Youths made bonfire from Korans: Islamic heritage under attack

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 23:03:50 +0100

As Hindu fundamentalism grows in India Muslim districts are being wiped
out and their historic sites destroyed, writes Luke Harding 

The courtyard of the Dada Hari mosque was covered in ashes. Closer
inspection revealed that the Hindu youths that broke into the building
had made a bonfire of its Korans. 

They had also lobbed a brick at the Persian inscription above the
entrance, and smashed away some of the mosque's fine carved screens.
Inside, the mob had shoved off the lids off several stone tombs (whose
occupants had the advantage of being already dead). 

The destruction in the Indian city of Ahmedabad was not an isolated
incident. Over the past three months Hindu gangs have killed more than
2,000 Muslims in pogroms supported by Gujarat's Hindu nationalist
politicians and its partisan police force. 

Entire Muslim districts have been wiped out. The gangs have raped and
incinerated their Muslim neighbours; chopped up a former Muslim MP; and
burned down Muslim property. The carnage has been so epic, and so
prolonged, that little attention has been paid to the extensive damage
done to Gujarat's unique medieval heritage, and to its Muslim monuments
and shrines. 

A new survey reveals that some 230 historic sites have been vandalised
or destroyed. Many are now piles of rubble. Others have been demolished
using bulldozers. The scale of the damage is so vast it rivals last
year's better-publicised smashing spree by the Taliban (who blew up the
Bamiyan Buddhas), or the wrecking of Tibet's monasteries by Red Guards. 

"This has been a systematic attempt to wipe out an entire culture,"
Teesta Setalvad, who put together an inventory of the damage, pointed

One of the tombs razed during the riots belonged to Vali Gujarati,
Muslim India's answer to Geoffery Chaucer. Gujarati was the grandfather
of Urdu poetry. His classical idiom inspired later poets and ghazal
singers. The residents of Ahmedabad liked his work, with its hint of the
mystical and sublime, and when he died there in 1707, they built him a

In recent years Vali's remains had ended up in the middle of a busy main
road. On the night of March 1 Hindu gangs armed with pickaxes smashed up
his slab-like monument. They replaced it with a tiny brick Hindu temple,
and stuck an idol of the monkey god Hanuman inside. 

"We have broken a mosque and made a temple," Mahesh Patel explained,
when I asked him what had happened to the 300-year-old tomb. "We used
hammers," he added. Muslims should not live in India. They should live
in Pakistan." Vali's depressing fate did not end there. 

Two days later state officials flattened the spot. "I drove over him
recently when I went to the airport, " Ms Setalvad added wistfully. "The
government people used machinery to tar over him in a few hours."
Several of Vali's fans have pointed out his own verse almost anticipates
this gloomy ending: "The city of whose songs I have always sung/Why can
I not bear to live in that city now?" he asks in a famous lyric. 

The recent destruction in Gujarat was part of a wider, more sinister,
project to wipe out India's Islamic heritage ­ a process that if taken
to its logical conclusion would lead to the demolition of, among other
things, the Taj Mahal. The past 15 years have seen the rise of Hindu
fundamentalism. With it India's newest battlegrounds have become the
fields of history and archaeology. 

Revisionist rightwing Hindu scholars now argue that Muslims are not
really Indians at all, but mere foreign invaders who galloped down from
Central Asia in the 16th century. The villains of the piece, according
to this school, are India's Mughal kings, who ruled the subcontinent for
three centuries until the arrival of the British. 

These early jihadis, a bit like Osama bin Laden's, not only conquered
the indigenous Hindu population but also knocked down its places of
worship, it is claimed. These arguments may seem crude. But they are
powerful. In 1992, Hindu fanatics tore down a 16th century mosque in the
previously unremarkable and sleepy northern town of Ayodhya. They
justified their action by claiming the mosque had been built on the
ruins of a Hindu temple. 

India's secular credentials have yet to recover from the episode. The
Hindu demolition gangs in Gujarat took their cue from what happened at
Ayodhya, and set about smashing up their own Islamic monuments. 

Such chauvinist views go all the way to the top. Sitting in the garden
of his government bungalow, the speech-writer for India's Hindu
nationalist prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, recently told me how
important it was to build a large Hindu temple on the disputed Ayodhya
site. "There are no real Muslim leaders," he said, when I asked how
India's 150 million Muslims were likely to react to this provocative

The tragedy is that Gujarat had until recently been a place where Hindus
and Muslims had got on pretty well. They have a long history. Arab
traders first arrived on the west coast of India in the late 7th
century. By the early 10th century, travellers founded a 10,000-strong
Muslim community, with its own mosques, in the ports of Gujarat.
Portuguese missionaries and other adventurers came much later. 

And like many of India's Muslim rulers, Ahmedabad's 15th century sultan
and founder, Ahmad Shah I, married a Hindu or Rajput princess. (Dada
Hari, whose mosque was damaged, was built by a female attendant at 
court.) His mosques and civic buildings incorporated both Islamic and
Rajput elements; he employed Hindus in the highest offices of state. 

The Muslim communities of Gujarat are therefore among the
longest-established in India, and the majority of their members are
descendants of converts, not "foreign invaders", whoever these might be.
Several 16th century buildings constructed after Ahmad Shah's death have
now been pulverised. They include two four-hundred-year-old mosques, one
of which was bulldozed in the presence of two ministers from the ruling
state government. 

In recent months the first sight that greeted any visitor to Ahmedabad
was a thick plume of black smoke emanating from the Muslim old city, and
the sight of khaki-clad Hindu policemen running amok inside Muslim

Ahmed Shah's old royal citadel and exquisite mosque have survived the
carnage. But Hindu mobs have destroyed many Islamic buildings outside
Muslim-dominated areas attempting ­ as one academic put it ­ to "redeem
the past". 

"By destroying the symbols of a community you destroy the community
itself," Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, of Delhi's Jarwaharlal Nehru University
added. Not all of the mosques destroyed have architectural merit. Some
were places where young boys would gather to get a basic education and a
free meal. 

One of the early casualties was the modern two-storey mosque in the
district of Naroda Patiya, where a thousand-strong Hindu gangs armed
with machetes and tridents laid siege to the Muslim community on the
other side of the road during the early days of the riots. 

They firebombed the mosque using gas cylinders, incinerating its
prayer-mats and Korans. Upstairs, the mosque's kitchen had been burned
out; only charred sacks of rice were left. The library had also been
destroyed. "Gujarat's police force supported only Hindus. They were
laughing at us," the mosque's teacher Malauna Mahboob Qasmi recalled.
"We will leave this place now. There is nothing left." 

Source:  The Guardian

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