This time it is over a park in Noida’s Sector 58, where Muslims have been offering Friday namaz since 2013.
Last week, the station house officer (SHO) sent a notice to companies located in the industrial hub, asking them to stop their Muslim employees from offering Friday prayers in the park.
Administrative officials in charge of the area have since said that the notice was to inform companies about the rules as the people who had been offering prayers in the area did not have the required permission.
SHO Pankaj Rai told HuffPost India, “The only reason for the notice was that they did not have permission. It’s ok if it is five or 10 people. It’s a problem when it becomes over 500 people. That is when people start objecting.”
Rai said that the notice was sent out to companies as their employees would congregate in the park every Friday for their namaaz. People in the neighbourhood, he claimed, had raised objections.
Rai said that the directive was not just for Muslims, but for all religions.
Man threatens prayer goers
Adil Rashid, who belongs to the Mohammadiya Trust, the prayer group that leads namaaz in the area, said, “Large numbers of people turn up only on Fridays for the namaaz. People stay there only for 10 minutes. They offer their prayers and disperse.”
Rashid said that sometimes more than 1,500 people congregate in the park. This includes people from other sectors nearby as well.
“We have been offering prayers in the park since February 2013. There has never been any incident. Law and order in the area has never been disturbed. They have stopped our namaaz in the garb of law and order.”
Gautam Buddh Nagar District Magistrate Brajesh Narayan Singh told HuffPost India that the group’s request for permission had been rejected because they did not have a no-objection certificate from the Noida Authority, which oversees the park
But Rashid countered this, saying that in 2013 they had informed the Noida Authority that they were going to hold prayers in the Sector 58 park. He also said the authority had given them an acknowledgement letter.
Mufti Noman Akhter, the cleric who has been leading the prayer congregation since 2013, told HuffPost India that the problem began on 7 December, when a man began taking a video of those offering prayers.
"Instead of giving us protection they said we did not have permission, so we would not be allowed to carry out our Friday prayers."Adil Rashid
“A man approached us asking where we were from and what we were doing there. He also told us he would stop us from gathering for the namaaz in the park,” Akhter said.
The man allegedly had an altercation with Rashid.
Fearing for their safety, Rashid said, they approached the district administration of Noida’s Gautam Buddh Nagar, asking for protection. This, however, had an unintended effect.
“Instead of giving us protection they said we did not have permission, so we would not be allowed to carry out our Friday prayers,” Rashid said.
The tale related by Akhter is eerily similar to what happened in Gurugram over April and May, when members of a fledgling Hindutva outfit were arrested for disrupting namaz on a barren sport of government land. HuffPost India visited the area to find that the organisation in question had been set up with the support of a Haryana BJP leader.
While Rashid claimed that the man who tried to disrupt their prayers belonged to a political outfit (he didn’t know which one), HuffPost India couldn’t independently verify this.
Two arrested, then released
On 14 December, when the group reached the park to offer prayers, there was a police force waiting for them. “I thought they were there to protect us, but they stopped us from offering our prayers.”
Maulana Akhter and Rashid were also detained by the police on 17 December.
“We were called to the police station. We went with a letter asking them for permission. They did not even read the letter. They kept me and Rashid at the police station that night and later sent us to jail,” Akhter said.
The two were detained by the police under Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code. They were granted bail on 22 December.
‘Not specific to any religion’
The Gautam Buddh Nagar administration has claimed that the letter is not meant to target any particular religion.
“There is a due process to be followed for everything. The people offering prayers there did not have the permission to offer prayers there. This direction from the SHO is not specific to any religion,” said District Magistrate Singh.
Singh referred to a 2009 Supreme Court order that said that for any group to gather for prayer in a public place, they had to get permission from the concerned authorities.
“You have to follow the rule of law. If they seek permission again, they have to get NOCs from various authorities before they can be granted permission,” he said.
Meanwhile Rashid says he is waiting to see what happens on Friday.
“There are prayers in parks across Noida. We will wait and see if any issues happen this Friday. If there are problems, we will unite together to approach the authorities,” Rashid said.