but a pocket organisation. He was sponsored by the then Home Minister Buta Singh to get from Iran and Pakistan a fatwa in order to serve the interests of the Hindu side of the dispute. Prince Anjum Qadar claimed that he was in possession of a fatwa from Iran and when I got the news I wrote a letter to an editor in Quami Awaz daily (Urdu newspaper from Lucknow) asking Prince Anjum Qadar to produce and publish the exact version of istifta (reference) against which he could draw (arrive at) such a fatwa. Neither the istifta nor fatwa was published but Prince Anjum Qadar had always maintained that the mosque could be shifted from the spot.

You seem to have read a lot of history?
Avadh history is like a fixed deposit for me.

Well, is it possible to forsake a mosque?
What I say is that first we have to go through the contents of the reference which were put to the concerned authority in Iran for seeking a fatwa. It is only then we will be able to analyse about what facts exaggerated, manipulated or inflated were put before the concerned authority in Iran. What were the exact details which were put to the doctor to write the prescription? I won’t say anything personal and bad about Prince Anjum Qadar as he is no more.

It is often said that Babri Masjid had no minarets, hence, it was not a mosque?
A mosque in my ancestral village Akbarpur, in Faizabad district, UP (Babri Masjid too is in a village of Faizabad called Ayodhya) is of a thatched roof, it has no domes, no minarets and no roof and it is a mosque where Muslims pray. For a mosque the requirement is just a piece of land facing Kaaba and with no set of specific type of architecture for that land.

Can a Shiite offer prayers in a Sunni mosque and vice-versa?
Yes, of course. No one barred from offering prayers in each others mosques. Lucknow which has a history of Shiite-Sunnite chasm and riots since at least a century and that the same was exported to the streets of Karachi has a unique blend of religious pluralism. The Nawabs of Avadh got temples built and Hindus got mosques and Imambas built in Lucknow. The Padain ki masjid (mosque named after a Brahmin woman) in Aminabad and Shahi Masjid adjacent to Capital cinema theatre in Hazratganj has prayers of both sects with respective congregations held after a five minute difference. The Muslims in Pakistan should heed such instances and put an end to the madness and killing each other in mosques.

How many Shiites have appeared as witness in the same case?
To the best of my information Asifi Masjid Imam-e-Juma, Lucknow Maulana S. Kalbe Jawad has appeared. Prof. Shireen Moosvi of AMU’s History Department who incidentally is from Lucknow but perhaps prefers to be referred to as a communist, has appeared too.«

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