Ayodhya: Muslim Argument
At first, the demand-cum-assurance was, "If you can
bring any proof showing a temple had been demolished to construct
the mosque, we will ourselves demolish the mosque". A host of
documents -- reports of the Archaeological Survey of India going
back to 1891, Gazetteers going back to 1854, survey reports going
back to 1838 were produced which stated unambiguously that a Ram
temple had been demolished to construct the mosque".
The demand suddenly changed. "These are all British
documents", it was now said. "The British concocted this story to
divide and rule. "Show us some Pre-British documents" was an
invention to get over inconvenient facts. It became evident soon
enough, when in response to Chandrashekhar's initiative the All
India Babri Masjid Action Committee submitted documents, most of
these turned out to be nothing but the rulings of sundry British
magistrates. Worse, they confirmed what the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
had been saying: that the mosque had not been in use since 1936;that
it has been built by demolishing the Ram temple: that the Hindus
had, at the cost of many lives, been trying throughout to capture
the spot, as they held it to be the sacred birth place of Lord Ram.
In any event, non-British, specifically Muslim
documents as well as pre-British documents, including the account of
an Austrian Jesuit priest who had stayed in Ayodhya in 1766-71 were
produced. Each of them stated the same facts.
But each of these is only repeating what the other
is saying. It was demanded that show some contemporary document".
The demand for such a document was manifestly a dodge : the one
document -- the Babarnama -- which could have settled the matter is
truncated: Babar records his reaching Ayodhya on 2 April 1528. The
pages from then to 18 September 1528 are missing, and are surmised
to have been lost in a storm in May 1529, or during Humayun's
subsequent wanderings in the desert as a fugitive. The matter,
however, was soon nailed. If the absence of a contemporary accounts
- the very day's Court bulletins recording the destruction of the
temples of Mathura, Kashi, Pandharpur and scores and scores of other
places and their replacement by mosques are available proof enough
to propel Shahabuddin etc to demolish those mosques?
No answer was forthcoming, instead, there were
demands for more concrete proof. This was soon available in the
results of the archaeological excavations which had been conducted
in 1975-86, when attention was drawn to the pillars on which the
domes etc. of the mosque rest to this day. to the carvings on these,
it was said that these could well have been brought from elsewhere.
But that alibi too floundered. It could not account for the pillar
bases which were found three to four feet below the surface just
outside the boundary wall; these were in perfect alignment with the
pillars inside the mosque, and it was clear that, along with them,
there must have been pillars on these bases which supported the
larger structure of the temple; no one would have dragged bases of
pillars from a distance and buried them outside the mosque to align
with pillars inside the mosque!
So, archaeology itself was denounced. And sophistry
was put out. Irfan Habib led the charge. But his own howler showed
his arguments to be special pleading: if one went by the dates he
ascribed on the basis of "Carbon dating" and all. Babar would have
expired in 1965 instead of 1530, the reign of Akbar would commence
in 2001 instead of having ended in 1605.
Since then, the case of these pleaders has been
made worse by the new finds: entire walls and floor levels have now
come into-view, twelve to fourteen feet below the surface. No one
could have picked these up from a distance and planted them below
Shahabuddin’s Latest Argument
At the discussion on Ayodhya which Newstrack
organised on 1 August Shahabuddin produced yet another argument. I
had just quoted a signed statement he had distributed to the press
as late as 15 June 1989 in which he had said. "But the Hindu
chauvinists are totally confused about their own case... "Whatever
the Hindu chauvinist case, the Muslim community has, without any
legal obligation, offered, as a moral gesture, to demolish the Babri
Masjid -- if it is proved that a temple stood on the site of the
Babri Masjid and it was pulled down to construct the mosque. As the
point at issue accordingly was whether there had been a temple at
the site, I said, we should focus on the archaeological evidence to
settle the matter.
Shahabuddin said that he stood by the statement.
His argument was that The temple just could not have been pulled
down as pulling down a place of worship to construct a mosque is
against the Shariat. Incredulous, The principal correspondent of
Newstrack, Manoj Raghuvanshi, later asked Shahabuddin whether in
that case no temple had been demolished by Muslim rulers. "It is not
a historical fact", said Shahabuddin, "that a standing temple in
peace time was demolished by any Muslim ruler". "Assertions to the
contrary", he said, "are all chauvinist propaganda"; Even with the
hedging -- "standing temple", "in peace time" -- that was quite a
lump to swallow. "You mean even Sonmath was not demolished".
