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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Location Old Delhi, India

Date of construction 1644-1656

Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan

Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori

Capacity 85,000 in total

Length 40 meters

Width 27 meters

Domes 3

Gates 3

Minarets 2

Minaret height 41 meters

Material Red sandstone, marble

Cost 1 million rupees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence
Updated 21 April 2024

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence
  • Friday marked start of voting by nearly 1 billion people in world’s most-populous country
  • The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations

NEW DELHI: India, staging the world’s biggest election, will rerun voting at 11 polling stations in the northeastern state of Manipur on Monday after reports of violence and damage to voting machines in the state torn by months of ethnic clashes.
The election authorities declared the voting void at the 11 locations and ordered the fresh poll, the chief electoral officer of Manipur said in a statement late on Saturday.
Friday marked the start of voting by nearly one billion people in the world’s most-populous country, in an election running through June 1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is forecast to win a rare third term on the back of issues such as growth, welfare and Hindu nationalism.
The main opposition Congress party had demanded a rerun at 47 Manipur polling stations, alleging that booths were captured and elections were rigged.
There were scattered incidents of violence on Friday in the state, including clashes among armed groups and attempts to take over polling stations under heavy security. Voters turned out in large numbers, despite the threat of clashes that have killed at least 220 people in the past year.
Manipur has been roiled by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people since May. It remains divided between a valley controlled by Meiteis and Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of no-man’s land monitored by federal paramilitary forces.

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
Updated 21 April 2024

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody

UN urges probe into Libyan activist’s death in custody
  • Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull"

TRIPOLI: The United Nations Support Mission in Libya called Sunday for an investigation into a political activist’s death while detained at an eastern military base controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
UNSMIL also demanded the “immediate release” of other prisoners it said were being detained “arbitrarily” by the war-torn country’s eastern-based authorities.
In a statement on X, the UN mission said it was “deeply saddened by the death of activist Siraj Dughman while in custody at Rajma military camp” and urged the Libyan “authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”
Plagued by political instability and violence since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya is split between an internationally recognized government, based in Tripoli, and a rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.
The base at Rajma, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Benghazi, serves as Haftar’s headquarters.
In a video published on Saturday, the Haftar-affiliated Eastern Internal Security Agency confirmed Dughman’s death.
The agency said it had commissioned a forensic examination according to which Dughman had died “while attempting to escape prison on Friday” when he fell “from a window, fracturing his skull.”
The agency said he was arrested in October 2023 together with several others accused of “participating in a campaign” inciting the “overthrow of official state agencies” including Haftar’s forces.
UNSMIL said that Dughman “was arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2023” with other Benghazi-based staff members of the Libyan Center for Future Studies, an independent think tank, who “were never formally charged or appeared in court.”
Dughman was the director of the organization’s office in Benghazi, eastern Libya’s main city.
Extrajudicial arrests, detentions and assassinations of political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders have become common in Libya, particularly in the North African country’s east.
The Libyan Center for Future Studies said the security agency was “responsible for his death” which occurred in “obscure circumstances.”

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’
Updated 21 April 2024

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’

Ukrainian and Western leaders laud US aid package while the Kremlin warns of ‘further ruin’
  • US House of Representatives swiftly approves $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other allies in a rare Saturday session

KYIV: Ukrainian and Western leaders welcomed a desperately needed aid package passed by the US House of Representatives, as the Kremlin claimed the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and cause more deaths.
The House swiftly approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies in a rare Saturday session as Democrats and Republicans banded together after months of hard-right resistance over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion.
With an overwhelming vote, the $61 billion in aid for Ukraine passed in a matter of minutes. Many Democrats cheered on the House floor and waved Ukrainian flags.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who had warned that his country would lose the war without US funding, said that he was grateful for the decision of US lawmakers.
“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble,” he wrote on social media site X.
“America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” he said.
The Ukrainian president noted that his country’s “warriors on the front lines” would feel the benefit of the aid package.
One such “warrior” is infantry soldier Oleksandr, fighting around Avdiivka, the city in the Donetsk region that Ukraine lost to Russia in February after months of intense combat.
“For us it’s so important to have this support from the US and our partners,” Oleksandr told The Associated Press. He did not give his full name for security reasons.
“With this we can stop them and reduce our losses. It’s the first step to have the possibility to liberate our territory.”
Ammunition shortages linked to the aid holdup over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching toward the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the Donetsk region.
“The Russians come at us in waves — we become exhausted, we have to leave our positions. This is repeated many times,” Oleksandr said. “Not having enough ammunition means we can’t cover the area that is our responsibility to hold when they are assaulting us.”
Other Western leaders lauded the passing of the aid package.
“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on X.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia.”
In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the approval of aid to Ukraine “expected and predictable.”
The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
“The new aid package will not save, but, on the contrary, will kill thousands and thousands more people, prolong the conflict, and bring even more grief and devastation,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, wrote on Telegram.
The whole aid package will go to the US Senate, which could pass it as soon as Tuesday. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era
Updated 21 April 2024

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era

From Karachi to Mumbai, 130-year-old Indian restaurant traces history to pre-partition era
  • Opened in 1895 in Karachi, Bhagat Tarachand has over 25 branches in India
  • Founder’s family migrated to Mumbai upon the partition of British Raj in 1947

New Delhi/Karachi: Some of the first dishes cooked at the Bhagat Tarachand restaurant were the potato curries that Prakash Chawla’s grandfather prepared at a small eatery in 19th-century Karachi. Nearly 130 years later, they are still on the menu, albeit across the border in Mumbai.

