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Hindu campaign to convert India's mosques into temples

'When myths are given precedence over historical facts': Hindu nationalists campaign to convert Muslim monuments and mosques into temples in India
7 min read
15 June, 2022
Hindu nationalists backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are running worrying campaigns to convert historical mosques and monuments, including the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar built by Muslim rulers in the medieval era in India, into temples.

Hindu nationalists backed by Narendra Modi-led federal government have been launching campaigns one after another to target the Muslim minority in India.

The country has witnessed many hateful campaigns and a cycle of violence against Muslims in the last eight years. Incidents of mob lynching, hate crimes, discriminatory citizenship laws, incarceration of Muslim activists, campaigns against the hijab and demolition of houses belonging to the poor Muslims are some of the prominent incidents which took place since Narendra Modi become Prime Minister of India in 2014.

Now, they are running campaigns to convert historical mosques and monuments including the Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar built by Muslim rulers in the medieval era in India into temples.

Leaders belonging to Hindu nationalist groups are filing petitions in the courts, making public statements and holding protests demanding to declare these monuments and mosques as temples. They claim that these monuments and mosques were built by medieval Muslim rulers after demolishing temples and now, they should be given the right to pray at these places.

“These are the days when myths are being given precedence over historical facts," explains Sayed Ali Nadeem Rezavi about the claims being by the Hindu nationalists about the mosques and monuments.

"One can engage with those who are interested in finding the truth, not those who are bent upon distorting the past,” Sayed, who is a faculty at the history department of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India, told The New Arab.

Rajneesh Singh, a leader of the Hindu nationalist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court of  Uttar Pradesh, a northern state where BJP’s hardcore monk Yogi Adityanath is the chief minister. In his petition, he claimed that the Taj Mahal was an old Hindu temple named as ‘Tejo Mahalaya’ and demanded to open some closed gates of the monument.

On 14 May, the court rejected the petition and reprimanded the petitioner. Even after the petition rejection, Singh is unapologetic about his wild claims about the Taj Mahal.

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The Taj Mahal located in Agra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by Muslim ruler Shah Jahan in the 17th century in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Another UNESCO World Heritage Qutub Minar, built by Muslim King Qutb-ud-in-Aibak in the 12th century in Delhi, is also being claimed to be a former temple by Hindu nationalists. In December 2021, a petition was filed in a Delhi court demanding the restoration of these temples allegedly demolished by the then ruler and the right to pray at its premises. The court had rejected the petition but in February the petitioner challenged the order in the higher court. 

On 10 May, activists from Hindu nationalist groups even gathered near the Qutub Minar to offer Hindu prayers at its premises calling the monument ‘Vishnu Stamph’ in reference to a Hindu temple.

The police did not allow them to offer their prayers at the site but they have submitted a memorandum to Union Home Minister Amit Shah with regard to their claims.

Criticising the behaviour of Hindu nationalists towards historical facts, Sayed pointed to the fallacy of the argument with regard to the claims to correct the historical wrongs. 

"How many mistakes are you going to correct? What about the monumental persecution of the Buddist and Jains, their shrines and places of worship which are recorded to have been demolished and converted to Vaishnava or Shaiva (temples)? Do you want to correct them? What about the Shudras (the Hindus who were historically considered as lower by the upper castes of Hindus)? All is recorded in black and white. Are you going to correct it as well?"

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Besides historical monuments, there are mosques too which are being claimed by Hindu nationalists. The ongoing campaign against the Gyanvapi mosque, located in Hindus’ holy city Varanasi, is now at the centre of public discussion after a court in the city sealed off a portion of the mosque in May after claims of the presence of Hindu relics (Shivling) in the Islamic religious place.

The court first allowed the survey of the mosque on the pleas of some Hindu women and then accepted the claims made by their lawyers without hearing the mosque's side. A commission was formed to then look into the matter.

The lawyers representing the mosque accused the court of bias and said that a lifeless fountain was wrongly declared a Hindu relic (Shivling). The mosque committee moved to the Supreme Court demanding to quash the local court’s order, but due to law 1991 Worship act, which bars changing of religious place’s status, many people were expecting that the apex court would declare the local court’s order null and void. On the contrary, it let that portion of the mosque remain sealed but allowed Muslims to offer prayers in the other parts of the mosque.

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Talking to The New Arab about it, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author and journalist, called the Supreme Court order “disappointing.”

“In the case of the Gyanvapi mosque, I’m extremely disappointed with the stand taken by the Supreme Court so far. The Court should not have allowed the survey of the mosque to take place. After the survey, the claim of Hindu parties about finding a Hindu relic in the mosque was also accepted.

"After sealing that area, it will be difficult for Muslims to take it back. Gradually, Hindus will go to offer prayers there which can be dangerous for the mosque in future,” said Nilanjan, author of The Demolition And The Verdict: Ayodhya And The Project To Reconfigure India.

His book is about the historical mosque Babri Masjid which was destroyed by the Hindu nationalists led by the BJP leaders in 1992 claiming that the mosque was built after demolishing a temple. Presently, a grand temple is being built on the mosque's land after the Supreme Court handed over the land for building the temple on the basis of the Hindu faith.

Many people including a prominent Muslim political leader Asaduddin Owaisi drew similarities between the ongoing campaigns to convert mosques into temples with the incident of the Babri mosque demolition.

“This is a textbook repeat of December 1949 in Babri Masjid. This order itself changes the religious nature of the mosque. This is a violation of the 1991 Act. This was my apprehension and it has come true. Gyanvapi Masjid was and will remain a mosque until the judgement day, inshallah,” said Asaduddin, president of the All Indian Muslim Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMMIM).

Not just the Varanasi’s Gyanvap mosque, Hindu nationalists are also targeting the Shahi Eidgah mosque of Mathura, Lucknow’s Teelewali mosque, Bhopal’s Jama Masjid, the southern state's Karnataka’s Malali mosque and the Srirangapatna mosque.

“The biggest impact that these campaigns will leave on Indian society is that it will hamper the development of the community. It will build up constant hostilities within the different groups of people, which is by far, the biggest worry. Society will constantly remain fiction, and can rupture at any point in time,” Nilanjan concluded.

Waquar Hasan is a journalist based in New Delhi. He covers human rights abuses and hate crimes in India.

Follow him on Twitter: @WaqarHasan1231