Home > News > Interview
The Rediff Interview/Muslim Personal Law Board member Yusuf Muchhala
August 01, 2003
In June and July, it seemed the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute was centered on the exchange of letters between two men of faith.
One, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Sri Jayendra Saraswati. The other, the president of the All Indian Personal Law Board, Maulana Rabe Hassan Nadwi.
The negotiations conducted by letters did not bear fruit, and the AIMPLB was blamed for disregarding the Shankaracharya's formula.
Senior Bombay high court advocate and Muslim Personal Law Board member Yusuf H Muchhala says the Board's only concern was to know what would happen if nobody [Hindus and Muslims] wanted to abide by the court verdict.
In a detailed interview with Senior Associate Editor Archana Masih, he said last year's negotiation had suffered because the Kanchi Shankaracharya did not give them a construction plan for the temple, and this year the seer withdrew the proposal just because the Board had asked for two clarifications.
When did you become a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board?
It was somewhere in 1984-85.
Who are the people on this Board? How are they selected? Are they elected?
There is no election. The AIMPLB was established somewhere in 1972-1973. It was a movement started to protect the Shariat because the feeling of the Muslims has always been that they should be allowed to organise their life -- in matters of their personal relationship -- in accordance with the Shariat.
In 1972-73 there was an attempt made by the Maharashtra legislature to pass a resolution recommending the enactment of statutory modifications in the Shariat law. In response to that the Muslims came under one platform and the AIMPLB was formed.
The idea was to unite Muslims in various sects and sub-sects. It was a process of selection, not a process of election.
When a movement starts it doesn't start by taking a referendum. People start joining the movement and by and large it is conceived to be backed by the entire community. That does not mean there are no dissenting voices. When our freedom struggle was launched by Mahatma Gandhi, he also had no elections. He had never been an elected leader. But even during the freedom struggle there were dissenting voices, but it did not make the freedom struggle less representative.
When did the AIMPLB become involved with the Babri Masjid issue?
When the movement for the Babri Masjid was started by the Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee, the Muslim Personal Law Board was not involved.
In 1989 there was a proposal to transfer the structure of the masjid from the so-called disputed site to some other place and it was said that it was permissible under the Shariat law.
So the committees involved in the movement approached the Board and asked for its opinion. The AIMPLB referred the matter to the ulema -- the learned in Islamic jurisprudence. They gave a ruling that when a particular land was dedicated for a masjid what is sacrosanct is the land, therefore the usage of the land cannot be changed and belongs to the Almighty. Even if the structure is transferred elsewhere the land remains sacrosanct, if it is a masjid it has to remain a masjid.
After the demolition in 1992 the committees involved in the movement unanimously approached the AIMPLB and requested it to supervise the whole movement.
Have you visited the Babri Masjid?
I never saw it as a mosque. I went there two, three years back.
Why did you go there?
I am a participant in the proceedings of the Liberhans Commission so I wanted to visit the site to understand how things had happened.
Do you think we have lost the chance of finding a solution to the masjid-mandir issue through mediation?
If you want to have mediation then the mediator should also have certain amount of objectivity and impartiality. If the mediator holds the brief for the other party then there can never be a solution.
A mediator should bridge the gulf that exists between the two disputants. If the mediator asks one party to unconditionally succumb to the demands of the other party, there can be no negotiation. Then you might as well fight in the court and win the case.
We respect the Shankaracharya's high religious stature and we thought there would be objectivity in the proposal.
What were your expectations?
Our expectations were that some objectivity would be there. We are keeping our minds open. If we can find some solution, we are willing to discuss. They have always been saying that you should allow us to construct the mandir on the undisputed land. There are also lots of difficulties on the nomenclature disputed/undisputed.
For easy understanding we say disputed land is where the Babri Masjid stood, rest of the land is acquired by the government under the 1993 Act after the demolition. Now to say that the entire land is undisputed is wrong because there are quite a few pieces of land even in that part which belong to the Muslim trust. But that's a minor issue.
They say that Muslims are not even allowing us to start construction on the undisputed land.
In March 2002, the Shankaracharya's attitude was absolutely fair and objective. He held assurances to us that you allow us to construct on the undisputed land, we will raise a wall so far as the disputed land is concerned and encircle it so that nobody can touch it. And if Muslims win the case then they will be allowed to construct a masjid over there with all the amenities of right to passage. That both Hindus and Muslims will abide by the law. Hindus will start constructing and if they win the case they will extend the temple so as to cover up the disputed site.
Hindus will start constructing on the undisputed site?
Yes, and if they win, they will cover it up and if they lose that will be left to the final disposal of the title suit. In case Muslims win, then they would be allowed [on the disputed land].
So we said okay you want to start the construction, so please show us the construction plans. Where it will start, how will you go about it. If we win, where will we have the right of way, how do we approach the land. Supposing, your construction is in such a way that you want the sanctum sanctorum right at the place where Ram Lalla is installed today, then how will you change the plans.
These are very legitimate questions in our mind that would be in the mind of any reasonable man.
So these questions were raised in March?
Yes. We asked them for the construction plan. Shankaracharyaji promised to give us the plan but till the end they did not give the plan. Since they did not give the plan last year we said your proposal for settlement and negotiation is incomplete and inchoate, therefore we cannot accept it. But still our doors for negotiation are open. Come with a clean heart, keep all your cards open. Tell us this is what you want, we'll give you so much, you take so much and we can come to some talks.
Negotiation comes without hiding any facts. So last year, the Shankaracharya was let down by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar that they did not allow him to disclose the construction plan.
Then this year on June 16 he writes a letter.
Was this letter meant only for Maulana Nadwi to be disclosed to AIMPLB on July 6, when the Board was meant to meet?
