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Babri Mosque: a conflict manufactured by British lies

In the name of the One who is the wisest of all, who is the Creator of the universe but Himself has no abode. In thanksgiving to the Prophet of all prophets in the two worlds. In celebration of the glory of Babur qalandar [the recluse] who has achieved great success in the world.[1]

Wednesday, 5th August 2020. The day the world became apoplectic when Indian PM Narendra Modi broke ground to lay the foundations of a Hindu temple on land that only three decades earlier had been home to a centuries-old mosque. No, you did not miss it: social media was not set alight by the incident, nor did mainstream media, international politicians, and Muslim leaders express the slightest agitation – a far cry from when the Hagia Sophia was returned to its rightful state as a place of prayer.

Babri Mosque was a 16th century mosque built by General Mir Baqi[2] on the instructions of the Mughal Emperor Babur. According to inscriptions on the mosque, it was built 935 years after the establishment of the Islamic republic in Madinah.

Some argue that the site on which the Babri Mosque once stood in Ayodhya (or Ayodha) was a place of dispute, and that the Hindu claim to the land has some merit. However, Indian historian KM Pannikkar debunks this myth in his book  Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India. Pannikkar writes that the clash in 1855 was actually over the Hanumangarhi temple, which a Muslim group had claimed was built over a mosque. This Muslim group attempted to occupy the temple but were beaten back until they took refuge in Babri Mosque. However, the victorious Hindus did not make claims to the Babri Mosque at the time, suggesting that the origins of the mosque had not yet become factitious in Ayodhya’s collective memory. Pannikkar explains that the myth “originated, most probably, as an attempt to checkmate the Muslim claim on the Hanumangarhi temple.”[3]

The Nawab of Awadh ordered an inquiry into the 1855 discord and found that the Hanumangarhi Temple had not been built on land previously occupied by a mosque. The Hindu minority’s right to worship freely was therefore upheld.[4]

Historical Hindu Claim to Ayodhya

In his work on the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar titled Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazi writes that Muslim affinity for Ayodhya stems from its religious significance. The land is believed to house the tombs of prophets Shīsh and Ayyūb, and it is said that Nūh lived there. Indeed, there is a locality called “Nabi Nuh ka Mohallah”.[5]

In Babri Mosque: A Historic Bone of Contention, Arshad Islam argues that Ayodhya was not recorded in the first three Vedas, and that it is “far-fetched to claim as Valmiki does in Ramayana that present-day Ayodhya is the birthplace of Rama” and “that these popular stories about Rama have no historical basis and very often contradict historical evidence.”

This view is strengthened by Romila Thapar, who writes that the “Valmiki Ramayana, in its original form, was not a ‘sacred book’ as we understand sacred books today. It was a narrative, a story, cast in an epic mould.”[6]

Furthermore, the archaeological surveyor Alexander Cunningham concluded in 1863 that Buddhist traces were found in Ayodhya’s mounds.[7] This finding was substantiated by A.K. Narin’s excavation, which found that the residents of Ayodhya lived a very simple existence that was inconsistent with the urban lifestyle depicted in Valmiki’s Ramayana.[8]

Arshad Islam offers a different theory. He states that Chandragupta II[9] moved his capital at the beginning of the 5th century CE to the town of Saketa, which Chandragupta renamed Ayodhya, and that “while searching for the so-called missing Ayodhya, Vikramaditya [Chandragupta II] met Praya, the king of tirhas.” Vikramaditya asked a yogi (ascetic) for help, who advised him to allow a “cow and calf to wander freely and added that the site of the Janmabhumi (birthplace) would be fixed in the place where the milk from the cow’s udders would be discharged.” Islam concludes that “available archaeological evidence and historical sources only support the view that present-day Ayodhya situated on the right bank of the river Sarayu was identified as Saketa before the 5th century CE and was not the Ayodhya of Valmiki’s Ramayana.”[10]

A (Very) Short History of British Rule in India

In 1600, a British Royal Charter formed the East India Company, which began the process of the subjugation of India. In 1615, the British Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe presented himself at the court of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Author and Indian politician, Shashi Tharoor, described the Muslim Emperor as “the world’s mightiest and most opulent monarch” whose “empire stretched from Kabul to the eastern extremities of Bengal and from Kashmir in the north to Karnataka in the south.”[11] At the time, the English King was mocked and his assets scorned, but Roe’s supplication was acceded to and the British were given the right to trade and establish factories in India.

