Noida: At the public park in Sector 58, Noida, where the district authorities denied Muslims the permission to offer namaaz early this week, there was press and policemen but no prayers on Friday.
With the directive to stop praying and the park perimeter under close watch from the police, Muslims headed to far off places to offer namaaz-e-jumma (Friday prayers).
Like the Friday before, the park was also waterlogged. A loud, grumbling motor pumped out water on the grounds as maintenance workers tended to the grass. A few hopefuls who had turned up thinking they could pray, could not even sit. Most knew better and stayed away, deciding on an alternative spot a day in advance.
“We do not want to break any rules or disturb the law. Since we were denied permission to pray there, we will not congregate at the park today (Friday),” Nouman Akhtar, the imam who led prayers at the park in question said in the morning.
Akhtar, who was called at the Sector 58 park every Friday to lead prayers, went to a mosque in Bhangel, near Sector 82 in Noida, instead.
The police notice prohibiting Muslims employed at surrounding businesses in Sectors 57, 58, 59 and 60 from praying at the Noida Authority-owned park had gone out on Monday, with tech firms and garment factories in the area receiving a copy as well.
Local Muslims, who had been offering namaaz at the spot every Friday since February, 2013, chose not to go against the order.
Akhtar said he received a few calls in the morning asking if he would be praying in Sector 58. “I told them that we are banned from reading namaaz at the park. There would be no gathering,” he said.
With the park out of the question, people headed to the Jama Masjid in Sector 8 and other mosques in far off localities. Some had gone to the Sector 58 park early morning to gauge the situation.
(Policemen standing guard in the waterlogged park in Sector 58, Noida)
“A few people went there and saw that police was stationed at the park. Some park workers had even started watering the grass. And anyway, since we were told not to pray there, we had to go elsewhere,” said Ehsaan Alam, a worker at a garment firm in Sector 58.
Ehsaan has prayed at the public park — a stone’s throw away from his workplace — for over five years. On Friday, he, along with 500 to 700 Muslim workers employed in factories in the area, headed to Jama Masjid in Sector 8, about 4.5 kilometers away from Sector 58. A few hundred went to a mosque in Sector 71, near Barola, Ehsaan said. Some even went to other nearby parks which weren’t under the scanner yet. About a dozen or so went to Khargosh Park in Sector 57.
At Jama Masjid in Sector 8, tens of thousands from all over Noida gathered to offer Friday prayers. Ehsaan rolled out his prayer mat near one of the mosque exits and prayed, knowing he would be late to work after lunch break.
“This mosque is very big and crowded. It’ll take me half an hour just to make my way through this crowd,” Ehsaan said as he walked through the teeming lanes of Sector 8. By the time he returned to work, it was already 2.30 PM. He, like several others, was an hour late. He had already started an hour ahead of the 1 PM lunch break.
“Since Jama Masjid is a bit far, some of us left work an hour earlier at 12. By the time we offer namaaz, return and have lunch, it will be 3 PM. All that time wasted would lead to losses at our companies. They could even cut our salaries,” he said.
The park was convenient. It was right next to work and was an open space with multiple exits. “It barely took us five minutes to disperse after namaaz at the park,” Alam said.
Adil Rashid, the organiser of the prayer group at Sector 58, also went to Jama Masjid on Friday. He knew there would be police stationed at the park. “We don’t want to create any controversy. But we need a different place to pray,” he said.
Alam stressed the need for a new plot to pray as well. “We don’t want the park. They can keep it. But we must be allotted a land for a new mosque in the locality. There is a temple in every Sector in Noida; why can’t there be mosques that cover four to five Sectors?” he asked.
Alam plans to start donation drive for land for mosque. “There are thousands of us in the area. If we all give even Rs 500 each, a mosque can be built here with requisite permission from authorities,” he said. “Otherwise, where do we go?”