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Mosque (Pvt) Ltd

Published Sep 05, 2012 08:26am


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-Photo by Suhail Yusuf /

I don't know when exactly it happened, as we came to realise it quite late. The deals had already been signed and sealed, transactions made and possessions taken. They auctioned all the mosques of this land of the pure to private individuals trading in faith.

The owner made arrangements to secure his property, iron grills, gates, lock, key and all that. Trespassing is strictly checked now which means that the owner does not allow any other business on his premise. Can you ask a mall owner to let you host a community meeting inside the shop? No way.

Trade in faith is nothing new. It has been there since ages. It may, in fact, be as old as faith itself. If there are buyers and sellers, trade is bound to take place. If the State supports it, it will flourish and in case it is suppressed, the business will not die out, it will only go underground. My take here is not about how and why has our  State supported this trade. My concern, instead, is that how can one party be given monopoly over a public place?

I have recently been to a Sikh Gurdwara. Sikhs, like Muslims believe in an abstract God and do not worship idols. The prayer place thus is a hall with seating arrangement on floor. The holy book, Garnth Saheb, is placed at a central place on a higher pedestal where the prayer leaders sit to recite the script. But that's about praying only. Gurdwaras mean much more than that. Almost all of them have a Langar attached that offers free meals to whoever wants these. Devout Sikh volunteers take turns to cook at the Langar kitchen and serve others. Some Gurdwaras can have Musafir Khanas also. The whole complex serves a number of community functions – hosting prayer meetings in one of them. It may be the most important one, in the sense that it gives this brick and mortar structure its reason to exist but it is certainly not the only one.

Gurdwaras are built by communities themselves with their own money, so are mosques. The faithful donate generously for this cause. I am sure there will be no locality in our country that does not have a mosque. In many cases these are the most expensive structures of the entire locality. What purpose do they serve? They house the prayers, and to do anything else within that premise is declared sacrilegious.

Prayer leaders, maulanas actually own mosques. In many cases, they themselves are its founders. It generally starts as a makeshift structure erected on an encroached upon vacant area, with or without the consent and support of neighbors. Who can dare oppose such a holy project? It takes sometime in maturing. Most mosques then extend to add a residential apartment for the prayer leader. They also feel free to insert shops all along the mosque's perimeter. The rent is considered 'the mosque's income'.

Mosques can be registered as not-for-profit entities under the Societies Act. The law was enacted in 1860 – some 11 years after the British defeated the Sikh regime of Punjab and annexed it to British India as a new province. To the best of my knowledge, the Act has never been amended since then. Needless to say, that this 152-year-old piece of legislation is completely outdated and totally irrelevant today. It is unsuitable to provide a governance structure for a public place. Its vague 20 clauses can be interpreted in thousands of creative ways to justify anything under the sun.

The registration is not mandatory by law. In fact, this particular law was not intended for this purpose. One needs registration as a not-for-profit entity only if one has to open and operate a bank account. However, if your bank is the green donation box put outside the mosque with its keys in your pocket, you don't have to bother with registration formalities. If one does not opt for legal protection, one can sure go for political insurance by associating with some known madrassah or a religious leader. The bigger institutions serve and operate as cartels of faith.

Mosques have not always been like what they are today in our country. They are not the same in many other Muslim countries. They are not the same in other 'non-Muslim countries' even if founded and run by Pakistani immigrants. They perform many community functions. Those hard structures and the invisible space enclosed within those structures associate and identify with the good and humane in society.

Private businesses were nationalised by our government in 1970s. They were denationalised in the next decade and in the following one we sold institutions that were born to and raised by the State, to private individuals. While the entrepreneurs were on a roller coaster, the business of faith proliferated and prospered, all along, becoming more and more private. Public influence over our places of worship was marginalised and then the communities were disempowered altogether and thrown out. Has it not stunted the growth of the mosque as an important social institution?

More importantly, has the time come to reclaim the mosque from the usurpers?


