Although communal tensions often hog the headlines from India, a Muslim organisation has been attempting to bridge the gap between religious communities by arranging a tour of non-Muslims to mosques.
But like other activities, Covid-19 related restrictions have halted the Visit My Mosque Programme as well, according to organisers.
Coinciding annual Mosques and Religious Officials Week which is being observed in Turkey from October 1, the organisers Rahmat Group – a charitable trust in the southern Indian city of Bangalore – said that last year they had managed to bring several hundred non-Muslims to see Muslims praying at the city’s historic Modi Masjid.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency Vinay Sahai, a Hindu said that he got a chance for the first time to see the mosque from the inside and learned what is happening there.
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He described it as a very good initiative since it allowed non-Muslims like him to interact with the Muslim community. He said the programme has also helped to remove the negative stereotyping build around the community.
“It was a new and different initiative,” said Sahai, who had visited a mosque in Bihar Sharif, the seat of the Nalanda district in the eastern state of Bihar, last year.
“Our initiative had received significant support from diverse communities as people wanted to learn about Islam,” said Mohammed Suhaib Usmani Qasmi, an office-bearer of Rahmat Group.
Afternoon prayers were also shown to the participants in this half-day programme so that they could know about Muslim prayers.
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“Practical Islam was shown to the visitors as they were welcomed and taken inside,” he said, adding that there was a separate area for women and that this encouraged more ladies and families to visit the mosque.
Qasmi, however, said that because of coronavirus restrictions, his organisation has been unable to organise such programmes for the last one and a half years.
“People frequently ask us questions, but the government has placed restrictions on religious places, and we are not permitted to host such events,” he said.
“No one put a negative comment in a feedback form before leaving,” he asserted.
Last year, a similar programme was organised in India’s commercial capital Mumbai. The tour was conducted by the socio-religious Muslim organisation Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH).
“We wanted people to see what Muslims do inside mosques directly. People learned and experienced everything firsthand rather than being told about it, and they recognised that a mosque is a good place where nothing improper is taught,” Akhtarul Iman, president of JIH in Kalyan locality of Mumbai, said.
He believed that with such programmes non-Muslims would gain an understanding of the place of worship and remove misconceptions about Islam.
The majority of those who took part in these activities stated in their feedback that visiting the mosque made them feel peaceful and relaxed and that they would like to return if they get the opportunity in the future.