Arun Shouries Articles

Ayodhya: Muslim Argument Examined | May 25, 2008

Ayodhya: Muslim Argument Examined
Arun Shourie

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 the structure.

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 the Shariat.

“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 Palestine15.

“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 there?

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 worship.

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 the destruction25.

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 matter.

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 idol-temple.”

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:

“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.” 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?

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 Islamic hajj…”

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 argument?

“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 gold.30

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 is built?

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.

Conclusions

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 different way:

*
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.

Footnotes:

1. Sitaram Goel, Hindu Temples: What Happened to them (New Delhi, Voice of India, 1991)

2. “Masjid”, Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 1931-36.

3. Tabari, i. 2405, 2407.

4. Makrizi iv.35; of for Kufa, Baladhuri, p.286.

5. Corpus jurisdi Zaidb. �Ali, ed Griffini, No. 364.

6. ibid, Bi; and also J.A. 9 Sec., vii 369 sqq. Quatremere, Hist. Sult Mamt. 11/1,262 sqq. and the article “Damascus”

7. Makrizi, iv. 28 sq.,30.

8. ibid., 9.30.

9. Makrizi, iv.63,64.

10. ibid. p.65.

11. ibid. p. 269.

12. ibid. p. 240.

13. Masjid Ibn al-Banna, ibid., p. 265.

14. Yakut, Mu�djam i. 719.

15. Sauvaire, Hist. De Jerus, it d�Hibron,, 1876, p. 77; Quatremere, Hist. Sult. Maml., I/II., 40.

16. see Goldziher, Muh, Stud., ii.331 sq.

17. Mas�udi, Murudi, iv. 77; B.G.A., iii.444.

18. ibid., p. 436.

19. Baladhuri, p. 165 sq.

20. (Ibn Battuta, iii.151); as to Ta�if of. Abu Dawud, Salat, bab 10.

21. Mas�udi, 1.91; Baedeker, Palast, u. Syrun, 1910, p. 147.

22. Kitab at-Tabaqat Al-Kabu, (Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi, Publication No. 46, Volume I. Pp 373-4) Mishkat Al-Masabih

23. 1 ibid.

24. Kitabal-Tabaqat at-Kabir, op.cit., Volume I, pp. 373-4.

25. Quran 9. 108.

26. Twenty Three Years, A Study in the Prophetic Career of Mohammed (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1985).

27. Sura 49, verse 13.

28. Sura ii, 129, iii, 89 etc.

29. Quran 2. 121.

30. The Quran too, as is well known, is an exact reproduction of the text of two tablets – also of gold – which are lying in heaven.

31. On all this see, for instance, the Encyclopedia of Islam�s entry, Ka�ba.

32. Shahih Al-Bukhari, the Book of Salat, tradition 429; also Sahih Muslim, the Book of Salat, traditions 1056-1067.

33. 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.)

Manthan
October-December 1992

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