Special Reports

A Magnificent Masjid takes shape in Delhi

Suhail Anjum

Delhi is a great centre of Islamic tradition and civilization. Islamic architecture dots almost the entire landscape of the city which brings solace to souls and relief to eyes. Old mosques scattered all over the city rekindle faith in the hearts of visitors.

Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab from outside

Nothing can be said with absolute certainty as to how many mosques are spread all over Delhi. While many have been encroached upon (and acquired) by others, several have suffered neglect and destruction at the hands of Muslims themselves.

In and around Delhi, there are several mosques hidden from eyes or buried in the texts of history. When Muslims got a little respite from partition riots and felt a little comfort, they turned their attention towards repair and construction of mosques.

An interior view of Masjid Umar ibn al-Khattab

As the Muslim population began moving out of the walled city and started settling in the outskirts, they realised the acute shortage of mosques in new localities. Hence construction of new mosques began on a large scale. Now most of these areas have become a part of the capital.

However, the fact remains that there has not been a single mosque among the newly constructed ones which could claim attraction as an architectural wonder and might be included in the list of reputed monuments. However, at the junction of Delhi and Noida, near Kalindi Kunj, Jama Masjid Sanabil is taking shape over a vast area which may be included among prominent mosques of the city. It is called Umar ibn Khattab Mosque. Its construction was started by the famous scholar late Maulana Abdul Hamid Rahmani, chairman of Abul Kalam Azad Islamic Awakening Centre. His successors in the Centre are now completing this huge monument.

I had the privilege of visiting this modern mosque. When one looks at hundreds of pillars outside and inside the mosque, one spontaneously begins recalling Allama Iqbal’s poem, “Masjid Qurtuba’ (Cordova mosque of Andalus).

Iqbal had composed the poem “Masjid Qurtuba” wonder-struck by the grandeur of the Andalusian mosque. He had exclaimed, “mit nahin sakta kabhi mard-e musalman” (A Muslim cannot be ever wiped out). This immortal poem too would remain beyond extinction. It keeps reminding Muslims of the robust enthusiasm they nurse for mosques in all their habitats.

This mosque is going through various phases of construction and development. Even at the present stage, it charms the viewer. This mosque has a capacity for 5500 males and 2000 females to pray at a time. For elderly and handicapped persons who cannot climb stairs, there is a separate area on the ground floor for both males and females.
The cost of construction is estimated to be over seven crore rupees. The mosque has hundreds of pillars. The lower ground floor has 177 pillars. Built according to the Islamic architecture, the mosque has three storeys. The lower ground floor has provision for car parking, separate toilets for males and females, bathrooms and space for wudhu (ablution) covering an area of 3503.29 square meters. The total ground floor covers 2284.19 sq. m, the first floor covers 1638 sq.m. with a total carpet area of 7425.48 sq. m. The ground floor is for males while the first floor is exclusively for ladies.
It has to be remembered that quite often there is opposition and controversy over women’s presence for prayer and statements are published about their attendance at mosques for prayer. However, according to Maulana Azad Islamic Awakening Centre sources, wherever the Centre got mosques constructed throughout the country, it has always made arrangements for ladies while maintaining purdah. The Jama Masjid Abu Bakr Siddiq, built by the Centre at Jogabai, also has a basement meant exclusively for ladies for five times daily prayers, Friday prayer as well as for tarawih prayers during Ramadan. There are two staircases for ladies with provision for toilets, bathrooms and wudhu.

This Jama Masjid is five-storeyed which includes the basement with an accommodation for 4500 males and 1000 females’ prayer.

In other parts of the country, whenever the centre has undertaken the construction of mosques, totalling 50 until now, there has been provision for ladies.

There are several mosques throughout Delhi dating back to medieval and Mughal periods. Many of these have been taken over by Archaeological department. Under the pretext of safeguarding heritage prayer has been banned in these mosques although the same rule is not applied to heritage temples and churches.

There are several mosques which Muslims themselves have occupied illegally. However, there are thousands of mosques where daily prayer is offered. Masjid Shahjehani, popularly known as “Jama Masjid” of Delhi, and Masjid Fatehpuri are well known for their spacious accommodation. The mosque at village Khidki is also quite spacious. Thousands can pray here at a time. People from the outskirts of Delhi rush to Jama Masjid for Eid prayers.

When the Muslim population in the post-Independence period began increasing, new constructions were undertaken at several places demonstrating Muslims’ sense of devotion and interest as well as attachment with mosques. However, none of these post-Independence period mosque can accommodate large numbers except this mosque on the bank of Jamuna. Author of “Delhi Ki Tarikhi Masajid” (Historic mosques of Delhi) Maulana Ataur Rahman Qasmi says, “There are several mosques belonging to pre-Independence period which can accommodate 4-5 thousand persons at a time. However, no such spacious mosque was built in the post-Independence period.”

The construction of Umar ibn Khattab mosque has given a pleasant and decisive turn to history of mosques in Delhi. It is a distinction that Delhi has added to its pride. It enjoys a unique reputation not only for its vastness and spacious accommodation but also for its architectural grandeur and strong build. It is the only mosque in Delhi with more than 3500 sq. meters at lower ground floor meant for parking as well as separate provisions for ladies and men for toilets, ablution and bathrooms. There is perhaps no mosque in Delhi which has separate arrangements for ladies and men for saying prayer. According to Maulana Qasmi, “There are separate chambers for ladies in mosques belonging to the medieval period but there is no such provision in mosques of the modern period.”

Eid prayers have been regularly offered in this new mosque for several years where people from adjoining localities have been flocking irrespective of sectarian differences. Construction of this mosque kindles the hope that many more would rush here for Eid prayers and the passersby would find an excellent arrangement for saying prayer. (Translated from Urdu by AG Khan)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2014 on page no. 13

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