A 650-year-old masjid with only three daily prayers

By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net

If these rocks could talk, they will narrate a story of 650 years of this building which served as masjid, khanqah and madrasa. They will talk about mighty emperors who humbled themselves in front of their Maker. They will also relate to us stories of famous Ulema who taught finer points of religious laws to their students and sufis who awakened religious spirits among their disciples.

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But for now, all you can see of Jami Masjid at Kotla Firoz Shah is ground floor made up of many rooms that probably served as living quarters for students and teacher or classrooms of the school that was attached to this masjid. A flight of stairs and an impressive gateway will take you to the expanse of the prayer hall which is now enclosed on three sides by 650-year-old walls. Entrance or the wall that was on the eastern end is completely gone.

Maulana Taslimuddin speaks about the mosque

Mohammad Taslimuddin, a graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, occupies one of the mehrab of the southern wall. You will find him dutifully attending to the mosque and the devotees everyday from zuhr (noon) prayers to maghrib (sunset) prayers. Archeological Survey of India (ASI), which controls this facility, does not allow entry for Isha and Fajr prayers. So strange as it may sound that even Imam of this masjid is not being able to offer five daily prayers here. To Muslims, this building represents a masjid which has some rights over the believers. ASI prevents Muslims from fulfilling these rights since to the ASI these ruins of a building represent a history that is to be preserved and studied.

Since not everyone can understand the language of the rocks, you have to talk to Taslimuddin who serves as the Imam of the mosque to learn more about this interesting mosque.

He will tell you that many emperors have offered their prayers here. In 1398, when Taimur Lang’s forces were busy sacking Delhi he offered his prayers here and was so impressed by the beauty of the architecture that he carried some masons and artisans back with him to recreate the mosque in Samarkand. To see what Jami Masjid would have looked like in its glorious days you have to travel to Samarkand (Uzbekistan) to see Bibi Khanum mosque built by Taimur shortly before his death.

Maulana Taslimuddin will also tell you that Shah Waliullah, famous scholar of South Asia, had taught Hadith in this mosque for 10 years. Among the famous visitors to this mosque is Mujaddid Alif Sani. While the information tablet erected there informs the political history and architecture of Jami Masjid, Maulana sahib is the only person who can tell you about the academic and spiritual importance the mosque held for hundreds of years for Muslims of India.

There are as many as 92 mosques in Delhi itself which are under direct control of the ASI and no prayers can be offered there. Jami Masjid is one of the few mosques where Muslims are able to fight back in attempt to gain the rights to pray in these historical mosques.

Maulana Mohammed Taslimuddin is an employee of Delhi Waqf Board. He is supported in his daily ‘jihad’ by a number of important personalities of Delhi including Shoaib Iqbal, Deputy Speaker of Delhi Assembly. They are able to offer daily prayers and Juma prayers but ASI does not recognize Muslims’ ownership of this mosque. As a result, even small changes or additions within the precinct of the mosque require approval of the ASI.

One may think that Maulana sahib is exaggerating in his claims about the importance of this mosque. But then, all you have to do is to look around the mosque which has no roof and find men and women offering their prayers in hot summer afternoon with no shade over them. There is a constant stream of visitors who have all paid Rs 5 charged by the ASI to enter the fort housing this mosque. There is no separate entrance to the mosque and therefore devotees have to pay for a chance to pray in this mosque. Even Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid is free.

Talk to the visitors and you will find Muslims of nearby localities who come here on a regular basis and there are some out of town visitors also. While majority of them are Muslims, there are some non-Muslims as well. Since this mosque has no mazar (tomb) of any famous sufi, the presence of non-Muslims is surprising. This may be the only instance of a mosque in India which attracts a fair number of non-Muslims.

Litter of empty boxes of incense attests to the claim that this mosque continue to occupy a very importance position in the spiritual life of Indians.

While ASI is protector of buildings and monuments of history, people like Maulana Taslimuddin are the only protectors of living history. In cases like these ASI should take a back seat and let the devotees experience the emotions and sacredness of the buildings. ASI should respect their desire to be part of the same history and to experience as the generations before them did.

Slide show:

[photos and video by TwoCircles.net, except for the first photo that appears on this page which is by Husain]

Updated on June 18, 2013

Jami Masjid was one of the seven mosques built in Delhi by architect Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah Tilangani. Please see this link for list of those seven mosques.