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Debating Islam ( 6 Sept 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Of mosques and temples

By Meghnad Desai

 Sep 05 2010

The controversy in New York over the opening of the Cordoba Centre which will house a mosque, is getting quite fierce. New Yorkers are divided evenly over the issue, with half of them asserting the right of Muslims to build a mosque where they like as long as they have taken the required permission, and the other half saying that the location of the site near Ground Zero insults the memory of the dead. The controversy will no doubt flare up more as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches.

There was a mosque near the Twin Towers before 9/11 and even now there are some humble locations where Muslims can pray if they work near Wall Street. That was then when the Twin Towers were the epitome of American business. Now it is hallowed ground and in as much as those who attacked it wore their religion prominently on their sleeves, Islam is seen, wrongly in my view, as the culprit. It is seen as a revenge by all Muslims on all Americans.

Rational arguments are often futile in such cases. From Muhammad Ali (previously Cassius Clay) whose conversion to Islam caused so much controversy thirty years ago to Malcolm X, a Muslim who finally discovered Islam’s message of peace only to be gunned down by his former Black Muslim friends, there are many Americans who are Muslims. Yet, many Americans are unaware of such facts; indeed 20 per cent of them say that President Obama is a Muslim despite evidence to the contrary.

The Cordoba Centre will happen unless its promoters choose to relocate it. America is a law abiding polity and since the building has a permit, it will go ahead. So it should. I do not expect the detractors to mount a destruction of the building. The issue is not secularism or anti-Islamism; it is the Rule of Law.

On the other hand, the imminent decision of the courts on the destruction of the Babri Masjid is already evoking fear in India. The Congress Party has been holding discussions on what to do when the verdict comes out. There is talk of paramilitary forces being deployed as a precaution. The act of vandalism which destroyed the mosque was illegal, whatever the emotional reasons which drove the Bajrang Dal,the RSS and the BJP workers to commit the act. There has been a lot of tergiversation on part of the BJP about this act and its leaders have said it was unplanned or that they were not aware of it. Even so, do they condemn it outright and agree that the perpetrators should be punished? Will the Party accept the verdict?

The issue is not of communalism or secularism. It is about the Rule of Law. Do Indian politicians believe in the Rule of Law or not?

The answer is that they do only when they can use it as a stick to beat their opponents with. This issue will not go away. When the problem of Babri Masjid comes up, we will have to face it. The VHP/RSS consider that the location of the Masjid on Ram Janmabhoomi is a fundamentally aggressive act by the Muslims on the Hindu ‘nation’, although it may have been done five hundred years ago. The historicity of Ramchandra cannot be questioned nor can we point out similar destruction of Buddhist places of worship and their conversion into Hindu temples ,for example the Jagannath temple at Puri. We need another approach.

The issue of mandir/masjid was live in the 1980s and early 1990s when India was unsure of itself. Two prime ministers had been assassinated by then and there had been an economic crisis. Now, there is a new generation ready to vote. India is a success story and the future is bright. Does new India care about a 16th century dispute being revived in the 21st century?

This is the issue which needs to be settled not in a court of law but by a verdict of the people of India. I propose we hold a nationwide referendum on the mandir/masjid issue. Let the nation decide whether we need continuing strife on this question or whether—as I would like us to—consecrate the ground with a multi-faith site of worship.

Source: Indian Express