A grey area in the July 2018 Supreme Court order barring outsiders from offering namaz inside Taj Mahal premises on Fridays has become a bone of contention between Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and members of Masjid Taj Mahal Intezamia Committee, which manages the mosque.
ASI contends the SC order implies that namaz can only be offered on Fridays by local residents, whereas the committee members say the order means that free entry for locals is on Fridays, while on all other days, anyone who has bought a ticket can offer namaz. The apex court had upheld a local administration’s January order barring non-residents from offering Friday prayers in the mosque on security ground.
Members of the committee allege that around 10 days ago, ASI locked the vazu tank, where namazis wash hands and feet before prayers, and even asked the imam to show up only on Fridays. ASI counters the claim, saying that after the SC order, the vazu tank is opened only on Fridays, and “might have been left accidentally open that day”. They added that upon realising it was open, they moved to lock it down and also prevented some people from offering namaz.
ASI officials say that “ever since they noticed people walking in to offer namaz on that day, they have ensured this doesn’t happen again, as the SC order bars namaz at the mosque on any other day except Friday”.
The move has invited ire of the local Muslims, who contend that they have been offering namaz inside the mosque for 400 years now and can’t be stopped by the ASI. They contend that the SC order merely bars non-locals on Fridays while there is no word on not allowing namaz on other days.
A memorandum has now been submitted to the office of Vasant Swarnkar, Superintending Archeologist, ASI-Agra circle, by Syed Ibrahim Hussain Zaidi, president of the committee, saying members of the community will continue to buy tickets and offer namaz on other days as well.
Swarnkar said the memorandum has been forwarded to ASI head office in Delhi “so that they take a legal opinion and revert”. “Till we hear from the headquarters, we are not going to allow namaz inside the premises on any other day except for Friday, that too, only for local residents.”
“I have requested ASI to allow namaz as has been the practice. No department can stop us from offering prayers at the mosque. This is our constitutional right,” Zaidi was quoted as saying.