Indian Muslims upset over Taj Mahal prayer restrictions

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Indian Muslims are upset about a directive that restricts Muslims who wish to pray at the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra city of Uttar Pradesh state.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which is tasked with the monument’s management, said in a Nov. 5 order that only Muslims living around the Taj Mahal can pray on Fridays in the mosque adjacent to the mausoleum.Muslims from other areas are barred, Vasant Swarankar, superintending archaeologist at the ASI’s Agra chapter, told media.

Namaz (prayers) can only be offered on Fridays. Imams and staff can enter the mosque only from noon to 2 p.m., according to the order.The world-renowned mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife in 1658.

The UNESCO-designated world heritage site receives more than 200,000 overseas tourists and some 4 million local tourists every year. But Friday is a holiday when no tourists are allowed.The ASI said it was only implementing a July Supreme Court order that only residents of Agra should be allowed to enter the mosque for congregational prayers as unregulated entry could adversely affect the monument.However, leaders of Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, say the order is unnecessary.

Molvi Mohammad Amin, a Muslim cleric based in Jammu, questions how prayers could adversely affect preservation of the mausoleum.”For the past more than 300 years, Muslims have prayed in the Taj mosque. If prayers had affected it, the structure wouldn’t still be the most beautiful in the country,” he told ucanews.com.

He said the ban was part of the anti-Muslim policies of the state and federal governments run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).Syed Ibrahim Hussain Zaidi, president of Taj Mahal Masjid Management Committee, said those who bar Muslims from offering prayers are trying to hide government failures in preserving the place. “The order is illegal and arbitrary. The party in power has an anti-Muslim mindset and I am meeting with the government to sort out the issue,” he told media soon after receiving a copy of the ASI order.Molvi Gulzar Ali, a religious scholar, termed the ban “a worrisome trend.””If there is a mosque, Muslims hailing from anywhere in the world can pray there. The order issued by the government is bizarre and unnatural to the core,” he said.