By Bijay Kumar Minj
Delhi High Court has ruled that the controversial Nizamuddin Markaz mosque in India’s capital can open for Ramadan prayers by following standard Covid-19 guidelines.
On April 2, the court rejected a plea from the federal government and Delhi police that only 20 people be allowed to enter the premises at a time out of a police-verified list of 200.
The mosque was closed 13 months ago after a conference at Nizamuddin Markaz was blamed for spreading Covid-19.
Mohammad Salim Engineer, secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, told UCA News that it would be discrimination to close the mosque when shopping malls, bars and restaurants are open.
“Ramadan begins on April 14 and is considered a holy month in Islam when people pray and fast and prefer to visit mosques. It would be an injustice to them when other religious houses are open and only Markaz in closed,” he said.
“Covid-19 will not only target a particular group — it is here for all and anybody can be affected by this deadly disease. We should all follow the standard Covid-19 rules from the federal government and be safe and help others to be safe.”
Pronouncing the court verdict, Justice Mukta Gupta observed that “a mosque is an open place. They don’t have to have a fixed number of devotees when no other religious place has such restrictions.”
Gupta also refused to have a police-verified limit of 200 people who could visit the mosque, stating that anyone could visit a temple, mosque or church.
He suggested that a list of people in charge of managing the mosque be handed to the local station house officer.
Gupta also ordered police to oversee an inspection of the mosque to determine the number of people who can offer prayers in accordance with social distancing rules and Delhi Disaster Management Authority guidelines.
The court ruling came on the same day that thousands of Hindu devotees bathed in the Ganges River to celebrate the Kumbh Mela festival in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
Allowing such large gatherings has been questioned as India faces a significant surge in Covid-19 cases.
Catholic lay leader A.C. Michael told UCA News that it would have been wrong to restrict prayers at Nizamuddin Markaz mosque when there are no restrictions on the assembly of other religious groups.
“Moreover, no religious place can provide a fixed list of attendees that are expected to attend a particular service as all religious places are open and anyone can go to worship whether one belongs to that particular religion or not,” he said.
“It is high time political parties started behaving according to the constitution of India instead of their party ideologies.
“The slogan of ‘Sabka Saath and Saab Vikas’ [Everyone’s support, everyone’s development and now everyone’s trust] should be practiced in reality, not just publicity, as we are being told that some of the electioneering slogans should not be taken seriously as they are merely fake.”
Nizamuddin Markaz was at the center of criticism in March 2020 after several members who had attended a Tablighi Jamaat event tested positive for Covid-19.
Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic missionary movement, had hosted a congregation attended by followers from India and abroad. After the event, many members moved back to their home states, with some showing coronavirus symptoms.
The federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several media outlets alleged that about 30 percent of India’s total infections were caused by the Tablighi event.
Religious minorities like Christians and Muslims say that India has been witnessing increased religious polarization since the came to power in 2014. It projected itself as the champion of Hindus, bolstering Hindu groups to accelerate their action to turn India into a Hindu-only nation.