The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

He tweets @TahirMehdiZ

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

H l Sep 08, 2012 08:39pm
Dude I don't agree with you., you r acting like same people who like to make noise regardless. If there is something you don't like in masjid say it and try to change it by discussing it with the council. But for that one have to be going to masjid regularly and participating. Wake up and for once take some responsibility. Don't just sit on sofa and make some contribution. Please.
H l Sep 08, 2012 08:44pm
One mullahs do get stipend, varies masjid to masjid. Two, regulating the speech, I think we are far fetching that. I will agree with educating first myself and then mullah. Onus is on me before I point finger to mullah. Come to think about it, you can lead a prayer in masjid you don't have to have foot long beard to do so. Plz learn your religion and don't leave it to mullahs.
Javed khan Sep 11, 2012 02:11am
You hit the nail on the head. To share some more facts; on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, the custodian of our mosque passed a decree "no eid milan" inside the mosque. They are sealing it from all social activities to consolidate their control & authority. Children were already under pressure to behave in the mosques. Let's retake our lost paradise!
M K S Sep 06, 2012 07:53pm
skylark Sep 06, 2012 08:08pm
RELIGION HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST BUSINESS OUT OF ALL BUSINESSES. AUTHOR has rightly pointed out that the religious business is the business of the nation. Mr. Jinnah realized this serious MALAISE from day one when all his contemporaries were conflagrating the religious sentiments as tool for political mileage. He CATEGORICALLY SAID OVER AND OVER AGAIN
Saad (DXB) Sep 06, 2012 08:41pm
You read my mind mate..
Arabian Sands (@ArabianSands) Sep 06, 2012 03:39pm
One wonders who it works in Turkey, Iran etc...
Amjad Wyne Sep 05, 2012 08:06pm
No, nationalising mosques would not change anything - the challenge is the Imam, his education, his knowledge, his horizon, his mission and his politics. That said, our Imams are much better than our politicians, our leaders, our liberals and our elites and that is why we find ourselves in a hell like this.
Syed Sep 05, 2012 09:12pm
"Mosque Incorporated" sounds better. Mullah's should be on salary like in the middle east and their sermons should be directed by Auqaf so they don't relay false teachings to the masses.
aqabdulaziz Sep 07, 2012 03:38pm
I have been to many mosques in different countries in my lifetime. Most of them spend time discussing politics in Palestine, problems created by nonmuslims, chechnya, Kashmir etc. They are poisoning peoples mind.
aqabdulaziz Sep 07, 2012 03:35pm
Funny though that you blamed all (or most) for not paying zakats and thus causing misery in our society. You are a big hypocrite.
Mohammad Ali Khan Sep 05, 2012 08:20pm
Corruption,injustice,dirty neighborhood,sectarianism around any mosque invalidates it purpose.
oosman hansrod Sep 06, 2012 05:03am
I think that Mosque should be allowed to operate according to the Sharia and not by inbividuals who pretend to own the mosque.No matter what this is the house of Allah,this is not someone else private property.
karamat Sep 06, 2012 06:04pm
I think who is "ignorant" here is highly debatable. Can you give some examples of "services" of Mosques other than teaching children or should I say abusing children. I am Pakistani and visit Pakistan often. Mosques do not seem to have any communal function other than lining the pockets of the committe and sparsely attended prayer sermons except maybe "jumma" prayers. It was the same case in UK until about ten years ago, when some mosques started allowing wedding walimas, which has now progressed to most community functions such as meeting places for the community at times of bereavement, tutoring of school subjects as well as religious teaching, khatams, etc
johny Sep 05, 2012 03:32pm
being islamic country, mosque should be our parliament
Nazim Sep 10, 2012 12:50am
If equal to mosques schools were built by doners, the face of the country would have changed. Although we talk that go to china to seek knowledge, but people prefer easy way to paradise.
Anant Sep 06, 2012 07:19am
I see the parallels here in India too. Most temples in Urban areas of North India operate like private enterprises. These too have usurped public spaces and voices of opposition are rare and few. On the contrary, many temples in South India (not all though), have continued this tradition of being the hub of the life of communities living around it- a corridor where the kids are taught, sanctum being used for marriages, the parikrama where the elderly sit to chit-chat and so on. In fact in most villages in India temples continue to play an important social function.
Zafar Sep 06, 2012 04:55pm
As if the Nationalized schools and other institutions are doing great. Our dear Government gets millions in Zakat funds and aptly squanders them away. What makes you think that it will utilize this 'box money' (which is peanuts BTW) efficiently.
londonistani Sep 06, 2012 06:46am
had you actually gone out and prayed in a mosque instead of spewing venom against islamic institutions, you might not have been ignorant with regards to the services of the mosques throughout the country.
rehan Sep 06, 2012 04:24am
And what makes you think the maulanas are earning their living by unacceptable means ? Who are you to decide who is needy ? If you feel so strongly for the needy , then why don't you help them yourself instead of eyeing the boxes outside Mosques ??
Adil Jadoon Sep 06, 2012 12:46am
I agree with the article and the mosque should belong to the communities. The corporation or the business of religion is in every religion now and actually for most humans of all denominations and religion our god is money not an abstract entity trying to create a moral and ethical fabric for our societies.
Karachi Wala Sep 05, 2012 03:19pm
It is high time for all the mosques are Nationalized and money collected in the boxes be spent on the needy of poor neighborhoods. Maulana's of these mosques should find a day job to earn an honest and hard earnred living.
M K S Sep 06, 2012 07:57pm
The trouble with most of us on here (including myself) is that I form an opinion, judge, agree/disagree with aspects such as these based or articles I read. Nvere go out and find teh hard cpre true facts for myself/ourselves to make a fair assessment and then make the effort to do something about it.
Shaf Sep 05, 2012 10:06pm
We are living in the dark ages when priest (Mulla) was interfering in the state biz and was running a state in the state. Today Mulla is the root cause of our problems.
tariq Sep 07, 2012 05:04am
very very true ....
Tauqeer Mustafa Sep 06, 2012 11:11am
Good article on such a, so called, 'TABOO' topic. I hope and wish that we see this with a neutral, logical and sensible eye, instead of starting cursing any such discussion without understanding, as we normally do. The writer has successfully analyzed the social and political aspects of this apparently religious issue for which he should be given credit. This is high time for pigeons to open the eyes up and face the cat.
Hasan Syed Sep 05, 2012 08:14pm
amir Sep 06, 2012 09:42am
Our biggest problem ....Blame Game. I think we should look at ourselves first before we point out others. If "ALL" start paying our zakats honestly, care for needys, spend sadqa and not just through away but look for the real needy people to be spent on many of the problems will be solved INSHALLAH