Raghuvanshi asked, "Sonmath was disintegrated," said Shahabuddin,
and reaffirmed his thesis that temples could not have been
demolished because pulling them down to build mosques was against
"Disintegrated", not "demolished"? A disingenuous
give-away. I thought the VHP would be quite satisfied with that kind
of disintegration now. Even if one accepted his contention about
Shariat, the Inference Shahbuddin had drawn was indefensible; it was
like saying that no murders take place today because murdering is
prohibited by the law.
But there is a more conclusive point. Is it at all
the case that demolishing a place of worship to replace it with a
mosque is prohibited by the Shariat?
Encyclopedia of Islam
Every single Muslim historian of medieval India
lists temples which the ruler he is writing about has destroyed and
the mosques he has built instead. In his famous work, Sita Ram Goel
reproduces some of these account verbatim1. Doing nothing but this, without any comments
at all, takes over 170 printed pages of the book.
Nor was the practice confined to India, or to
temples. Here are just two paragraphs from the 75 pages long entry.
In the Encyclopedia of Islam2
"...it is rather doubtful whether the process (of acquiring
churches) was a regular one; in any case the Muslims in course of
time appropriated many churches to themselves. With the
mass-conversions to Islam, this was a natural result. The churches
taken over by the Muslims were occasionally used as
dwellings3. At a later
date, it also happened that they were used as government offices, as
in Egypt in 146.4 The obvious
thing, however, was to transform the churches taken into mosques. It
is related of ‘Amr b, al-Asi’ that he performed the salat in a
church (Makrizi, iv. 6) and Zaid b. ‘Ali says regarding churches and
synagogues, ‘Perform thy salat in them: it will not harm
thee5. It is not clear
whether the reference in these cases is to conquered sanctuaries; it
is evident, in any case, that the saying is intended to remove any
misgivings about the use of captured churches and synagogues as
mosques. The most important example of this kind was in Damascus
where al-Walid b. ‘Abb al-Malik in 86 (705) took the church of St.
John from the Christians and had it rebuilt; he is said to have
offered the Christians another church in its
stead6. He is said to
have transformed into mosques ten churches in all in Damascus. It
must have been particularly in the villages, with the gradual
conversion of the people to Islam, that the churches were turned
into mosques. In the Egyptian village there were no mosques in the
earlier generation of Islam7.
But when al-Mamun was fighting the Copts, many churches were turned
into mosques8. It is also
recorded of mosques in Cairo that they were converted churches.
According to one tradition, the Rashida mosque was an unfinished
Jacobite church, which was surrounded by Jewish and Christian
graves9. In the
immediate vicinity al-Hakim turned a Jacobite and a Nestorian Church
into mosques10. When Djawhar
built a palace in al-Kahira, a dir was taken in and transformed into
a mosque11. Similar
changes took place at later dates12
and synagogues also were transformed in this way13. The chief mosque in Palermo was previously a
church14. After the
Crusades, several churches were turned into mosques in
"Other sanctuaries than those of the ‘people of the
scripture’ were turned into mosques. For example a Masjid al-Shams
between Hilla and Kerbela was the successor of an old temple of
Shamash16. Not far from
Ishtakhr was a Masjid Sulaiman which was an old 'fire-temple'. the
pictures on the walls of which could still be seen in the time of
Mas’udi and al-Makdisi17.
In Ishtakhr itself there was a djami’, which was a converted
fire-temple18. In Masisa, the
ancient Mopsuhestia, al-Mansur in 140 built a mosque on the site of
an ancient temple19. The chief
mosque in Dihli was originally a temple20. Thus in Islam also the old rule holds that
sacred places survive changes of religion. It was especially easy in
cases where Christian sanctuaries were associated with Biblical
personalities who were also recognised by Islam: e.g., the Church of
St John in Damascus and many holy places in Palestine. One example
is the mosque of Job in Shekh Sad, associated with Sura xxi. 83,
xxxviii. 40; here in Silvia's time (fourth century) there was a
church of Job.
Prophet and Shariat
But could it not be that, like the Muslim rulers in
India, these Muslim rulers of the Middle East were also doing all
this in violation of the Shariat? As we know, the Shariat is based
on what the Quran says and on what the prophet did, that is on the
Sunnah. The Quran is sanguinary in the extreme, there can be little
doubt on the matter. The only question therefore is about what the
Prophet himself did.
