Though in the end it was just a token namaz, offered by a handful of men behind curtains for a few minutes, this near-secret ritual on the rooftop of Bhojshala-Kamal Maula mosque dictated the course of events on Friday and Saturday.
The administration had moved nearly two dozen Muslims in the adjoining dargah in the night, much before the 1 pm to 3 pm schedule fixed by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) for Friday prayers at the disputed shrine.
The chosen Muslims were taken to the rooftop of Bhojshala before 1 pm by a ladder that was not visible to anyone because the structure was covered by tin sheets as tall as 14 feet several days ago. The access route to the shrine from the rear side was also not visible to anyone. Had the namazis taken the regular entrance, they would have been seen by those inside the shrine, but the ladder ensured they remained invisible.
The namazis were escorted out only in the night, that’s why no one saw them getting in and out of the shrine with Hindu organisations insisting in public even on Saturday that no namaz was offered and dismissing the photographs provided by the police as fake.
“We could not have asked for an elaborate namaz. We wanted only few minutes and got them,’’ said Mohammed Shakir Rizvi, who conducted the prayers. He said it would have been difficult to reach or come out of the shrine without police escorting them. He said about 40 persons were in the dargah but he did not encourage all to reach the rooftop.
“We offered the Fajr (dawn) ki namaz, ‘’ he said, adding that hundreds of Muslims were ready to offer namaz but the administration did not want trouble and they were requested to wait.
Arif Mansuri, a former BJP functionary whose nephew was among those who offered namaz on the rooftop, said the administration had stocked up water bottles and fruits inside the dargah for the namazis.
When the namazis got down and reached the dargah, the administration started allowing Hindu devotees to get in. The procession that had started from Motibaug around 11 pm, reached the main entrance only around 1 pm. In 2006 and 2013, the procession had reached the shrine much before.
It was this curious coincidence that some Hindu devotees did not believe and alleged that the procession was deliberately delayed by the organisers with the knowledge of the administration to allow the namaz to take place.