As the faithful prayed at the Hamel Al Ghaith Mosque at Barsha Heights in Dubai, their right to worship did not impinge on the rights of those going about their business in the vicinity, including women in shorts and mini-skirts
Dubai: I had not been to a mosque for years and it was not just because of the Covid-19 pandemic. That I am lazy was one of the reasons. There is also no mosque at a walkable distance in the suburb where we live.
Mosques particularly in big north Indian cities are mostly located in Muslim ghettos. Building new mosques in places such as the suburb, which came up in the 1980s, is virtually impossible. Hence, I have had a lot of excuses for skipping congregational prayers.
No excuse could have worked that too about the all-important Friday prayers when we arrived in Dubai in December 2021 for our first holiday abroad since the beginning of the pandemic.
The closest mosque was a stone’s throw from where we stayed with our friends at the centrally-located posh Barsha Heights.
There was more than one reason and not just piety that pushed me to go to the Hamel Al Ghaith Mosque in Dubai for Friday prayers. One, the well-appointed mosque in one of the main districts amid plush office blocks and high-rises.
The mosque we go to particularly for the Eid prayers, around six kilometers from where we live, is a far cry from the one at Barsha Heights. It is located at the edge of a typically neglected and overcrowded Indian Muslim ghetto with narrow lanes and a lack of basic civic amenities.
Half Of Faith
Barsha Heights is spanking clean in contrast and so is the neighbourhood’s mosque in the middle of a beautifully landscaped setting. Exquisitely designed and maintained, the mosque’s washrooms in particular are in line with the Islamic idea of cleanliness being half of the faith in Islam with features such as hands-free doors.
Two, the idea of a mosque as a part of the main social life and not on the fringes of the heart of it. Third, its proximity to the house of our hosts in a locality of their choice, where no one would dare to deny anyone housing because of race, religion, or nationality.
Whites, Africans, and South Asians of all religious denominations live in their neighbourhood with no restrictions on how they dressed or ate.
Back in Delhi, our hosts, an entrepreneur and an Information Technology professional, did not even try looking for a house for years outside a neglected Muslim ghetto to avoid the humiliations and disappointments that house-hunting ends up becoming for most Muslims outside the areas designated for them.
Fourth, our trip to Dubai coincided with a heightened campaign against Friday prayers in another New Delhi suburb—Gurugram in Haryana—where Muslims were permitted to pray in designated open spaces for a want of enough mosques.
Hindu groups were for weeks preventing the prayers by shouting slogans and organising their prayer services. They prompted officials in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ruled Haryana to withdraw permission for some sites being used for Friday namaz.
Ek Hi Saf Mein Khare Ho Gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz
The Friday congregations are meant to be the most important reaffirmation of the foundational Islamic idea of equality best described by poet Muhammad Iqbal’s couplet: ‘Ek Hi Saf Mein Khare Ho Gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz, Na Koi Banda Raha Aur Na Koi Banda Nawaz (Mahmood, the king and slave Ayaz, in line, as equals, stood arrayed, the lord was no more lord to slave while both to the One Master prayed).
The disruptions of prayers came amid growing curbs on the rights of Muslims including those related to their citizenship, the practice of religion, and personal security.
A week before we landed in Dubai, the Hindu groups parked trucks at one of the prayer sites before Muslims could gather there for prayers. A mob began shouting slogans Hailing Lord Ram when a group of Muslims arrived there for the prayers.
The worshippers were heckled while a contingent of police looked on. The members of Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, or Joint Hindu Struggle Committee, who disrupted Friday prayers since September 2021, earlier spread cow dung over one of the prayer sites to prevent the Friday namaz.
A Far Cry
Dubai appeared to be far removed from such bigotry, which is tearing apart many countries globally. Openness and acceptance are the hallmarks of the city’s continuing rise. And it is palpable everywhere in Dubai including around the Hamel Al Ghaith Mosque.
As the faithful prayed at the mosque, their right to worship did not impinge on the rights of those who were going about their business in the vicinity, including women in shorts and mini-skirts.
As we bowed, kneeled, and placed our foreheads in an open area outside the fully-packed Hamel Al Ghaith Mosque in the direction of Mecca, men and women walked past on the nearby sidewalk with no restrictions on their rights particularly that to dress as they wished to.
It was the nazar ka parda or veil on one’s sight, which is supposed to be more important than any physical veil, at its best.
Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide