Hundreds of Muslims gathered in New York City’s Times Square to break the first fast of Ramadan on April 2, 2022. This news made headlines all over the Internet, and similar news pieces continued to surface throughout the month of Ramadan. In many areas, roads known for heavy traffic were filled with Muslims observing the month-long fast. Being tolerant, we may cordially allow this fun and frolic for a particular day or occasion. But would it become a matter for concern if it developed into a standard practice around the globe? What if it became a weekly routine?
Imagine that these gatherings descend on some major roads and sit down to pray. They halt traffic, causing immense inconvenience to others in the process. When the crowd is done controlling the streets, they advance toward public parks and playgrounds. The crowd is allowed to pray for the love of communal harmony. The question is, how healthy will this practice prove for a diverse society? What does the public think about public assets being controlled by one community because they must pray and do it in the open?
In 2021, a group of Muslim children decided to offer their Friday prayers right across one of the busiest roads of the Hazaribagh-Chatra area in the state of Jharkhand, India, bringing the heavy evening traffic to a standstill. A netizen uploaded a picture of this demonstration on the Internet, which instantly went viral, sparking massive controversy. The local police arrested those who shared the picture on social media, instead of acting strongly against the adults under whose tutelage the spectacle was put on by the children.
There was a months-long altercation between Muslims and Hindus over prayers in public places of Gurgaon. The Hindu side demanded that the hijacking of car parks, market areas, and government-owned land for prayers must be stopped. Residents of the city assert that parks are created for their children to play and elderly parents to take a stroll. Understandably, Friday evening is the most relaxed time for most urban families, and they may want to spend some of it at the park. But a public park meant for social enjoyment becoming a religious center for a congregation of a particular faith trying to project their command and show off the changing face of Indian demography does not sit well with the locals. Many see this as a show of the Muslims’ growing power and influence in a town or city. Though it didn’t spiral into a violent riot, the controversy damaged the “harmony” between the two groups.
It’s not unusual to find hundreds of Muslims praying on railway tracks or platforms. A dead railway track, a government property, automatically qualifies as a prayer site these days. After witnessing this and noticing this pattern for decades, the silent majority decided not to stay silenced anymore. They have voiced their concern and, in some cases, vehemently opposed the practice of transforming public assets into Islamic properties.
Recently, Hindu activists in Bangalore staged a protest against the unlawful conversion of the public spaces inside the Krantiveera Sangoli Rayanna railway station into a mosque. They alleged that the mosque was set up by converting a porters’ restroom that members of all communities used before being turned into Masjid-e-Noorani 10 years ago. Reportedly, non-Muslims are now banned from visiting this particular room. To support their claims, activists have also released videos from this mosque on social media.
Illegal mazars mushrooming on railway platforms has become a familiar sight in various parts of the country. Only if a citizen anyone sums up the courage to report such encroachment in the name of faith and prayer is a police notice sent to take down illegal constrictions; otherwise, they are allowed to thrive. The authorities seldom take cognizance of such structures, and turn a blind eye to them.
Religious leaders often complain that mosques are crammed with more devotees than they can contain, and complain that their demands for more land/mosques are being overlooked. But how many mosques would be enough to accommodate the prayers of an ever-expanding population? As per the latest studies, there are over 700,000 mosques in India. The country is home to an estimated 204 million Muslims. That translates to 1 mosque for every 291 Muslims. And yet many Muslims are determined to pray in parks and streets on Friday evening, and this remains a bone of contention between the two dominant communities in India.
We conclude this discussion with the opinion of a Quora user, and we quote: “It’s not about prayer, it’s about display of the imperialist tendencies and the political nature of Islam. The goal is to block roads and cause inconvenience, while calling anyone who opposes it, communal.”