Muslim World League chief’s sermon writes a new page in India’s Jama Masjid’s history

A standing-room-only congregation heard the first sermon in 400 years at the Jama Masjid. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 July 2023
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Muslim World League chief’s sermon writes a new page in India’s Jama Masjid’s history

  • Since its completion in 1656, the mosque has shaped the popular memory of the people of Delhi and the Indian nation
  • Friday discourse of Sheikh Al-Issa at Jama Masjid was the first sermon in 400 years by a religious figure from outside India

NEW DELHI: Constructed during the Mughal Empire some 400 years ago, the Masjid-e-Jahan Numa in the north Indian city of Delhi, popularly known as the Jama Masjid, is among the largest, most beautiful and most cherished places of worship on the Indian subcontinent.

Although the complex can accommodate 85,000 worshippers, it was standing room only when Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League and chairman of the Organization of Muslim Scholars, delivered the Friday sermon last week.

According to the MWL website, it was the first time in 400 years that a religious figure from outside India had delivered a sermon at the mosque. Al-Issa did so at the invitation of its imam and with a warm welcome from worshippers.




A standing-room-only congregation heard the first sermon in 400 years at the Jama Masjid. (Shutterstock)

Emperor Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal ruler in India, presided over the completion of the Jama Masjid in 1656. Since then, the mosque has shaped the popular memory of the people of Delhi and the wider Indian nation.

“Its foundation stone was laid on Oct. 6, 1650, under the supervision of Saadullah Khan, the prime minister, and Fazil Khan, the head of Shahjahan’s household establishment, at the cost of ten lacs of rupees,” wrote Sadia Aziz, a research scholar at the University of Delhi’s Department of History, in her 2017 essay “Mosque, Memory and State: A Case Study of Jama Masjid (India) and the Colonial State c. 1857.” (A lac is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to 100,000.)

It was built on a hill called Bhojla Pahari, 1,000 yards from the Red Fort, the palace-fortress of the Mughal empire in their newly established capital, Shahjahanabad.

The mosque measured about 261 feet long and 90 feet wide, its roof surmounted by three domes decorated with stripes of black and white marble.

Jama Masjid has three entrances, the northern, southern and eastern, of which the last was the Shahi gate, reserved exclusively for the emperor, who would arrive in a procession with princes, nobles and their retinue from the Red Fort every Friday and on Eid days.

The mosque is known by two names, the first of which is the royal one bestowed upon it by the emperor: Masjid-i-Jahan Numa. “Jahan” means “world” and “Numa” means “visible,” signifying, figuratively, a structure that commands a view of the entire world.

The second name, Jama Masjid, meaning “collective or congregational masjid,” emerged out of the social consciousness of the people and over time became more popular than the formal name.




MWL chief Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa. (Supplied)

When the city of Delhi was taken over by the British in 1803, leaving the Mughal emperor in place as the ritual imperial head, colonial authorities assisted with the repair and renovation of the mosque.

However, such efforts by the colonial authorities to endear themselves to the local population came to an abrupt halt during the uprising of 1857, known as the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Independence.

When colonial authority was restored in mid-September 1857, the Muslim population was specifically targeted, as the British perceived the uprising as being a Muslim conspiracy against them. Consequently, numerous mosques in Delhi were demolished.

Various options were discussed by the British as to the fate of the Jama Masjid. The plans ranged from demolition to conversion to a church or secular college. In the end, a plan was hatched to turn it into barracks for Sikh soldiers from Punjab.

After this initial planning, however, the colonial authorities softened their approach and instead tried to use the mosque as a bargaining chip to win over the Muslim citizenry of Delhi. After much petitioning, the mosque was returned to the inhabitants of the Old City on Nov. 28, 1862, with the imposition of several rules and regulations that were to be followed by worshippers.

Given the Jama Masjid’s long and checkered history, it was therefore a moment of great significance to have the head of the MWL deliver the Friday sermon and lead prayer before a congregation that reflected the diversity and unity of modern India.




the complex can accommodate 85,000 worshippers. (Shutterstock)

Al-Issa arrived in the capital New Delhi on July 10 at the head of an MWL delegation, following an official invitation from the Indian government. During his trip, he met Indian President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani. He also held meetings with senior Indian Islamic scholars and religious leaders of various faiths.

