By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
01 January 2019
It is not an uncommon sight. Scores of
Muslim faithful every Friday block roads including highways and reclaim other
public spaces like parks to offer prayer. The Friday prayer is a special prayer
where the idea is that the ritual should preferably be performed in a
But then this obligation becomes a kind of
a performance where attestation of faith also becomes some kind of a political
statement. What many others, who do not share the same faith do not understand
is why this could not be done in private without disturbing the peace or
obstructing the movement of someone else. There is no disagreement about the
fact that other religious communities also do the same things: of course they
do. Therefore there is a need to debate this practice within different
religious communities. Likewise, it is up to Muslims themselves to have an
internal debate over the issue and chalk out a strategy which puts an end to
this problem once and for all.
The problem is not just limited to India.
Muslim faithful have been doing this across the world which makes one believe
as if this is part of some grand strategy. Recently, France banned the
performance of Muslim prayers on its street which had become a regular feature.
Not just in France, but Muslims have been doing this in other European countries
also. It is almost as if the inherent politics is to make the presence of Islam
felt in these countries. Muslims have been living in different parts of Europe
since many decades now but such a public proclamation of faith is something
new. Earlier generation of Muslims used to pray in the private confines of
their homes, but the new generation is more assertive and wants recognition of
the public character of Islam in these countries. This naturally makes many
Europeans nervous since they used to think that they have put the spectre of
religion behind them and feeds into the right wing narrative of Islamic
takeover of Europe.
The situation in India though has been
different since the beginning. The public character of most religions have been
recognised not just by communities but also by the state. Different governments
have shown deference to this public character of religion by organizing and
facilitating religious activities.
The largest gathering of humanity, the Kumbh
Mela for example has been organised by the state for many decades now. With
considerable costs, the state also organizes Hajj and many Hindu religious
pilgrimages. Of course Muslims have been praying on Fridays in public spaces
for centuries now. Not just parks but also highways have not been off limits to
them. And it must be said that at times it causes a lot of problems for those
who have to witness this performance every Friday. People face traffic chaos
and diversions which leads to a feeling of resentment against Muslims. Why is
it that Muslims do not think in their own self- interest and take a decision
not to pray in open spaces any longer? We must understand that parks and other
such public spaces are for the general public which are maintained by their
taxes. In India, there are religious rituals associated with all religions and
most do not mind to display them publically. Given this context, it is
imperative that certain spaces should be made free of any religious ritual.
Parks provide citizens of this country as neutral spaces which can be accessed
It is in this context that the recent order
of the NOIDA police should be read which prohibited Muslims from praying inside
public places like parks. The notice also requested companies that they should
make prayer provisions for their Muslim employees inside their offices. The
Muslim objection to this order is unreasonable yet understandable. It is
unreasonable because the Muslim argument that they have an inalienable right to
pray wherever they wish is ridiculous.
is true that the constitution gives minority communities the right to profess
and practice their faith in any which way they like. But this does not mean
that the state cannot interfere in its religious practice when it thinks that
pubic order or morality is at stake. The state has all the right to stop a
religious practice if it thinks that it is unworthy. Causing public discomfort
by taking away their space even for some minutes should definitely fall within
the purview of state regulation. Muslims do not have a special right to pray
publically and cry victim when they are stopped from doing so.
And yet the Muslim reaction is
understandable because of the perception that Muslims are being singled out for
such action. As argued above, Muslims are not the only religious group who have
a proclivity of public affirmation of their faith. Hinduism also makes similar
claims. So we have public celebration of different kinds of festivals within
Hinduism. But any question about their usurping of public spaces and causing
problems to other citizens seldom gets raised.
is it then that we are selective about civic virtues with regard to one
religion only? Are Muslims to be blamed if they think that their religion is
put too much into the negative spotlight? More importantly, we have a
government in Uttar Pradesh which is run by a known anti-Muslim baiter.
Therefore when his government issues a proclamation, even if it is for the
general good, it is perceived as being tainted with an anti-Muslim bias. If
there is a law which prohibits religious use of public spaces, then it should
be equally applicable to all religious communities. Otherwise, Muslims will
always think that this government is working overtime to suppress their
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in
Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In
Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women
in West, Islam Women and Feminism
circumstances can we neglect regular prayer? None!
When ye travel through the earth, there is no blame on you if ye shorten your
prayers, for fear the enemy May attack you: For the kafirin are unto you open
ye fear (an enemy), pray on foot, or riding, (as may be most convenient), but
when ye are in security, celebrate Allah´s praises in the manner He has taught
you, which ye knew not (before).
When thou (O Messenger) art with them, and standest to lead them in prayer, Let
one party of them stand up (in prayer) with thee, Taking their arms with them:
When they finish their prostrations, let them Take their position in the rear.
And let the other party come up which hath not yet prayed - and let them pray
with thee, Taking all precaution, and bearing arms: the Unbelievers wish, if ye
were negligent of your arms and your baggage, to assault you in a single rush.
But there is no blame on you if ye put away your arms because of the
inconvenience of rain or because ye are ill; but take (every) precaution for
yourselves. For the Unbelievers Allah hath prepared a humiliating punishment.
When ye pass (Congregational) prayers, celebrate Allah´s praises, standing,
sitting down, or lying down on your sides; but when ye are free from danger,
set up Regular Prayers: For such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated
When you can do anything else in a public park or public place, why can't you pray? Blocking the roads or disturbing any other normal activity in public places must however be avoided.
//But then this obligation becomes a kind of a performance where
attestation of faith also becomes some kind of a political statement… Earlier
generation of Muslims used to pray in the private confines of their homes//
The second great prophet of Islam has a different
view about praying in public.
““And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,
for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to
be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father,
who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward
you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling empty phrases like pagans,
for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like
them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, holy be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also
have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the
glory forever”. Amen.
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Mathew 6:5-8)
“"Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord!
Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of
my Father in heaven will enter” (Mathew 7:21).