The evidence is incontrovertible -- it leaves
nothing of Shahabuddin's latest argument. The Prophet's companions
as well as his biographers -- the earliest. all devout Muslim, whose
accounts are the most authoritative sources we have of the Prophet's
life -- report his ordering the destruction of a mosque as it had
been set up by persons he did not think well of, they report his
ordering new converts to demolish a church and establish a mosque
instead at the site, they report his converting what had on all
accounts become a pagan temple, with idols, paintings and all, into
the greatest mosque of all -- that is, the Kaba itself. There is
space to recall just an incident or two.
We learn from Ibn Sa’d’s book and widely used
collection of Hadis, of a delegation of 13 to 19 members of Banu
Hanifah calling upon the Prophet. We learn of them being looked
after generously -- with bread, meat, milk, butter, dates. They
receive instruction in Islam. They swear allegiance to the Prophet.
It is time to leave. Talq b. Ali, who was in the delegation, states:
"We went out as a deputation to God's messenger and swore allegiance
to him and prayed along with him. We told him that we had a church
in our land, and we asked him for some of the leavings of the water
he used for ablution. He called for water, performed ablution, then
poured it out for us into a skin vessel, and gave us the following
command. ‘Go away, and when you come to your land break down your
church, sprinkle this water on its site, and use it as a mosque’. We
told him that our land was distant, the heat severe, and that the
water would evaporate, to which he replied, ‘Add some water to it.
for it will only bring more good to it23.’
Upon returning they did as the Prophet had
commanded. Our narrator. Talq b, Ali, became the muezzin of the
mosque and recited the azaan. The friar of the church. the
reverential Ibu Sa’d records. "heard it (the azaan) and said, ‘It is
a word of truth and call to truth’. Then he escaped and it was the
end of the regime’24. Any ambiguity
Nor can Shahabuddin's claim that Shariat forbids
the destruction of temples etc. in peace time be sustained in view
of what the Prophet himself commanded and did. His earliest
biographers -- Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa’d, for instance -- record
instance after instance in which idols and temples were smashed,
destroyed and burnt down at his orders. The temples of al-Uzza,
al-Laat, and al-Manaat -- the three goddesses who are subjects of
the Satanic verses in the Quran -- the temples around Ta’if, those
of Fils and Ruda in Tayys -- are all reported by them to have been
destroyed on the direct orders of the Prophet. Similarly, the
biographers report the Prophet's joy when converts came and reported
to him that they had destroyed this temple or that, or smashed to
smithereens this idol or that. These were not instances when during
a battle an army over-ran a site which happened to be a temple.
These were instances of persons or tribes having come over to Islam,
and then, as part of their new commitment, destroying the places of
Nor, it must be noted, was the Prophet less stem
about some refractory party setting up even a mosque. His orders at
Dhu Awan are well known. Ibn Ishaq reports that as the Prophet
approached the town, the devotees approached him saying, "We have
built a mosque for the sick and needy and for nights of bad weather,
and we would like you to come to us and pray for us there". The
Prophet, Ibn Ishaq records, said that "he was on the point of
travelling, and was preoccupied, or words to that effect, and that
when he came back, if God willed, he would come to them and pray for
them in it". But at Dhu Awan, upon hearing about the mosque, he
summoned the followers, "and told them to go to the mosque of these
evil men and destroy and burn it". That is exactly what the
followers then did. A revelation came down from Allah and sanctified
I just do not see where Shahabuddin derives his
cumenical rule from.
A Conclusive Example
But the most telling example is that of the Kaba,
and the Masjidal-Haram, the mosque -- the most revered in Islam
around it. And it is to this that we should turn to settle the
As we saw, Shahabuddin’s latest argument is that no
Muslim ruler could ever have destroyed a temple to build a mosque as
doing so is prohibited by the Shariat. The Shariat is derived
pre-eminently from what the Prophet himself did and said. So, the
question is; how does that argument fare in the light of what the
Prophet himself did?
The conclusive answer to this matter -- as to
several others which have cropped up in the Ramjanmabhoomi
controversy -- lies In the history of the Kaba and the Masjid
al-Haram in which it is situated.
Mat the Kaba was
Till the very day the Prophet took it under his
control after his conquest of Mecca, the Kaba and the structure
around it were a place of pagan worship with idols and paintings of
all sorts of gods and goddesses.
