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Islamic Centre: an architectural wonder

With its bright turquoise dome,built with uneven tiles donated by the Iranian government and inscribed with Quranic verses,the India Islamic Cultural Centre stands out among the other buildings on Lodhi Road.

Written by Chinki Sinha | New Delhi |
February 25, 2009 2:23:34 am

…and a secular structure — about a fifth of its 2,000 members are Hindus; open to all faiths

With its bright turquoise dome,built with uneven tiles donated by the Iranian government and inscribed with Quranic verses,the India Islamic Cultural Centre stands out among the other buildings on Lodhi Road.

“It’s exquisite,one of its kind,” Atif Wajhi,one of the managers at the centre,says. “You see,there is no other building like this here. It’s not just a structure,it means much more for the community,” he says.

Historical background
The history of the centre,which was inaugurated in 2006,can be traced back to 1980,when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave land to a group of Muslim elites who wanted to build an Islamic centre. That year also marked the 1400th year of Prophet Muhammad’s life and the group wanted to construct a structure to commemorate him. Hakim Abdul Hamid,founder of Hamdard,gave Rs 20 lakh towards payment for the land. “The government didn’t give the land for free,” Wadood Sajid,media advisor at the centre,said.

The group wanted the centre to be open to people of other religions and have a secular tone.

No smooth sailing
But lack of government support and delays in getting the necessary permits,along with a lack of funds held up construction of the proposed centre.

In the meanwhile,two old government buildings that stood on the land,which measured about 2.5 acre,were used to provide temporary housing for Muslim students,who had come to the city either for taking examinations or to study.

It was only much later in 2003 that Sirajudin Qureishi,the current president of the India Islamic Cultural Centre,offered to help build the centre.

The centre already had 600 members at the time. In January 2004,Querishi was elected as president and things began to move forward. After paying off a liability of Rs 84 lakh,Qureishi started raising funds for the construction of the centre building.

Several eminent persons donated money. Some states too contributed. And within 15 months,the building was ready.

But this wasn’t smooth sailing either. The group hit a roadblock when it came to procuring loans and finally got a co-operative bank,the Bombay Mercantile Co-operative Bank,to advance a loan.

Two functional years later,around Rs 2.63 lakh of the Rs 4-crore loan have been paid off,Sajid said.

Bringing communities closer
Now the centre has more than 2,000 members. The lifetime membership charge of Rs 30,000,which was Rs 2,000 a few years ago,doesn’t act as barrier for the middle class wanting to become members of the centre,Sajid says. “There are thousands waiting to become members of the centre,” he says.

About 20 per cent of the members are Hindus. Dinesh Madan joined the centre a couple of years ago after his friends recommended it. A businessman,Madan says he has never felt discriminated against. “It’s a good meeting point for all cultures and will lead us to accept each other. The people at the forefront are very educated and have foresight,” he says.

But some members say the executive committee should have representation from different religions as well. At present,the 12-member committee is an all-Muslim body. Sajid,however,says no Hindu came forward to contest elections that were held earlier this year. In the long run,however,members feel the centre will be able to promote understanding between communities. “We have always wanted the centre to have a non-political and secular character. We talk about Indian Islam here because as Indians we have a common culture,” Sajid says.

Positive role
The centre has assumed an active role in dispelling stereotypes about Islam,particularly in the wake of the recent terror attacks and the negative branding of the community. After the Mumbai attacks,the centre asked the government to form an independent panel to investigate the attack,Sajid says. The centre also offers programmes for low-income groups,including free coaching for UPSC aspirants .

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