The cleric who led the namaz in Noida’s Sector 58 park for the last five years was among two people taken into preventive custody by police on December 18. He, as well as Muslim rights activist Adil Rashid, who was picked up with him under CrPC Section 151, were let go three days later by the court.
The cleric, Nooman Akhtar, told The Indian Express that the number of people offering namaz in the park had gradually risen over the last five years, and this could be the reason for police issuing an order to private companies in the area, asking them to ensure their employees don’t participate in prayers at the park. “I have been leading the prayers since 2013. Initially, 100-200 would come. But the numbers rose due to word of mouth. There came a time when almost 1,000 people would come, but it was done in a peaceful manner,” Akhtar said.
On December 14, police asked the cleric to announce that there would be no prayers henceforth. “On that day, almost 2,000 people were there. Police cited lack of permission from Noida authorities, when in fact we had written to them earlier. So I told people no one is allowed to offer namaz till permission is obtained,” he said.
Meanwhile, a video emerged on Wednesday showing a man heckling Rashid and Akhtar, asking them about permission to offer prayer. “A few days before December 14, a man came to us with a mobile phone and started recording us while we were sitting in the park after namaz. There were only three-four of us. The way he was asking us questions, we were apprehensive of him creating trouble,” Rashid said.
When contacted, Sector 58 SHO Pankaj Raj denied links between the police action and the purported video. “We have not received any information about the video. We only took action on complaints by residents of nearby areas like Bishanpura. We reiterated the fact that there is no permission for prayers, as per authorities,” he said. Many people from firms in the locality would join the namaz. The park also had arrangements of water and prayer mats. The funding was managed through a donation box.
Murtuza Lal, who works with a firm in Sector 65, said: “The park was convenient for a lot of us since we cannot head to a masjid during work hours.”