From the earliest to the most recent biographers of
the Prophet, all speak of it as such. Recalling days long before the
Prophet, Ibn Ishaq reports the answer of the Hudhaylis to the king
when he asked them why they too would not do in regard to the Kaba
-- circumambulate the temple, venerate it, shave their heads etc. --
as they were exhorting him to do , "They replied that it was indeed
the temple of their father Abraham, but the idols which the
inhabitants had set up round it, and the blood which they shed there
(by sacrificing animals) presented an insuperable obstacle. They are
unclean polytheists, said they -- or words to that effect". We learn
of the Prophet's arguments with the Controllers of the shrine about
the idols. We learn of their fear that should his iconoclasm prevail
they would lose the livelihood they now secured out of the pilgrims
who came to worship the idols, and accordingly their fierce
opposition to the Prophet. We learn of his returning to Mecca for
"the lesser pilgrimage" and going to the Kaba "cluttered with idols
though it was." Such are the accounts in the earliest and most
authoritative of his biographies. The accounts continue to this day.
An Iranian Scholar’s views
"Why did so many tribes sustain the wealth and
power of the Qoraysh by coming to the Kaba?", the Iranian scholar,
Ali Dashti, asks about pre-Islamic times in his justly-acclaimed
book Twenty Three Years 26,
"The reason was that the Kaba housed famous idols and contained a
black stone which the Arabs held sacred... Each group of pilgrims
had to shout its entreaties to its idol while circumambulating the
Kaba and running from Safa to Marwa". "The Kaba," he writes,
recounting the setting in which Islam was established, "was an
important idol-temple, much visited by Beduin tribesmen and greatly
respected as a holy place... The livelihood of the Meecans and the
prestige of the Quoryash chiefs depended on this coming and going.
The Beduin came to visit the Kaba, which was an idol temple. If the
new religion required destruction of the idols, they would not come
any more..." Ali Dashti refers to the Kaba repeatedly as "the
idol-temple which the tribes had revered..." as "the famous
The temple had several idols, among them 360
statues. The Quran itself mentions the three goddesses -- al-Lat,
al-Uzza and al-Manaat -- who were worshipped there. The most
prominent idol however was that of Hubal, "who", the first
Encyclopedia of Islam states, "may be called the God of Mecca and of
the Kaba". A male figure, it was made of red carnelian. The statue
stood inside the Kaba, says the new edition of the Encyclopedia,
above the sacred well which was thought to have been dug by Abraham
to receive the offerings brought to the sanctuary. Though a stellar
deity, its principal function was that of a "cleromantic divinity",
it being the custom to consult the idol by divining arrows. Hubal,
the number of idols -- 360 -- as well as the rites associated with
them, have all been taken to point to an astral symbolism, and the
temple has accordingly been taken to have been dedicated to the sun,
the moon and the planets.
How it was transformed
The temple continued in this condition till the
very day on which the Prophet re-entered it upon capturing Mecca.
That moment of triumph is recorded in great detail by the
biographers. The accounts establish both sets of facts -- they
establish what was in the temple at that moment, and what the
Prophet did to it. Notice that the moment was exactly the kind of
moment which would test Shahabuddin's claim about what is and what
is not allowed by the Shariat; this was not a situation of war,
quite the contrary -- the Meccans had surrendered without a real
fight; the protagonist was the Prophet himself, so there can be no
doubt about what the Shariat -- based as it pre-eminently is on what
he said and did -- would entail; the structure had, as we have seen,
been a house of worship of an altogether un-Islamic kind forages.
Upon entering, the Prophet went round the Kaba
seven times on his camel. He then climbed into the cube -- the Kaba
proper. Inside he found a dove made of wood, said in the
Encyclopedia to having been possibly devoted to the Semitic Venus.
"He broke it in his hands," records Ibn Ishaq, "and threw it away,"
He then saw paintings of Abraham. Jesus and Mary inside the
structure; by one set of traditions he had all of them destroyed, by
another he had all except those of Jesus and Mary destroyed. At the
noon prayer that day "he ordered," Ibn Ishaq reports, "that all the
idols which were round the Kaba should be collected and burned with
fire and broken up." That was done. Soon enough idolaters were
forbidden from the shrine.
Here then was a structure which before the Prophet
had been for several generations a place of worship of an altogether
inclusive, pagan kind. The Prophet took it over -- or reclaimed it,
as the faithful would say -- and transformed into the greatest
mosque of Islam. Where does that leave the Shahabuddin thesis - "No
temple could have been destroyed to build a mosque as doing so is
against the Shariat"?
