Friday, August 21, 2020

Na mandir, Na masjid!

- Nighat Gandhi

November 9th, 2019. Judgment day. Allahabad’s streets were unusually deserted. For someone like me who abhors driving and having to share roadspace with other cars, pedestrians and cattle, I was relieved. I had to get a document attested so I ventured out to Kutchery that morning. No cars, no ricks, no pedestrians, not even stray cows. Parking was no problem for once. Even the cows figured out to stay away.

Before I reached this Kutchery, I stopped at a photocopying shop in Katra market. Men were sitting idly, discussing the Ram Mandir judgment in low tones. I found R.B. Singh, advocate, sitting behind a wooden desk in an enclosure filled with empty desks. No other lawyers or litigants were present. R. B. Singh was anxious to please. How many copies did I want attested? He took out his stamp pad in a jiffy, pressed the rubber stamp on the pad, and stamped the purple “thappa” on the photocopies, and signed his name. He didn’t bother to see the original document to compare it with the copies before attesting it.

I asked R. B. Singh how much I had to pay.

De dijye samajh ke.

I gave him 50. He didn’t look happy. I added 50 more. R. B. Singh took it, but looked forlorn. No other customers seemed likely that morning after the hyped up security concerns in anticipation of unrest or protests following the Ram Mandir judgment.

A traffic-free Kutchery, a pedestrian-free Allahabad, has never been so quiet even on a Sunday, as it was on that morning. I sighted one banana and one apple seller on a street normally packed with roadside vendors.  If only building a massive mandir where a masjid once stood could grant better jobs, better daily wages for vegetable walas and fruit walas, and bring down the price of onions and potatoes!


Demolishing a masjid to build a mandir, or demolishing a mandir to build a masjid, are political theatrics. Political victories. In the realm of the spirit, do they have any meaning? Ram does not reside in a mandir, nor does Allah reside in a masjid. Bulleh Shah, 18th century Sufi poet of Punjab, wrote:

Masjid dha dey, mandir dha dey/ Dha dey jo kuch dhendha

Ik bandey da dil na dhaveen/ Rabb dillan wich rehenda ay

Demolish mosques, demolish mandirs, demolish whatever you want,

But never demolish a human heart, for God lives in the human heart.

But in these pragmatic times who cares for the human heart anymore?  For the Sufis, the entire cosmos is the breath of the Merciful (nafs-ar-Rehman) so everything and every place in the cosmos is sacred because all of cosmos is a manifestation  of God’s beauty and majesty. It is only the fettered and limited human intellect that holds one spot as more sacred than another, and battles and sheds blood and passes judgments that make a mandir legitimate where a masjid once was.

For Mir Dard, an 18th century Delhi Sufi and poet, the idea of God was a paradox, a gorakh-dhanda, a limitless, timeless Truth that couldn’t be perceived by the intellect, but rather needed the depths of a spiritual heart to be apprehended:

Arz o sama kahah teri wusa’at ko paa sake

Mera hi dil hai vo ki jahan tu sama sakay

Could earth and sky contain Your grandeur?

Only in my heart could You find refuge



Do Muslims really need another mosque?

A masjid is a space where Muslim men and women bow before Allah in sajda, i.e. prostrate themselves in humility and gratitude. Women are spiritual equals of men, and are free to pray in mosques, or at least they were free to go to mosques at the time of early Islam. Since God resides everywhere in the cosmos, any place is appropriate for prostration before God. There is no need for the prayer space to be an enclosed brick and mortar edifice called a mosque. In fact, one of the first mosques was simply an open-air structure with a raised platform, adjacent to the prophet’s house in Medina. This space also served as a court for dispute resolution and a gathering place for the nascent Muslim community. Grand mosques were built much later, in keeping with the pomp and prosperity of later Muslim emperors. For the Sufi mystic, the mosque is the human heart where the ego surrenders itself before a transcendent Reality. 

But the heart has lost its value and meaning, and come to mean nothing more than a four-chambered blood pump that keeps us alive and when it gets clogged and stops functioning, we die.  It is not the higher centre of consciousness, where intuition, compassion and wisdom come from. Seeking to unite with a transcendent Reality is not a sought-after quest, either for the secular or the religious sorts. Think for a moment: what if we could reinstate the primacy of the compassionate co-existence as the core of human conscience, imagination and spirituality? What if we could disregard the narrow space designated for mandirs and masjids and expand our hearts and minds to have truly inter-religious places of worship? What if we collectively wake up to the heart as a compassionate space for all, in opposition to the alienating strictures of mandirs and masjids?   

Very few humans think very few radically new thoughts. Most of our thoughts are repetitive stuck in a rut. We can’t imagine an unimaginable future. Most of our thoughts are worn out thoughts like: talk of jobs and education and health and the price of onions.  What if we allow a thought like this space for realization in our imagination: Na mandir, na masjid. No mandir, no masjid. Instead, let’s build a bagh-e-aman ?  In the 5 acre plot awarded for the construction of the new mosque, instead of a mosque what if the Sunni Waqf Board members decide to lay out a garden of peace?

The ruling party has conducted a bhumi pujan to lay the foundations of building a Ram mandir as high as the sky. While the down-here world is caught in the throes of a pandemic and continues to grow increasingly inhospitable for the poor and women. Why do we need a sky  high mandir? Just in  U.P. where the sky- high mandir is to be built,  8 women get raped every day. Is building the mandir going to make women of UP feel safer?   

Here’s a thought: What if Muslims show wisdom and collectively refuse to build a mosque and dedicate the 5 acre plot granted to creating a bagh-e-aman, a safe space for women?

Women could come to this bagh-e-aman, stroll and rest, free of anxiety, away from the rapacious men who stalk, rape and burn them to death. Imagine! A five-acre safe space devoted exclusively to women.   Where all women—muslim non muslim rich poor young old single coupled rural urban able disabled, of any faith no faith any gender identity any sexual orientation: straight, gay, trans, ALL women feel safe. I don’t know of any such public space where all women feel safe all the time. Even the home is not such a safe space for women.

Where could harried mothers relax under the trees, having left their kids at a child care facility for a few hours?   Where does the state subsidize women’s leisure hours?  Where does the state take up the running expenses of a recreational space for women? If the state refuses to do such a thing, can the concerned people of a community set an example? And take on the responsibility of laying the foundations of a bagh for women? And let it be managed, run and operated by women? And have the cooperatively  run, no loss no profit restaurants serve healthy affordable meals for women and children, freeing women of daily drudgery of cooking?  There could be an exercise centre inside the bagh, a  library, counseling cell,  conflict-mediation centre, and perhaps even a multi-faith place of quietude, where women could sit, pray, read spiritual poetry or meditate in silence.

The Sunni Waqf board, an all-male board, the decision makers in-charge of construction of the new mosques:  Can they be expected to create such a space in Ayodhya instead of building a mosque?

Faiz Ahmed Faiz has been accused of writing anti-Hindu lines in his poem Ham Dekhenge. I quote some lines from a Faiz ghazal.  Faiz’s exhortation to perform the prayer of love no matter how unfavourable the external circumstances, to strive for unattainable destinations, to never, never give up on our dreams no matter how impossible their realization seems, can serve as the symbol of hope for this imaginary exercise. Even though I don’t envisage a bagh-e-aman in place of a mosque in Ayodhya,  the dream, the justuju must be kept alive. My namaz e shauq must be performed for now in the imagination.

Na tan mein khun faraham, na ashk aankhon mein

Namaz e shauq to wajib hai, bewuzu hi sahi

Nahi nigah me manzil to justuju hi sahi

Kisi ke vaada e farda ki guftugu hi sahi

Even without blood in the body, without tears in eyes

The prayer of love is obligatory,

Strive to reach the unreachable

Speak of the unattainable promises of union

The prayer of love must be performed even without ablutions

PS- Nighat Gandhi is a writer and has four  books, story collections and many articles. She is also a mental health counsellor. She identifies herself as south Asian queer feminist. 

(The views expressed in the article is author's personal views)


Unknown said...

Beautifully penned Nighat.

nidhi said...

"Think for a moment: what if we could reinstate the primacy of the compassionate co-existence as the core of human conscience, imagination and spirituality? What if we could disregard the narrow space designated for mandirs and masjids and expand our hearts and minds to have truly inter-religious places of worship? What if we collectively wake up to the heart as a compassionate space for all, in opposition to the alienating"

This reminds me of the common prayer halls in hospitals and an essay written by वियोगी हरि called "विश्व मंदिर" । It to called for a common temple.

I think the Lotus Temple of Bahai faith does have a common prayer hall.

But, probably, a common prayer hall/temple doesn't appeal to people whose primary identity(as per them) is a religious identity.

*Religious (practicing ones) identities make people feel unique, special and important yet safe and accepted in the company of co religionists. It is a kind of paradox. They want to feel different yet they want to feel they belong*

Spiritual and not being a practicing believer(at least the rituals) is a different ball game all together.

Though once during a discussion in a meeting a Prof said something about Communism being good yet having done nothing for the spirituality (रुहानियत) of the people. I asked him how would an ideology do anything for रुहानियत when it does not believe in the existence of रुह itself. He was kind of pissed off and responded with "You don't have to take of the word रूहानियत literally. All words have an history/journey (not sure what word he used here) and you have to understand the spirit of that word.

This conversation has stuck with me because it has set me thinking about the reason why most people shy away from such a highly evolved ideology is probably this limitation to do something for the रूहानियत of the people. Esp if one is to read the "Dialectical and historical materialism", one finds that it denies the existence of spirit as such.

And in that sense your suggestion of a "Bagh-e-aman" comes as an all encompassing and compassionate idea.

I could not understand this sentence :

"Reality is not a sought-after quest, either for the secular or the religious sorts."

Please elaborate.

Post a Comment