//Muslims stall renovation of ancient Gujarat mosque

Muslims stall renovation of ancient Gujarat mosque

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Bhuj (Gujarat) – Muslims in a Gujarat town have thwarted a Japanese university’s plans to renovate an ancient mosque that was damaged in the 2001 earthquake.

Three years ago the University of Shiga Prefecture, Japan, began a renovation project in Bhadreshwar, on the shore of the Arabian Sea, about 90 km from here and 350 km from the main city Ahmedabad.

After talks with the residents, 20 buildings were selected and work began on one of the monuments partly destroyed in the powerful quake that killed over 20,000 people in the state.

However, all activity stopped earlier this year when Muslims here wrote to the district administration and the university saying they would not allow renovation of the oldest mosque in the town.

According to the Japanese academics, early Muslim settlers in India constructed the mosque in 1156. Some Indian scholars, however, say it was built later.

‘Although the Japanese undertook renovation of more than 20 structures, they were mainly interested in the ancient ones. After the objection, they stopped renovation of the 19th-century structures also,’ said Bharat Patel, who acted as a facilitator for the project.

The Muslim refusal came after a cleric from a nearby seminary called on the Muslim fisher folk and potters in Bhadreshwar not to allow funds from any ‘non-Islamic’ agency to go for renovation of the mosque.

‘You cannot renovate a mosque with money donated by unknown sources, particularly by non-Muslims. Why are they interested in renovating the mosque?’ Shoaib Ali, Sheikh-ul-Hadith of Faiz-e-Akbari madarssa in Luni village, told IANS.

Local leader Sulaiman Ali Vagher argued that since the community was not taken into confidence, they would not allow the restoration.

‘They should have taken us into confidence. Why should we allow an outsider to touch our mosque without permission?’ he asked.

Local NGOs, playing mediator, expressed surprise at Vagher’s argument.

‘Three gram sabhas (villagers’ meet) were organised wherein the district collector also participated. Those who are objecting now have actually signed the memorandum,’ said Dharmedra Karna of the Yousuf Meharali Centre.

But ordinary Muslims are simply not convinced.

Hassan Kara, a fisherman, said: ‘Why are the foreigners and Jains so interested in the mosque? What will happen if some Hindu inscription is found in the mosque during reconstruction? They must be looking for such inscriptions that can prove that this was an old temple.’

Some people are now saying the mosque was not damaged at all.

‘It (the renovation) will not take place. Why do they want to reconstruct a structure that is not damaged? We got repaired whatever damage it had sustained during the earthquake,’ said Jumma Maamad Kumbhar.

The dilapidated condition of the structure, however, shows otherwise. Part of the roof has collapsed while the rest is supported by haphazardly placed cement blocks.

The district administration is mum on the issue.

Assisant collector H.S. Mehta expressed ignorance: ‘I remember that the renovation began in Bhadreshwar. But I am not aware of the present status as I have been here for the last 12 months only.’