Prophet Adopts Pagan Rituals
Nor does the story end there. While, as the
Encyclopedia puts it, "all the pagan trappings which had adhered to
the Kaba were thrust aside," "it is incontrovertible that an entire
pre-Islamic ritual, previously steeped in paganism, was adopted by
Islam after it had been purified and given a strictly monotheistic
orientation. "Treating the area as consecrated ground, treating it
as a refuge, the sacrificing of animals (shifted now from the Kaba
to Mina), the various elements connected with the Haj, including
among these, the stoning of the Devil by throwing pebbles, the
rushing between Safa and Marwa, the halt at Arafat -- all these, as
the Encyclopedia and Ali Dashti etc. point out, date from the
pre-Islamic period. Some things, as Ali Dashti notes, were just a
bit transformed. The pre-Islamic Arabs approaching for instance the
goddess Manaat would call out, "Here I am at your service,
(labbayka) O Manaat." The same call was now addressed to Allah;
"Labbayka Allahomma labbayka." "Here I am at your service, Allah, at
your service". The retention of these -- even after transformation
-- led to great disquiet. Even Umar, one of the most devoted
adherents of the Prophet, is said to have exclaimed on approaching
the Black Stone, for Glance. "I know that thou art a stone, that
neither helps nor hurts and if the Messenger of Allah had not kissed
thee, I would not kiss thee". The special veneration accorded to the
stone, to the structure, to everything which comes in contact with
it -- for instance, the rain water which falls off it through the
spout, the cloth which is used to cover it and which is cut into
pieces and sold to the pilgrims after being taken down -- have
continued to be contrasted with the strict admonitions against
idolatry. The disquiet has not settled. Here is Ali Dashti on the
decisions the Prophet handed down upon entering Kaba:
27 Had he now
succumbed to national or racial feeling? Did he want to make
veneration of Ishmael’s house a symbol of Arab National identity?
"The Prophet Mohammed's decision to set out on a
visit to the Kaba in 6 A H / 628 A D is puzzling. Did he really
believe the Kaba to be God’s abode? Or did he make this move in
order to placate followers for whom the Kaba-visitation was an
ancestral tradition? Was his decision, which came unexpectedly in
view of the resolve of the hostile Qorayshites to prevent Moslems
from entering Mecca, and which led to the disappointing truce of
Hodaybiya a political stratagem designed to impress the Qoraysh
chiefs with Moslem numerical and military strength and to draw
ordinary unfanatical Meecans to the new religion? How could the
man who had introduced the new religion and laws and had
repudiated all the beliefs and superstitions of his own people now
revive the main component of the old tradition in a new form?
Islam's zealous founder and legislator had above all insisted on
pure monotheism, telling the people that belief in the One God is
the only road to happiness and proclaiming that 'the noblest among
you in God's sight are the most pious among you."
Why Pilgrimage to Mecca?
"However that may be, the decision was so
surprising and so inconsistent with Islamic principles that many
Moslems were upset. Several believers objected to the running
between Safa and Marwa because it had been a pagan Arab rite; but
its retention was imposed by verse 153 Sura 2, "Safa and Marwa are
among God's waymarks". According to well authenticated reports,
Omar b, ol-Khattab, who was one of Mohammad's greatest and wisest
companions, said that he would never have kissed the black stone
if he had not personally seen the Prophet kiss it. Ghazzali, whose
authority in Islamic matters deserves respect, wrote frankly that
he could find no explanation of the hajj ritual but obeyed because
it was an accomplished fact.
"There is one verse in the Quran which sheds some
light on the matter and is perhaps an answer to questions about
it. This is verse 28 of Sura 9 (ot-Tawba); "O believers, it is a
fact that the polytheists are unclean. Therefore they shall not
approach the mosque of the Sanctuary (i.e. the Kaba) after this
year of theirs. If you fear poverty, God will enrich you from his
bounty". According to the Tafsir Ol-Jalalayn, this meant that God
would compensate the Arabs with victories and receipts of tribute.
The Sura of repentance (ot-Tawba) is chronologically the last in
the Qoran, having been sent down in 10 A H / 631 A D, well after
the Moslem conquest of Mecca. The ban on visitation of the Kaba by
non-muslim tribes was likely to disquiet the people of Mecca,
whose livelihood and flourishing trade depended on the coming and
going of Arab tribes and groups. Although the Meecans were of the
same tribe as the Prophet, most of them had only become Moslem
under duress. If Mecca should lose its prosperity, there might be
a risk of widespread apostasy. That risk would be averted by
making pilgrimage to Mecca incumbent on Moslems.
"This explanation is of course a mere hypothesis;
to what extent it corresponds to the reality can never be known.
In any case no rational or religious justification can be found
for the retention of ancient pagan practices in the ritual of the
And it is said that it is Hinduism which "swallows"
other religions by incorporating their rituals and making Avtaars of
their deities; However that may be, the Black Stone -- the
veneration in which it is held, the powers which are attributed to
it, the benedictions which are assumed to flow from seeing, touching
and kissing it; the fact that the rituals followed can so directly
be traced to pre-Islamic times, and that their retention has
continued to bewilder devout Muslims like Umar and Ghazzali -- all
these themselves put two things beyond doubt; the Kaba was a place
of pagan idol worship with an elaborate set of rituals and an entire
mode of life to go with it; second, the Prophet took it over and
made it the holiest shrine of Islam.
Where does that leave Shahabuddin's latest
"But where is the proof?"
When Shahabuddin was expounding his thesis about
the Shariat not allowing the destruction of a temple for
constructing a mosque, I alluded to what the Kaba had been and how
the Prophet himself had made it into a mosque.
Not true, said Shahabuddin. The Kaba was not a
temple. It was a mosque from times immemorial, the foundations of it
having been laid by Abraham and Ishmael -- the latter are prophets
of the Jews but have been proclaimed by the Quran to have been the
forbearers of the Prophet.
If the VHP had said something like that about the
Ram Janmasthan, Shahabuddin, and of course our "Secular"
polemicists, would have asked. "But what is the Proof that Abraham
and Ishmael built the Kaba?" Well, what is the proof?
"The Arabs possess no historical or semi-historical
records of the origin of the Kaba," says the Encyclopedia", and we
as little. "For the entire period of the Prophet's stay in Mecca
after he began receiving the revelations -- thirteen years -- and
for the first year and a half after he went to Medina, the faithful
were required to bow in prayer, not towards the Kaba, but towards
Jerusalem. Then came the revelation to change the Qibla to Kaba.
From the point of view of dogma, the Encyclopedia notes, "this
volte-face was justified by an appeal to the ‘religion of Abraham’
which was specially invented for the occasion.28
The "proof" of Abraham and Ishmael laying the
foundations of the Kaba therefore is just the fact that it is so
stated in the Quran29. Now, whether
an affirmation just because it is in the Quran is to be regarded as
proof is entirely a matter of faith. To insist that we must accept
it as such would be to urge that exact kind of proof which the Babri
Masjid protagonists have been rejecting so emphatically in the case
of Ram's birth-place.
The only other circumstances bearing on the
affirmation in the Quran is the Makaam Abraham a sort of mark on a
stone which lies near the Kaba. The faithful believe that once,
after the building had risen to some height. Abraham stood on that
stone, and the mark on it is his footprint. The Muslims look upon
the footprint with the same reverence with which Hindus would views
similar marks believed to be of their Avtaars. But that mark in the
stone does not settle the matter -- for it is as difficult to prove
that the maker in that stone is indeed the impress which Abraham’s
foot made on it as it is to prove the original affirmation in the
Quran that Abraham built the Kaba. One has thus to fall back on the
continuity of the tradition over such a long period, we have to fall
back for proof on the fact that Muslims have long believed that
Abraham built the Kaba. But that is exactly how the Hindus have long
believed the spot now occupied by the Babri Masjid to have been the
place at which Lord Ram was born.
The Navel of the Earth
Why is the Kaba vital? After all, a point to which
I shall revert in a moment, had the Prophet not said that every spot
on earth is sacred, that Allah has made the entire earth a masjid?
There are two views regarding the importance of Kaba. One is that
the Kaba is the navel of the earth. It is believed to have existed
before the earth was created by Allah -- on one account 40 years
earlier, on one 2000 years earlier. Allah created heaven, we are
told, and then the earth by stretching out the substance of the
earth around this navel. Creation competed, the Kaba we learn, now
is the highest point of the earth, and its position corresponds
exactly to that of the Pole Star, which we also learn, is the
highest point in the heavens. As heaven is above the earth and as
Kaba is the highest point on earth, it is the place by being in
which one is nearest to heaven.
The other view is that it is not just the centre of
the earth, but of the universe. The universe, in this account,
consists of seven heavens -- one above the other -- and seven earths
-- one below the other. All the fourteen levels are perfectly
aligned -- the highest point in each lies perfectly in line with the
highest of other levels. Now, the highest point of the seventh
heaven is the Throne of Allah, the highest point on earth -- and
exactly in the centre of the universe -- is the Kaba. The Kaba we
see in Mecca, we are further instructed, is an exact replica of the
original structure which is in heaven and which is made of
Myths or History?
But why was it necessary to create this replica on
earth? The accounts differ. As we have seen, on one account it is
Abraham who laid its foundations and with Ishmael built it one the
prompting of Gabriel, the angel who, as we know, was later to
transmit the revelations from Allah to the Prophet. On the other
account, the structure was built by Adam.
Originally Adam was so tall that he could hear the
heavenly songs around Allah's Throne directly. But after his fall he
shrunk so much that the upper realms were out of his reach. Upon his
importuning God sent him the tent around which and through which he
could attain to the beatitudes, and this later was made into the
Kaba, in answer to his pleas that Mecca had no one, that the shrine
had no worshipers Allah promised that it would become the centre of
pilgrimage, and that promise Allah fulfilled. The original structure
was later washed away in the Great Flood. The angels spirited away
and kept safe the Black Stone. That is how Abraham came to rebuild
the structure later on, and Gabriel brought the Black Stone, back to
him. We learn that the Stone itself -- now in three large and
several small pieces held together by a silver band as it split in
the course of a fire -- was originally white; it became black upon
contact with the sinfulness of the pagan period31.
Such are the reasons on account of which the Kaba
and the Black Stone are of such extraordinary holiness.
Now, which of these elements of the legends can be
"proved" in the way proof of Ram's birthplace is sought? Yet it is
precisely because of them that the Kaba is so sacred.
The Al Aqsa Mosque
After the Masjid al-Haram in which the Kaba lies,
the mosque held most sacred by the faithful is the Al Aqsa mosque in
Jerusalem. And why so? The rock around which it is built has a mark.
It is believed to be the imprint the Prophet's foot made as he
alighted from the winged horse after his night's journey to this
point in Jerusalem and thence to heaven : in heaven, as is well
known, he met Moses and Jesus etc. Which elements of this can we
prove? Heaven? The winged horse? The night's journey? That the mark
is the imprint of a human foot? That the foot of which it is an
imprint was that of the Prophet? (Incidentally the mosque is built
on the site where according to the other set of beliefs stood the
church built by Justinian). The Masjid al-Khaif in Mina is also
built around a stone which the devout hold sacred; they put their
heads on it, why? Because the stone has a mark which, it is said,
was made by the Prophet placing his head on it. The Masjid al-Baghla
in Medina enshrined the footprints of the Prophet's mule in stone.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Egypt was built where Musa, that is
Moses, talked with the Lord... And so on. In each instance, ask that
what proof can I provide for the proposition on which this structure
The Prophet's distinction
Today we are being told that a mosque can never be
dismantled or shifted. It is not just that the inviolability which
is being attached to the structure of a mosque is a later -- much
later -- accretion into Islam; the first mosque in Basra, the place
being an encampment then, was built of reeds so that, as the
Encyclopedia notes, it could be taken down with the camp. It is not
just that even the most revered mosques -- the Kaba itself, the
Prophet's mosque in Medina -- have been dismantled more than once so
as to replace them with more imposing structures. It is not just
that to this day in the Middle East mosques are broken and then
another structure bearing that name built elsewhere for purposes as
mundane as widening highways. It is that doing so would seem to
accord with the Prophet's view of the matter.
"I have been given five things," the Prophet said,
"which were not given to any amongst the Prophets before me". Among
these he said was; the fact that "The earth has been made for me
(and for my followers) a place for praying and a thing to perform
tayammum. Therefore my followers can pray wherever the time of a
prayer is due". (The other four things were: "Allah made me
victorious by awe (by His frightening my enemies) for a distance of
one month's journey"; "Booty has been made halal (lawful) for me
(and was not made so for anyone else)"; "Every Prophet used to be
sent to his nation exclusively but I have been sent to all mankind";
and, "I have been given the right of intercession (on the Day of
Resurrection)"32. There are
interesting variations in the precise words in some traditions, the
words 'the earth (which) has been made clean and a place of worship'
become 'the treasures of the earth which were placed in my hand."
In accordance with this view that the whole earth
was a place of worship, the very first mosque he founded -- the one
in Medina -- was constructed at a site which because of accretions
to Islam since then, in fact in large part due to what it has
adopted of other religions, would leave our protagonists looking
askance. Soon after his arrival in Medina, the Prophet asked the
Banu-An-Najjar to sell him a particular plot of land so that he may
build a mosque on it. They would not accept a price for it saying
they would seek it from Allah, and they turned the plot over to the
Prophet. "There were graves of pagans in it", the hadis goes, "and
some of it was unlevelled and there were sonic date-palm trees in
it. The Prophet ordered that the graves of the pagans be dug out and
the unlevelled land be levelled and the date-palm trees be cut
down..." All this was done and the mosque built in land which till
that moment had contained the graves of pagans in it. The adherents
today would regard such a site polluted, and yet that is where the
Prophet himself constructed his mosque33.
Our brief survey suggests three conclusions. Each
of these strikes at the very root of the arguments which are being
asserted by the Babri Masjid protagonists, and each does so in a
The latest argument -- that no Muslim ruler
destroyed any temple simply because doing so is against the
Shariat -- does not hold, not only because of what Muslim
historians have themselves recorded abound. innumerable instances,
but also because there seems to be no warrant for the rule in view
of what the Prophet himself did:
It is as difficult to prove the reasons for
holding the most revered mosque sacred as it is to prove that Lord
Ram was born at a particular place;
The shifting of mosque is permissible not only
in view of the practice to this day in the most orthodox Islamic
countries, but also in view of the Prophet's acclamation that
Allah had made the entire earth, that is each and every spot in it
a place of worship.
These are conclusions which follow in regard to the
immediate issue at hand. But I think an even more important lesson
is implicit in the foregoing.
I have all too often seen persons lose patience as
protagonists of the Babri Masjid shift their arguments, as they
obfuscate what they had said earlier, as they adopt one set of
criteria for one issue -- to justify overturning the Shah Bano
verdict for instance -- and another set for another issue -- in
regard to adhering to the court verdict on some aspect of the
Ayodhya issue for instance. But such exasperation must be eschewed.
Instead, every assertion of the protagonists must be examined in
detail. Every argument they advance must be examined logically and
in the light of evidence.
Whatever be the outcome in regard to one structure,
such an exercise -- of treating the arguments seriously, of dealing
with them rationally, of examining event statement thoroughly, of
looking up the law, the history books -- such an exercise will
itself yield inestimable returns; instead of hurling calumny and
threats at each other, we will learn to talk to each other: we will
learn to settle issues rationally and by evidence: we will -- all of
us, Muslims as much as-others -- will get to know these leaders and
their politics: most important, we will open up all parts of our
heritage -- Islam as much as Hinduism -- and every aspect of each
part to exhumation, and thus to discourse.
Sitaram Goel, Hindu Temples: What Happened to them (New Delhi, Voice
of India, 1991)
"Masjid", Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 1931-36.
Tabari, i. 2405, 2407.
Makrizi iv.35; of for Kufa, Baladhuri, p.286.
Corpus jurisdi Zaidb. ‘Ali, ed Griffini, No. 364.
Bi; and also J.A. 9 Sec., vii 369 sqq. Quatremere, Hist. Sult Mamt.
11/1,262 sqq. and the article "Damascus"
Makrizi, iv. 28 sq.,30.
ibid. p. 269.
ibid. p. 240.
Masjid Ibn al-Banna, ibid., p. 265.
Yakut, Mu’djam i. 719.
Sauvaire, Hist. De Jerus, it d’Hibron,, 1876, p. 77; Quatremere,
Hist. Sult. Maml., I/II., 40.
Goldziher, Muh, Stud., ii.331 sq.
Mas’udi, Murudi, iv. 77; B.G.A., iii.444.
ibid., p. 436.
Baladhuri, p. 165 sq.
Battuta, iii.151); as to Ta’if of. Abu Dawud, Salat, bab 10.
Mas’udi, 1.91; Baedeker, Palast, u. Syrun, 1910, p. 147.
Kitab at-Tabaqat Al-Kabu, (Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi,
Publication No. 46, Volume I. Pp 373-4) Mishkat Al-Masabih
Kitabal-Tabaqat at-Kabir, op.cit., Volume I, pp. 373-4.
Quran 9. 108.
Twenty Three Years, A Study in the Prophetic Career of Mohammed
(George Allen and Unwin, London, 1985).
49, verse 13.
ii, 129, iii, 89 etc.
Quran 2. 121.
Quran too, as is well known, is an exact reproduction of the text of
two tablets - also of gold - which are lying in heaven.
all this see, for instance, the Encyclopedia of Islam’s entry,
Shahih Al-Bukhari, the Book of Salat, tradition 429; also Sahih
Muslim, the Book of Salat, traditions 1056-1067.
Sahih -Al-Bukhari, the Book of Salat, tradition 420; also Sahih
Muslim, the Book of Salat, tradition 1068.
(The author is an eminent Indian Journalist.)