Ayodhya police guard
An armed police officer stands guard on the bank of Sarayu river ahead of the foundation-laying ceremony for a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, India, August 4, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: As Hindus prepare to celebrate the groundbreaking of a long-awaited temple at a disputed ground in northern India, Muslims say they have no firm plans yet to build a new mosque at an alternative site they were granted to replace the one torn down by Hindu activists decades ago.

Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony follows a ruling by India's Supreme Court last November favouring the building of a Hindu temple on the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh state. Hindus believe their deity Ram was born at the site and claim that the Muslim Emperor Babur built a mosque on top of a temple there.

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The 16th century Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu activists in December 1992, sparking violence that left some 2,000 people dead. The Supreme Court's verdict paved the way for the building of a temple in place of the demolished mosque.

The court also ordered that Muslims be given 5 acres of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site. But the ruling disappointed Muslims, who comprise around 14% of Hindu-majority India's 1.3 billion people.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay five silver bricks as the temple foundation amid the chanting of religious hymns, AP reported. Houses and other buildings close to the temple site in the city of Ayodhya are being painted yellow to recreate the look when Ram ruled there for thousands of years, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.

More than 100,000 oil lamps will light up the city in celebration, said chief priest Satyendra Das.

Limited entry

A security clampdown, however, will allow only limited entry to Hindu devotees into the city because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, a priest and 15 police officers in the area tested positive for the virus.

As ordered by the Supreme Court, the Uttar Pradesh state government set up a trust last week for the building of a new mosque at a nearby site, in a village 25 kilometres from the spot where the Babri mosque was demolished.

But there is no allocation of funds yet for the project. The government-run Sunni Central Waqf (Endowment) Board's chairman, Zafur Ahmed Faruqi, said mosques are always built with public support. "Money is bound to pour in,'' he said. "We will open a bank account and ask people to donate for the construction of the mosque.''

Faruqi didn't give a time frame for building the new mosque. Muslim community groups have not yet come forward in support of the project.

Hindus began preparing for the new temple in the 1990s, and prefabricated blocks of huge, ornately carved stones displaying Hindu mythology are ready for once the construction work starts. The construction is expected to take three-and-a-half years.

Zafaryab Jilani, who represents the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said that while the Muslim community is not satisfied with the Supreme Court's ruling, it will respect the decision and not protest the building of the temple.

No trouble expected

Saeed Naqvi, a political analyst, said he didn't expect any trouble between Hindus and Muslims over the issue. "Muslims by themselves have learned the hard lesson that if they oppose this issue, it only helps Hindutva (Hindu ideology),'' he said.

Several prominent Muslim writers, academics and activists, who didn't want to be identified, refused to discuss the issue, suggesting that the community was resigned to the new reality.

But some expressed fear that the new temple could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in Uttar Pradesh.

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"The Modi government should assure Muslims that Hindu outfits will not ask for the construction of temples in Varanasi and Mathura after demolishing existing mosques there,'' said Iqbal Ansari, the main litigant in the Supreme Court case.

The Gyanvapi mosque in the Uttar Pradesh city of Varanasi is in the complex of the Kashi Vishwanath temple dedicated to deity Shiva. In Mathura, another city in the state, the Shahi Idgah mosque stands adjacent to the temple complex that marks the birthplace of the Hindu deity Krishna. Hindu organisations say both structures were built by razing previously existing temples.

Muslims to attend ceremony

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two prominent Muslims who lived through deadly riots following the razing of a mosque in 1992 plan to attend the foundation-laying ceremony for a Hindu temple on Wednesday on the same site, Reuters reported.

Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party had led demands for a temple there dedicated to deity Ram, will unveil a plaque, his office said in a statement.

His visit to the northern Indian town of Ayodhya comes despite his interior and energy ministers both testing positive for COVID-19 days after a cabinet meeting last week.

"Whatever happened are things of the past," said Iqbal Ansari, one of the Muslim litigants. "I've been invited and I think it's the wish of lord Ram and I am going to attend it."

Mohammad Sharif, another Muslim honoured with one of India's highest civilian awards for doing the last rites of unclaimed bodies since the riots, said he too had got an invitation and was keen to be there.

What was the dispute about?

The dispute was over a piece of 2.77 acres of land in the heart of Ayodhya where the Mughal-era Babri mosque stood until it was demolished by Hindu activists in December 1992. This triggered clashes in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Hindus believe that deity Ram was born at that spot where the mosque was built, a claim contested by Muslims.

In November 2019, a bench of five judges led by the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, delivered a verdict, settling a complex dispute that was first heard by a court in British India in 1885.

The bench ruled that the entire disputed land of 2.77 acres in Ayodhya must be handed over to the Hindus for the construction of Ram temple.

The court also ruled that an alternative plot of five acres be allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a mosque at a prominent site in Ayodhya.

- with inputs from agencies