Established by Tarachand Chawla in 1895, the restaurant started in the seaside megalopolis and the capital of what is now the Pakistani province of Sindh.

It served simple meals of Sindhi roti — wheat-flour bread spiced with onions and ghee — and seasonal vegetables.

Initially nameless, Chawla’s eatery soon became known by his name and the honorific “bhagat” (a noble man) that people added to it in reverence.

“My grandfather was a generous man, and he wouldn’t let anyone go hungry, whether that person had money or not. That way ‘bhagat’ was added to his name,” Prakash told Arab News.

Bhagat Tarachand died in Karachi in 1942, a few years before the partition of the British Raj.

In 1947, when it was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, his sons, including Prakash’s father, Khemchand, moved to Mumbai on the Indian side — some 900 km away.

The family became part of one of the biggest migrations in history, which forced about 15 million people to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

“It was not an easy beginning after moving to India, with my father struggling to establish the restaurant in Zaveri Bazaar,” Prakash said. “It was just a six-table eatery.”

Since then the restaurant has been officially known as Bhagat Tarachand, in memory of its founder.

The undated file photo shows popular items from the menu of Bhagat Tarachand restaurant. (Bhagat Tarachand)

Once the business started to flourish, Khemchand’s brothers opened other branches. He remained at the original location in the historical Mumbai gold market, where Prakash started to work at the age of 19.

Nearly half a century later, he is still leading the business, having expanded it into a four-story restaurant and added new dishes to the menu.

Now one of India’s leading vegetarian restaurants, Bhagat Tarachand has 25 branches led by Prakash and his cousins across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

The most popular meal at his outlets is a vegetarian platter.

“In the veggie platter, we give three types of vegetables, lentils, chapati, rice or pilav, as per your choice, one sweet dish, one crispy item, and a pickle,” he said. “It is sufficient for two people”.

Some other flavors have been there since the Karachi times: aloo matar — potato and pea curry; and aloo methi — potato and fenugreek curry.

“Those are some of the oldest dishes that we’ve been serving since at least my father remembers,” said Vishal Chawla, Prakash’s son, who helps him run the business.

“When my great-grandfather ran the restaurant, my grandfather, and even to a certain extent my father, there was no menu card. They used to write just the dish of the day ... It depended on, you know, what were the fresh vegetables available in the market.”

Setting sights on expansion to the UAE and Singapore, both of which have significant Indian diasporas, Vishal has also been thinking about his ancestral city.

But as long as India and Pakistan have a complicated relationship, even obtaining a visa is not easy. One of his uncles has already tried, but to no avail.

“I hope that our countries have better relations in the future, at least in my lifetime ... And if that becomes a possibility, I would love to reconnect with the roots of this restaurant,” he said.

“From the perspective of our restaurant and family, they are all proud that they are able to continue this legacy.”

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play
Updated 21 April 2024

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play

Maldives election day draws attention of India, China in Indian Ocean power play
  • Muizzu's presidency heightened the India-China rivalry as he leaned towards China, leading to the removal of Indian troops from a Maldivian islet

MALE: Maldivians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday, in a ballot crucial for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are keenly watched by India and China as they vie for influence in the archipelago nation.
Both countries are seeking a foothold in the Maldives, which has a strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
Muizzu's election as president last year sharpened the rivalry between India and China, with the new leader taking a pro-China stand and acting to remove Indian troops stationed on one of the country's islets.
Securing a majority in Parliament will be tough for Muizzu because some of his allies have fallen out and more parties entered the race.
Six political parties and independent groups are fielding 368 candidates for 93 seats in Parliament. That is six more seats than the previous Parliament following adjustments for population growth.
About 284,000 people were eligible to vote and tentative results were expected to be announced late Sunday.
Muizzu's election campaign theme for president was “India out,” accusing his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by giving India too much influence.
At least 75 Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives and their known activities were operating two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea. Muizzu has taken steps to have civilians take over those activities.
Relations strained further when Indian social media activists started a boycott campaign of Maldives tourism. That was in retaliation for three Maldivian deputy ministers making derogatory statements about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for raising the idea of promoting tourism in Lakshadweep, India's own string of islands similar to the Maldives.
According to recent Maldives government statistics, the number of Indian tourists has fallen, dropping that country from being the top source of foreign visitors to No. 6.
Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.
In 2013, Maldives joined China's “Belt and Road” initiative meant to build ports and highways to expand trade — and China’s influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe.