Punjab Emerges as an Oasis of Communal Harmony

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Sikhs and Hindus hand over scores of abandoned mosques to Muslims in many villages. They are also helping in the construction of new places of worship for the Muslims

Abdul Bari Masoud | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – The northern state of Punjab has emerged as an example of communal harmony, amity and fraternity at a time when the country’s several regions — particularly those governed by the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — are afflicted by religious strife and hostility. 

In stark contrast to the sustained and systematic attacks on churches and mosques by Hindutva groups across the country, Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab are working together to renovate many abandoned or expropriated mosques. 

Since the start of the 1980s when militancy flared up in Punjab, hundreds of mosques that were abandoned because Muslims opted to migrate to the other side of the border when the subcontinent got divided in 1947 have been repaired.

Recently, Sikhs and Hindus built a mosque at Khanan Khurd village in Muktsar district for the Muslim inhabitants of the village. Sikhs and Hindus in the village raised funds to build the mosque as the five Muslim families of the village found it hard to get the required money, even when the Punjab Waqf Board had allocated a modest parcel of land for the construction of the mosque.

The entire village folks gathered near the mosque and cheered as Muslims prayed for the first time in the newly built mosque. 

Mahendra Singh, a local of Khanan Khurd, said Muslims in the village were unable to construct a mosque on their own. The first namaz the Muslims performed at the mosque, he added, was an exciting event for all those present.

Punjab’s Shahi Imam Mohammad Usman Rahmani paid a visit to the village and was appreciative of the civility the non-Muslim residents had shown to their Muslim neighbours.

Likewise, last December, a Sikh family from Bakhatgarh village in Barnala district donated a piece of land to enable 15 Muslim families in the village to build a mosque.

In Moga district’s village of Machike, an old mosque was demolished to make room for a road. It was later restored with money collected by Hindus and Sikhs.

The Sikh community reconstructed a mosque in another village Kutba Bahmania in the Barnala district. The mosque, destroyed and abandoned during the partition time, was handed over to the local Muslims by the Sikh community. It is important to note that despite the mosque’s shared boundaries with a gurdwara, there was no conflict. 

A few Muslim families, who moved to this village, spoke with the gurdwara management committee about reopening the mosque.

“We are pleased that all the villagers joined together to restore the mosque,” said Charanjit Singh, a villager who participated in the mosque’s reconstruction.

An elderly villager, Swaran Singh, said the mosque has never been desecrated by other communities since the partition. By restoring the mosque, the people have promoted communal harmony, he said.

Village Sarpanch Buta Singh claimed that both communities live peacefully. The villagers made the decision to repair the mosque because of its outdated and crumbling structure. For this purpose, funds were raised and the whole village contributed. Muslims were given control of the restored mosque, Buta Singh said.

In Bhoolar village, Moga district, a new mosque has recently been built. The village has seven gurdwaras and two temples, but there was no mosque before one was built with contributions from all communities.

“There was a mosque before Partition in 1947, but its structure crumbled with time. We have four Muslim families in the village that chose to stay back,” village Sarpanch, Pala Singh, was reported by The Indian Express as saying recently.

The village of Bakhatgarh is now constructing its first mosque. Amandeep Singh, a resident of the village who donated 250 square yards of his field for the purpose, said this was being done to help Muslim families who walk five kilometres to pray in the mosque in another village.

Under the name Noorani Masjid, he has the land registered with the Tehsildar’s office. Hindus and Sikhs have also contributed to the construction cost of Rs 12 lakh.

Singh was reported by The Times of India as saying that Muslim families travel to the nearby village for prayers. “My family gave them land for a mosque and will also contribute to its construction.”

The project manager, Moti Khan, stated: “We owe a lot to the Sikh family and many others who have supported us. We ask for a similar brotherhood elsewhere for societal harmony”.

In Barnala district’s Moom village, which is close to Ludhiana, Brahmins and Sikhs have joined hands to build a mosque for their Muslim neighbours.

Sikhs make up a majority of the 4,000 residents of the 300-year-old village. There are roughly 400 Muslims and an equal number of Hindus in the village.

The Sikhs raised the funds needed to build the mosque, while the Brahmins donated the land on which the mosque was built.

Besides this, Sikhs and Hindus also took care of abandoned mosques after Muslims left this part of Punjab at the time of Partition. It is said that religion is not something that divides people. For example, in Hedon Bet village near Ludhiana, 54-year-old Prem Singh has been taking care of a century-old mosque.

Speaking to Clarion India, Tayyeb Hasan Falahi, retired education and development officer of the Punjab Waqf Board, said this wasn’t the only such mosque in Punjab. “Across the state, several mosques are being taken care of by Hindus and Sikhs,” he said. 

Mufti Ataur Rahman Qasmi’s three books on historic mosques spread in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, provide an interesting account. Qasmi crisscrossed these states to find the status of these mosques abandoned due to the mass exodus of the Muslim population to Pakistan. He told Clarion India that the Punjab Waqf Board has also played an important role in the restoration of Muslim places of worship since its inception. It was earlier a combined board of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. “In my three separate books, have I listed 150 historic mosques in Punjab, 110 in Haryana and 11 in Himachal Pradesh and their status and now most of them have been restored,” he added.    

Tayyeb Falahi was also deeply involved in the drive for the restoration of mosques and had visited every corner of Punjab.

During the last two decades, he said, hundreds of mosques that were abandoned or taken over by others have been rehabilitated with the help of Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab countryside, serving as models of interfaith harmony. 

“Before 1990, the Waqf Board was issuing licences to individuals to keep the mosques and dargahs across Punjab functional. But a fatwa was issued saying that licences could not be given to run mosques. After that, hundreds of mosques became abandoned overnight,” said Falahi.

The Waqf Board lists over a thousand mosques and 61 dargahs on its land across the state.

“At the moment, many of these mosques are not under the Waqf Board supervision. These are taken care of by Muslim families, if there are any, in the village,” he said.

Unfortunately, he said, other mosques have been appropriated, and in some cases, people are using them as stables or storage facilities.

He claimed that the Punjab Waqf Board had carried out a survey that identified 200 to 250 mosques that required repairs and that a sum of Rs 5 crore had also been set aside, but the project fizzled out because the then-administrator Shaukat Ahmad Tare was transferred. 

Echoing similar observations, former Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Punjab, Abdul Shakoor, said Muslims make up about 2% of the overall population of Punjab. They have now overcome their fear mentality, especially the generation born after the partition.

Speaking to Clarion India, he said Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Punjab gave top priority to restoring abandoned mosques and developing good relations between Sikh and Hindu communities. In the past few years, more than 165 mosques have been restored in Punjab, he added.

After the partition, the Qadianis got active and built their places of worship at various locations. But we chased them out and constructed other mosques, he claimed, adding that Tablighi Jamaat also contributed to increasing the level of religious consciousness among the local Muslim population.

Falahi also underlined that there was a very cordial atmosphere prevailing in the state; new mosques are being built and old ones are being restored. 

It is to be noted that Qadianis have their headquarters in Qadian town in Pathankot district and they run all their worldwide activities from here.

Punjab has unquestionably set an example for the rest of India by building and renovating mosques, particularly in light of the hardline Hindutva groups’ attempts to sway public opinion by claiming that several mosques across the country were built after destroying temples.

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