In 1700 CE and under the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, India accounted for nearly a third of the world’s economy. Aurangzeb’s treasury brought in £100 million in tax revenues alone that same year. However, by the time the British rapacity of India ended, its share of the world’s economy plummeted to 3%.[12]

In 1765, the East India Company was appointed as official revenue collectors. At first blush, this may seem remarkable, until the exploits of Dick Cheney and the Halliburton Company in Iraq are recalled.

Under the pretext of assisting local rulers, Governor-General Warren Hastings positioned a military contingent in the Awadh region in 1774 at the total expense of the Nawab. Hastings, together with Lord Robert Clive, are credited with laying the foundations of the British Empire in India and extorting vast sums from India with their army of cronies.

Under the command of Lord Clive, the East India Company conducted a military coup in Bengal and transferred the entire contents of the Nawab’s treasury, a sum of £2.5 million (£250 million today) into the Company’s coffers. Lord Clive, on his first return to England from India, took with him £234,000 (£23 million today) that he had looted from India, and in 1777 further returned with £400,000 (£40 million today). When Lord Clive reflected on his exploits in India, he commented, “I am astonished at my own moderation.”[13]

Edward Thompson and G.T. Garratt’s 700 page document of the activities of the Empire in India, entitled Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India, describes the Nawab as follows: “a more foolish person never occupied a throne: while his private vices are noted to be detestable as his weakness was conspicuous throughout….moreover his English allies, whether as government or as individuals, showed him no mercy.” Hastings himself commented that “every Englishman in Oudh (Awadh) had learned or taught others to claim revenue of lacs as their right, though they could gamble away more than two lacs (I allude to a known fact) at a sitting.” [14]

After a delay in payment of the tribute, Hastings and his militia arrested the female royalty of Awadh and imprisoned them to extort £1 million from them. This eye-watering sum may be difficult to appreciate given that this occurred in the 18th century, but it is around £100 million in today’s money. “The Begums were imprisoned, and their eunuchs put in irons and starved, and perhaps whipped,” write Thompson and Garratt, and “the Begums were made to disgorge a million sterling and the Company was put in funds by having the Nawab’s debts to it paid.”[15]

East India Company’s Hidden Agenda

The East India Company conducted a survey of eastern India within which it labelled Ayodhya a Hindu town, while the adjacent city of Faizabad was called “Muhammadan”. The report considered other cities and districts in India such as Allahabad, Harwar, and Kasi, but these were the only two areas that were classified in terms of their apparent religious identity. Just how the Company came to this conclusion given that both towns (Ayodhya and Faizabad) had majority Hindu residents is a matter of contention, but the obvious inference is that this was part of a strategy to create tension between the two communities who had, lived harmoniously for centuries.

These religious agitations were further stoked by P. Carnegy, who in 1870 claimed, without any evidence, that the Mughals had destroyed three temples in Ayodhya and replaced them with mosques because of “the well-known Mahomedan principle of enforcing their religion on all those whom they conquered.”

Baburnama is the personal memoir of the Mughal Emperor Babur, written in Turkish. Despite no record of the destruction or substitution of a temple for a mosque in Ayodhya, Annette Beveridge (who translated the Baburnama) still claimed that Babur had undertaken “the substitution of a temple by a mosque” in Ayodhya.[16]

It may be of interest to the reader that manuscripts of the Baburnama can be seen at the V&A and British Museum in London.

Arshad Islam states that the ongoing Hindu-Muslim conflict is a consequence of British policies in the Indian subcontinent, and specifically its policy to ‘divide and rule’. Islam concludes: “British officials thus tried their utmost to ensure Ayodhya was seen as a sacred place for the Hindus. But in fuelling the controversy over this town they did not differentiate between myth and historical fact and uncritically depended on legendary folklore as reliable source material for historical narrative.”

Furthermore, after the 1857 Indian revolt in which many Hindu landlords and Mahants (monks) of Hanuman Garhi had cooperated with the British colonial powers, the British obliged by rewarding the Hindu collaborators with confiscated Muslim lands.[17]

Modern India and the rise of the BJP

Following the partition in 1947, millions of Muslims fearing for their safety fled India to Pakistan. Taking advantage of the uncertain situation, a Hindu group placed idols of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana on the pulpit of Babri Mosque two years after the partition. The 421 years of Muslim worship at the mosque seemingly meant little to this group, and even less to the mob (watched by some BJP leaders) that used pickaxes and crowbars to tear the mosque down in 1992. The subsequent sectarian violence left 2,000 people dead, mostly Muslim.

Following the controversy of the idols being brought into the Muslim place of worship, the mosque was closed off, but the idols were not removed. Thereafter, the matter was locked in a lengthy legal battle.