His visit was designed to promote fraternal and friendly dialogue, to enhance understanding and cooperation, and to discuss many topics of common interest between the faiths, officials said.

“The visit of His Excellency Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa enhances the relations between the two countries as well as relations between Muslims and followers of other faiths in India,” Mohammed Abdul Hakkim Al-Kandi, the imam of Jama Masjid, said in a video message for the MWL.

India is home to 1.4 billion people, including about 210 million Muslims who constitute the largest Muslim-minority population in the world. The majority of Indians are Hindus. Other minorities include Jains, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists.

More than 75 years after India gained its independence, the country has generally managed to live up to the ideals of a society in which the followers of many religions can live in harmony and practice their faiths freely. However, intercommunal conflicts have routinely flared, leading to calls for mediation and dialogue.

Religious leaders who were present at Al-Issa’s sermon and other events during his visit said they hoped it would further encourage interfaith harmony.

JAMA MASJID FACTS

Old Name Masjid-i-Jehan- Numa (the mosque that reflects the whole world)

Location Old Delhi, India

Date of construction 1644-1656

Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan

Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori

Capacity 85,000 in total

Length 40 meters

Width 27 meters

Domes 3

Gates 3

Minarets 2

Minaret height 41 meters

Material Red sandstone, marble

Cost 1 million rupees

Asghar Ali Imam Mahdi Salafi, ameer of the Jamiate Ahle Hadeeth in India, said he hoped the visit would have “far-reaching significance” and a “profound positive impact.”

Syed Naseruddin Chishty, chairman of the All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council, said the visit sent a message that Muslims believe in religious harmony and coexistence.

“Today is a great event,” he said. “It is a message to the whole world, the Muslim world especially, for Muslims living in India. India only wants peace. India believes in unity, in diversity and in universal brotherhood.”

Speaking to Arab News, Muddassir Quamar, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “Saudi Arabia has been working toward building an interfaith dialogue globally. At a time when the world has witnessed so much division and tension among different cultures and faiths, greater interfaith dialogue can help heal the humanity and develop lasting cross-cultural connections.”

He continued: “Saudi Arabia and India are close partners and the abode of two faiths, Islam and Hinduism. Both believe in peace and universality of humanity, so the visit by Sheikh Al-Issa will help in developing even closer cultural relations between India and Saudi Arabia. Indian Muslims have seen the visit in a positive light.”

One of Al-Issa’s speeches in the Indian capital, at the Vivekananda International Foundation, was attended by prominent religious leaders, intellectuals, academics, politicians and parliamentarians. Among the attendees was Adil Rasheed, a senior Indian strategic affairs and defense policy analyst.

“Dr. Al-Issa’s message of religious harmony and peace was very well received,” Rasheed told Arab News.




The Jama Masjid, seen here in a photo from 1877, was returned by the British colonial authorities to Delhi’s Muslim inhabitants in 1862. (Getty Images)

“His scholarship, wisdom and oratory kept audiences rapt, interspersed with frequent rounds of spontaneous applause.

“Dr. Al-Issa’s message of correct upbringing of children, untainted by radical and extremist thought, was highly appreciated, as was his insistence on the need for constant dialogue between religions and civilizations as the only legitimate means for resolving disputes and misunderstandings.”

Rasheed’s view was seconded by Siraj Kureshi, chairman of the India Islamic Culture Center. “Sheikh Al-Issa is a major personality and a scholar. He has a huge reputation particularly in the Islamic countries, so wherever he goes people look at him with a lot of respect,” he told Arab News.

“The message he delivered to Indians was good. His topics were humanity , women empowerment, youth and education among other things. These are his qualities. That is why people like him and listen to him attentively.”

He added: “Saudi-Indian relations are very old. They go back hundreds of years. They have honoured our prime ministers. There is a huge Indian population working in Saudi Arabia. I am sure his message has been well received.

“Sheikh Al-Issa’s visit should not be linked to the internal affairs of India. We should keep in mind our age-old relations with Saudi Arabia. I am sure he had his messages for the PM and the president when he met them during his visit.”


Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia

Updated 25 May 2024
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Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia

  • Students set up encampments at the University of Warsaw and Jagiellonian University
  • ‘We consider opposing genocide as our highest obligation,’ students say

WARSAW: Polish students have joined the global movement to end partnerships with Israeli institutions and were occupying the country’s top campuses on Saturday because of Israel’s war on Gaza.
Students and alumni of 12 universities in Poland have been calling on their management to publicly disclose which Israeli academia, research centers, organizations and companies they have been cooperating with and in what scope.
In open letters to rectors, they demanded that the universities “boycott Israeli institutions at the national and international level until the occupation of Palestine ends, recognize the right of Palestinians to equality and self-determination, and recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
As no action followed from university authorities, on Friday evening they set up encampments at the campuses of the University of Warsaw — the country’s largest academic institution — and of the Jagiellonian University — the oldest and most prestigious.
In a joint manifesto, the protesters said: “We will occupy the university space with our own bodies to demand action ... we consider opposing genocide as our highest obligation.”
Israeli airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza have since October killed 36,000 Palestinians with more than 80,000 wounded, the vast majority children and women. Many have lost their lives as most of the hospitals have been flattened by bombardment and no medical assistance could reach them.
Protesting students say that failing to oppose the onslaught would mean tacit consent — and complicity.
The University of Warsaw is linked through a research project to the Ben-Gurion University, whose Homeland Security Institute partners with the biggest Israeli arms manufacturers such as Elbit Systems, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. It is also linked to the University of Haifa, which runs special programs for Israeli forces and intelligence.
“As a student, I feel I should have a say in what our university is investing and what its partners are. We know that the university is tied to the Israeli army, forces and apartheid system,” Agnieszka, a sociology student and one of the coordinators of the strike at the University of Warsaw, told Arab News.
“That’s why I’m here ... I hope it will change something.”
Agnieszka was speaking from behind the university gate, which has been locked since Friday evening as campus authorities sealed all entry points, preventing anyone from leaving or getting inside.
People were coming to the gate and the campus fence to bring the students water, food and power banks, and to show support.
While no one could join their encampment anymore, the dozens of students gathered inside believed they could bring change.
“We’ve been protesting since October against the genocide that is occurring in Gaza, and now we’re sort of bringing it closer,” said Nena, who studies at the Faculty of Philosophy.
“We have more direct impact on the institutions we are part of.”
At the same time, 300 km away, students of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow were also locked up at their campus, posing the same demands as those in Warsaw, and vowing that they “will not be indifferent, will not be silent, will not be passive,” as they called for others to join.
“It’s important for me to be here,” Gabriela, an international relations student told Arab News from the Krakow protest site. “It’s important to show solidarity with other encampments around the world, so that authorities can’t ignore our demands any longer.”
The University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University have not engaged in any discussions with the protesters. Neither university commented on whether it would agree to the students’ demands. The spokesperson of the Jagiellonian University said that to “ensure the safety of the strike participants,” there was a person “appointed to monitor the situation.”


Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

Updated 25 May 2024
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Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

  • 111 million people vote in election’s penultimate phase
  • Temperature in New Delhi soared to more than 44 degrees Celsius

