In a controversial move, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has ‘banned’ Muslims from offering namaz at the mosque in the Taj Mahal premises on all days except Fridays. While the ASI officials claimed they were implementing a July order of the Supreme Court, the apex court had upheld a local administration’s order barring non-residents from offering Friday prayers in the mosque on the grounds of security of Taj Mahal.
Since the Taj Mahal is closed for public on Friday, local residents are allowed to offer namaz between noon and 2pm without paying any entry fee. However, on the other days, any visitor, who had bought a ticket could visit the mosque and offer namaz until now.
In a surprise move, the ASI on Sunday locked the ‘vazu tank’, where namazis clean themselves up before offering prayers, leaving several tourists disappointed.
Even the imam and staff of the mosque have been asked to show up only on Fridays. Imam Syed Sadiq Ali, whose family has been leading prayers at the mosque for several decades for Rs 15 per month, said he was surprised by the order.
President of Taj Mahal Intezamia Committee, Syed Ibrahim Hussain Zaidi, told TOI that namaz had been offered at the mosque for the past many years and there was no reason to stop it. He said the present regime, both at the centre and state, has an “anti-Muslim” mindset and he will meet the ASI officials on Monday to raise the issue.
Superintending archaeologist, ASI (Agra circle), Vasant Swarankar said that it was “as per the order of the apex court”. He said, “Namaz can only be offered on Fridays and that, too, by local residents only.”
A January 2018 order by the Agra additional district magistrate (city) barred non-residents from offering Friday prayers in the mosque. The administration’s move came following complaints that “outsiders, including Bangladeshis and non-Indians,” enter the Taj Mahal complex on Fridays on the pretext of offering namaz.