The ensuing time has seen prominent lengthy legal battles. The BJP has popularised and capitalised on growing ultra-Hindu nationalist sentiment, whose ultimate aim is to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (state). The riots in 1990 and the subsequent collapse of India’s ruling coalition propelled the BJP from relative notoriety to becoming the centre power.

Standing beside Mohan Bhagawat, the head of the RSS (a militaristic Hindu supremacist group that is parent to the BJP), Modi, who had before the ceremony prostrated to a small idol of Ram, offered prayers to nine stone blocks with “Lord Ram” inscribed upon them. He did so fully aware of the symbolism: a moment of conquest for Hindu nationalism. But in doing so, Modi ignored the complex melange of colonialism, religion, mythology, and emotion that make up modern secular India.

As Modi laid the ceremonial cornerstone of the new Hindu temple, the irony of the Hindu grievance (as mislaid as it may be) against the 400-year-old mosque in the first instance was clearly lost on him. However, as he sat cross-legged, chanting mantras before a Hindu priest and being live streamed to millions, the Prime Minister confirmed to his political base a completion of a shift from a Nehruvian secular India – one in which all were equal under the law – to an overtly Hindu India. Modi proclaimed: “The wait of centuries is coming to an end.” The implications for the Indian Muslims are ominous.

Some have questioned Modi’s Ayodhya ceremony and suggested it is little more than a delightful distraction, given the harsh reality of COVID-19. The disease has teared through the country and the upper echelons of the BJP, including the hospitalisations of the Home Minister Amit Shah and the Home Minister Dharmendra Pradham. The economy is also set to shrink by 10%, whilst 100 million Indians have lost or are in serious danger of losing their livelihoods.[18]

Babri Mosque as a Blueprint

Babri Mosque was a sacred place as a house of Allāh, but ultimately it was only a triple-domed building made of bricks and mortar. However, its destruction speaks to the status of the adherents of its faith in India, and the events of the last 30 years document the gradual decline in the sanctity of their blood. Recent events, such as the Citizen Amendment Act, the annexation of Kashmir, or indeed the regular Muslim lynching and daily state-approved Muslim harassment provide vivid illustration.

There may be some right-wing fanatics in Israel looking to Babri Mosque as a blueprint for their nefarious desires on Masjid Al-Aqsa, and who will consider the lacklustre Muslim response to its destruction as setting a precedent.

However, what is missing from that calculation is the global Islamic renaissance that has occurred over the last few decades. A resurgence that saw the following Friday’s prayer after the New Zealand mosque terror attack brimming with worshippers. A resurgence that sees over £100 million being donated over the course of Ramadan. A resurgence that, despite the global apparatus of anti-Muslim propaganda churning out its material on a daily basis, sees Islam as the fastest growing religion in the world, especially among women. A resurgence that sees more and more young people, notwithstanding the temptations and numerous specious arguments that are made, return to their faith and proudly display the symbols of Islam.

It is up to the global Muslim community, whether from the fishing villages of Langkawi in the east, or in the terraced houses of Bradford in the west, to think of imaginative and lawful ways to resist. Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’ālā) has blessed this nation with intellect, zeal, and most importantly imān. Yet only a select few will be recorded by history as the game-changers. Only a handful will be from the sābiqūn. It is vital to remember that simply in resisting, in refusing to tap out, there is honour and there is triumph.

Source: www.islam21c


[1] Persian inscription on the wall of Babri Mosque

[2] https://www.britannica.com/place/Babri-Masjid

[3] https://www.firstpost.com/india/from-1855-to-2010-a-legal-history-of-how-contentious-babri-masjid-in-ayodhya-was-turned-into-a-temple-for-ram-4246593.html

[4] https://www.firstpost.com/india/from-1855-to-2010-a-legal-history-of-how-contentious-babri-masjid-in-ayodhya-was-turned-into-a-temple-for-ram-4246593.html

[5] The authority of these claims have not been verified

[6] Romila Thapar, A Historical Perspective on the Story of Rama

[7] A. Cunningham, Report of the Archeological Survey of Northern India, Vol I, Allahbad, 1865

[8] B.K. Thapar, Indian Archaeology 1976-77 – A Review, New Delhi: Government of India, 1980

[9] Also known as Vikramdatiya, was a powerful emperor of the Gupta Empire

[10] Arshad Islam, in Babri Mosque: A Historic Bone of Contention

[11] Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire

[12] Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire

[13] Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire

[14] Thompson and Garratt, Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule

[15] Thompson and Garratt, Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule

[16] Arshad Islam, Babri Mosque: A Historic Bone of Contention

[17] Arshad Islam, Babri Mosque: A Historic Bone of Contention

[18] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/amit-shah-indian-interior-minister-hospitalised-covid-19-200802132746751.html

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