NEW DELHI: Voters in Delhi braved a sweltering heatwave on Saturday as they queued at polling stations in the penultimate phase of India’s general election.
The voting, which more than 968 million people have been eligible to do, started on April 19. Some of India’s 28 states and eight federally governed territories completed the process in a single day, while others have spread it out.
The sixth phase of the poll covered the capital, Delhi, as well as the neighboring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar in the country’s east, and Jammu and Kashmir.
In Delhi, voters queued to cast their ballots despite the temperature soaring to over 44 degrees Celsius — with humidity making it feel like 56 C, according to reports — prompting the Election Commission to deploy paramedics to some polling stations.
While there have been concerns over voter turnout — with the first phase estimated to have seen at least 4 percent fewer people take part than in 2019’s election — those who arrived to cast their votes said there was no way the heat could deter them.
“Voting is the only way we can convey our feelings toward governance. It is a decisive way. To spend one hour in the line after five years is not a big deal for us,” said Karan Sharma, who was voting in the East Delhi constituency.
“We were complaining about the heat, but ... it’s a duty, it’s like eating food. After every five years, the festival comes, we have to participate in it.”
For Kavita Wadhwa, who cast her vote in the New Delhi constituency, it was a matter of exercising her rights.
“We have the right to select our own leaders,” she told Arab News. “It’s important for us ... It’s a democratic country.”
The election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.
He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), led by the Congress Party, which ruled the country for close to 45 years following its independence in 1947.
Modi’s key contender is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru — all of whom were prime ministers of India.
Gandhi also cast his vote in Delhi on Saturday, after which he took to social media to encourage others to follow suit.
“Your vote will not only improve your life but will also protect democracy and the Constitution,” he said on X. “Come out of your homes in large numbers and vote for your rights and the future of your family.”
Around 111 million people were eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the election. Some of them, like Arohi Anand, were voting for the first time.
“I think it’s a great right ... The government is for us — if we don’t vote, it is on us,” he told Arab News. “(The heat) is a secondary thing. The most important thing is our vote, because the government is the most important thing; it will shape our future.”
The party or coalition that wins at least 272 of the 543 contested seats in the lower house of parliament will form the government.
The first five phases of the election have already decided the fate of 429 representatives. Saturday’s vote will add another 58.
The seventh and final phase of the election will be held on June 1. Vote counting will take place on June 4.


Russian strike on Kharkiv hardware store kills two: official

Updated 25 May 2024
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Russian strike on Kharkiv hardware store kills two: official

  • Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov said that “two Russian guided bombs hit a construction hypermarket“
  • Videos posted by witnesses on social media showed a huge column of black smoke billowing into the sky from the Epitsentr store

KYIV: A Russian strike on Saturday hit a store selling building materials in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, killing at least two people, its mayor said.
“We know for sure about two dead,” Kharkiv mayor Igor Terekhov wrote on Telegram, saying that according to preliminary information the strike hit a hypermarket for construction materials in a residential area.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov said that “two Russian guided bombs hit a construction hypermarket” and “a fire broke out over 15,000 square meters.”
Videos posted by witnesses on social media showed a huge column of black smoke billowing into the sky from the Epitsentr store, located in an area of large stores beside a car park. The chain of hypermarkets sells household and DIY goods.
“We have a large number of people missing. There are many wounded,” Terekhov wrote on Telegram.
“Apparently, the attack was on a shopping center where there were many people — this is pure terrorism.”
The city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest, regularly comes under attack from Russian missiles.
Strikes on the city killed at least seven people on Thursday, local authorities said.
Russia launched a ground offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region on May 10, but Ukraine said Friday that it had managed to halt its progress.


British man charged after allegedly joining Syrian terror group

Updated 25 May 2024
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British man charged after allegedly joining Syrian terror group

LONDON: A British man who allegedly travelled to Syria to fight for the Jaish Al-Fatah group has been charged with terrorism offences, the Metropolitan Police said on Saturday.

Isa Giga was arrested after arriving in London aboard a flight from Turkey on Thursday.

He was due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday. He is suspected of traveling to commit acts of terrorism.

“We have been clear for some time now that should anyone return to the UK whom we suspect of being involved in any terrorist-related activity overseas, then they can expect to be thoroughly investigated,” Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the force’s Counter Terrorism Command told the BBC.

“We work very closely with other partners and agencies here in the UK and overseas in order to do this and help keep the public safe.”


A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

Updated 25 May 2024
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A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

  • The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha
  • Police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men

LAHORE: Hundreds of Muslims in eastern Pakistan went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the pages of Islam’s holy book, ransacking and burning his house and beating him before police officers rescued the man and his father, officials said.
The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha, a city in Punjab province, said district police chief Ijaz Malhi. He said police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men.
Malhi said the situation was under control and officers were investigating the allegations.
The incident brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when angry mobs burned churches and attacked dozens in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province. Muslim residents claimed they saw a Christian and his friend tearing out pages from a Qur’an and throwing them on the ground. No one was killed. In 2009, six Christians were killed and some 60 homes burned down in the district of Gojra in Punjab following allegations of insults to Islam.
Malhi said police on Saturday dispersed the crowds and were also seeking help from religious scholars to defuse tensions. The Punjab government condemned the attack.
The man’s small shoemaking factory was also burned down, Malhi said.
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan.
Under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed for blasphemy, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.