Babri Masjid Issue

A Tale of Two Mosques

In 1992 right wing Hindu fundamentalists destroyed a mosque built during Mughal times known as the Babri Masjid. They argued that a temple stood beneath the mosque and that this was the birthplace of Lord Ram, a God in the Hindu pantheon. They had the political patronage of some of the most senior members of the BJP, a right wing Hindu nationalist party. A dispute had been going on in the courts for nearly sixty years as to the ownership of the property. On the 30th of September 2010, the High Court of Lucknow dismissed the claim of the Muslims and passed an order that the place was the precise location of the birth of Lord Ram. However, in order to ensure that there were no negative reactions from the Muslim community they allocated one third of the land to the Muslims, although their case had been dismissed. It seems that the judgment was based on politics and religion rather than law and reason.

Today nearly 4500 kms from India another mosque faces a similar problem. The Golden Mosque of Jerusalem is the second most sacred site to Muslims around the world and is believed to be the site from which the Prophet ascended to heaven. Before Mecca was made the direction of prayer, Muslims used to pray in the direction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. One side of the mosque is believed by Jews to be the only remaining wall of the Holy Temple and is popularly known as the Wailing Wall. On the 4th of October 2010, a prominent English Daily in India carried a supplement that was obviously a marketing ploy of the Israeli government. This strategy is known as "space marketing initiative." The strategy seems to have been so successful that the news of the burning of a mosque in Beit Fajar on the same day by militant Jewish settlers has gone largely unreported in the Indian media.

On the front page of the supplement was a picture of the golden dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the foreground was the Wailing Wall. However, the caption described the Wailing Wall as "a holy site for Jews" and said that the remaining "view" was that of the "Old city of Jerusalem with the golden dome of the Rock." For those who might not recognise the building, there was no mention of the fact that this was a mosque or of its sanctity for Muslims. Indeed, in the accompanying article, the mosque is merely referred to as a "shrine where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven." The next sentence goes on to talk about "the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the ancient Holy Temple."

These two sentences precisely sum up the antagonism that exists in India. Surely the Wailing Wall should also be "said" to be a remnant of the Holy Temple. In India the judges based their verdict on a report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that found the remains of a large temple that had been destroyed, underneath the mosque. However, just like historians and archaeologists have disputed that the Wailing Wall is "factually" a remnant of the Holy Temple, their counterparts in India have vehemently disagreed with the findings of the ASI. In India, the judges gave their verdicts based on erroneous grounds and with the assertion that this was the exact place of Lord Ram's birth. Just like the ascendance of the Prophet Mohammad can never be proved concretely in a court of Law according to legal principles, the birthplace of a divine figure thousands of years ago cannot be legally pinpointed. The mosque in India has already been destroyed in 1992. However, the current judgment tacitly condones the destruction because of its findings. The current judgment would have necessitated the destruction of the mosque in order to allow a temple to be built! The mosque in Jerusalem still stands, though obviously the Israeli government controls access to it. However, in other parts of Jerusalem the Israeli government has 'excavated' old Jewish sites and so has justified demolishing whole neighborhoods, which are often occupied by Muslims. The effort to re-create the Garden of King David is one such initiative.

The argument for reclaiming a lost civilisation is shared by both the Zionists as well as the extreme right-wing Hindu parties. Mark Sofer the Israeli Ambassador in India, in an interview in the supplement, talked of the "awe and admiration in Israel for Indian history, culture and mentality." It is surprising to hear Mr. Sofer speak like this because even young tourists visiting India are astounded by the many "Indias" that they encounter. The fact is that there is no one single Indian civilisation, culture or mentality. The only people who like to make such claims are those extreme groups that are adamant on propagating their version of India as a "Hindu" country. Perhaps it is with these groups that some people in Israel have found resonance. After all the holy land is seen by Zionists as exclusively belonging to the Jews. Similarly the ideological progenitors of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a group that provides ideological direction to the BJP, wrote about Christians and Muslims that "they are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to its salt?...No."

Just like all religions, there are major divides within Judaism and within Hinduism. The RSS and BJP are not representative of all the Hindus. Similarly, right-wing Zionists like the Likud party cannot be representative of all the Jews. However, until more sane voices prevail, groups like these will continue to use religion as a tool of political expediency.