In the last week of April Maulana Nadwi wasn't well and was convalescing. At that time somebody facilitated a meeting between him and the Shankaracharya. The Shankaracharya had expressed a desire to meet him and discuss this issue.
Nadwisahib said my health is improving but if you are coming only to inquire about my health it is not necessary. But if it is to discuss anything else, please give your proposals in writing and I will discuss the same with the committee.
It was a kind gesture by the Shankaracharya that in spite of this message he said he would like to pay a courtesy call.
So he came to Nadwa in Lucknow on 7th June and while leaving he touched upon this topic. Nadwisahib said he could not discuss it on his own, whatever proposals he had could be given in writing and he would discuss it with the committee.
They agreed that whatever meeting they had they would not disclose it to the press. But on June 8 there was some function in Delhi that was attended by the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi. There the Shankaracharya made an announcement that talks are going on with other Muslim clerics and 90 per cent of Muslims are in favour of donating this land to the Hindus but Hindus should give up the claim to Kashi and Mathura. Then the VHP/RSS started attacking the prime minister.
When this happened Nadwisahib was taken aback. He called a press conference and said yesterday the Shankaracharya had come and we had no talks at all and he had asked Shankaracharyaji to give the proposals in writing. If he gave the proposals in writing he [Maulana Nadwi] would put it before the committee.
Then the 16 June letter came.
The five proposals were received quite late, I think 21st. He (Nadwi) read it and said he would not disclose it and would put it before the committee when it would meet on July 6. Of course, he showed it to some people who were his confidants. He wrote a letter on the 23rd of June seeking clarifications whether the parties would abide by the court verdict.
What happens if nobody wants to abide by the court verdict. Last year we could not complete the proposal because it was incomplete because they had not given us the construction plan. That was what we said in our earlier resolution of March 10. So we wanted to know whether they would do so now.
You say 'abide by the court verdict,' but there is a view that matters of faith cannot be sorted out by the court. If it were as simple as abiding by the court verdict, we wouldn't have needed the Shankaracharya or Maulana Nadwi to come together and thrash it out.
Let us remove this misunderstanding once and for all now. What are the issues of faith and facts? Has anyone seen the issues framed in the title suit? The Sangh Parivar claims that Hindus believe Shri Ram was born right at that particular spot where the Ram Lalla is sitting today. That may be a question of faith.
We Muslims believe the Quran is the revealed word of Allah 1,400 years back. But if somebody asks us to prove this, nobody can prove it.
What is the history of faith? I will not go into that now. The Babri Masjid was built in 1528. Tulsidas, who translated the Ramcharitramanas into Hindi, lived in Ayodhya. Apart from Ramcharitramanas, he wrote a lot of literature, dohas but nowhere does he say that Ram was born precisely at this point.
From 1528 to 1854 there has not been a demand that this is the birthplace of Ram and they should be allowed to construct a temple there. This happened in 1854 when Lord Dalhousie was the governor general and he had introduced the doctrine of lapse and was trying to grab as many Indian states for the East India Company.
In that process, he and the Britishers raked up this controversy. The whole complex was known as the Ramjanamasthan. In that area there are other mandirs also. They raked up the whole controversy and said Ram was born at the plot where the Babri Masjid stood and a riot took place. Till then there was no installation of any idol within the complex of the masjid.
Then Wajid Ali Shah, the nawab of Oudh, constructed a platform in the courtyard on which he allowed to place the idols. The courtyard was outside the prayer hall of the masjid. So outside in the courtyard pooja used to go on and inside, namaz. That's how it went on and then the pujari of the chabutara filed a suit for constructing a temple over the platform. That suit was dismissed. The most important thing is that in that suit he does not say that Ram was born right at the spot where Ram Lalla is sitting now. They were at different places [then].
This goes on and on till 22nd of December 1949 when in the dead of the night idols are shifted from the courtyard and placed right into the masjid. They called it a miraculous appearance of Ram inside the masjid, and started doing arti inside which led to a spate of litigation which is still pending.
So the first thing is what is the history behind this? Secondly, if you examine the issue in this particular litigation, there are no issues of faith, they are all issues of fact. The question that is raised is that till the 22nd of December was it a masjid or a temple. Was namaz offered there, was namaz not offered there. That's a question of fact, not faith.
One of the issues raised by the Hindus is that Babar constructed a masjid by destroying an erstwhile temple at the very place. This is a question of fact, not of faith. Whether a Ram temple was there in 1528 which was destroyed and masjid constructed? Difficult to ascertain after so many years, but not a question of faith, it's a question of fact. Whether the suits are time barred is a question of law, not a question of faith. There is no issue about as to where Lord Ram was born.
But we have moved much beyond arguments whether Ram was born there or not.
First of all, let us be clear in our mind that issues that are in the suit are not of faith, but of fact. Some issues are mixed questions of law and facts and the court is competent to deal with it. Let them point out which issues are matters of faith and which are not.
The problem really is that the battle is being fought outside the court where matters of faith are being talked about a lot more.
People are being misled. It's a function of the media to investigate these facts and put them before the public. In our case issues that are involved are not of faith, but of facts. When they say issue of faith can't be decided, they are wrong.
Secondly, in July 1992 when the Kalyan Singh government had come to power at that time the VHP and Sangh Parivar had clearly entered into an agreement with the government that they will abide by the court's verdict.
In 1992, it wasn't a question of faith? So far as the RSS is concerned, till last year they held the view that everybody should abide by the court's verdict, and this year, they turn around and say it can't be decided. Why? Why have they (the RSS) become so nervous?
Part II: 'Please don't look at this problem as a Hindu Muslim problem'