By Shuriah Niazi
NEW DELHI (AA) – Although communal tensions often hog the headlines from India, a Muslim organization 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 Program as well, according to organizers.
Coinciding annual Mosques and Religious Officials Week which is being observed in Turkey from Oct. 1, the organizers Rahmat Group – a charitable trust in the southern Indian city of Bangalore – told Anadolu Agency 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.
He described it as a very good initiative since it allowed non-Muslims like him to interact with the Muslim community. He said the program 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 program so that they could know about Muslim prayers.
“Practical Islam was shown to the visitors as they were welcomed and taken inside,” he stated and added 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 organization has been unable to organize such programs 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.
- Encouraging feedback
“No one put a negative comment in a feedback form before leaving,” he asserted.
Last year, a similar program was organized in India’s commercial capital Mumbai. The tour was conducted by the socio-religious Muslim organization 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 recognized that a mosque is a good place where nothing improper is taught,” Akhtarul Iman, president of JIH in Kalyan locality of Mumbai, told Anadolu Agency.
He believed that with such programs 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.