The Supreme Court will start hearing the Ayodhya land dispute case a month from now, on 5 December. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had suggested that an out of court settlement was the best option for the litigating parties. This has led to speculation on whether, or not, the major parties involved in the case will opt for such a settlement. Amid this, Waseem Rizvi, chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board, which is one of the stakeholders in the case, is vocal about his support for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Rizvi explained why he was supporting the construction of a Ram temple, even though some from his community were throwing mud at him and questioning his political affiliations. Excerpts:

Q: You met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (who started a dialogue process on the temple) earlier this week. Why do you support an out-of-court-settlement on the Ayodhya temple dispute?

A: If the court is allowed to give the final decision in the matter, it will be binding for all the parties involved, irrespective of whether they like it or not. Somebody will win and somebody will lose. But in an out-of-court settlement, we can reach a final decision mutually, without there being any winners or losers. This is such a sensitive matter that a court’s order will not be able to win people’s hearts. History is our evidence that victory for any one community, Hindus or Muslims, is capable of stoking communal violence. We want to avoid such a situation and hence stand in favour of an out-of-court-settlement. Compromise is the solution.

Q: But people who want the court to take the final decision in the matter have the same argument as well. Since none of the parties is able to take a mutual decision, it is better to leave things to the court since the law of the land is the ultimate rule.

A: Why isn’t any decision being allowed to be taken mutually? Why do these people find it so hard to compromise (with each other)? These people who do not want an out-of-court-settlement do not even have anything to do with Babri Masjid. Babri was built by Mir Baqi, who was the governor of Awadh. Baqi was a Shia and this reference can be found even in Tulsidas’ writings where he has mentioned the Ram temple and the construction of the Babri mosque, ordered by Baqi. The descendants of Baqi’s family were the mutawallis (caretakers) of Babri from 1528 to 1944. Shias were the administrators of Babri throughout this period. But the Sunni Waqf Board claimed the structure to be a Sunni mosque and hence took the rights (claimed it as a Sunni waqf property). This was challenged by the Shia Waqf Board in court in 1999, but it lost the case. This year, we have again claimed our rights on the mosque. Babri is a Shia waqf property and we have every right to make a decision about the future of this land.

Q: Your claim has been questioned. It has been said that you are making an already controversial dispute more complicated and difficult to resolve.

A: Not at all. Our claim is not making matters more complicated. If the mosque and the land really belonged to the Sunni Waqf Board, why haven’t they yet tried to settle matters amicably? They should have done it by now. The Supreme Court itself suggested that the parties involved should make an effort to settle matters outside of court. The court said that Muslims and Hindus should try to resolve the matter themselves. Muslims consist of both Shias and Sunnis. So the Shia Waqf Board, which has largely remained a silent party in the matter, has now taken the initiative to talk and build bridges.

Q: You have also said that Humayun’s tomb in Delhi should be turned into a graveyard. The tomb is one of the most popular Mughal architectural sites in India. Don’t you think that yours is an outrageous demand?

A: Muslims need land for graveyards. We cannot make graveyards in residential areas. Humayun’s tomb is just a grave occupying massive acres of land in a location that can be used for better purposes. I am not saying to demolish the tomb. I am asking for the area to be used as a public graveyard, because we need that space. I am not asking to demolish Qutab Minar, because demolishing it will not fulfil any purpose. But graveyard land is a need. Humayun’s tomb does not even bring enough revenue like the Taj Mahal does. So much land for a dead Mughal king does not make any sense.

Q: There have been demands to demolish the Taj Mahal too. Do you subscribe to such a view?

A: Taj Mahal brings us revenue. The money that we are earning from Taj Mahal today is the cost that our people had paid in the past with their blood and sweat. If today Taj Mahal is bringing us revenue, then we have nothing to owe to the Mughals. Indians died making that white marble tomb and the money that the government is earning out of it today is the payback for the lives of those people. People who now want to demolish the Taj Mahal, are doing a disservice to the nation because it will cost a huge monetary loss for the government.

Q: The Shia Waqf Board recently announced a gift of 15 silver arrows for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Your critics say that thus you are emphasising your sectarian identity, which has the potential of aggravating sectarian divisions between Shias and Sunnis.

A: The Shia Waqf Board is not making the arrows with its own money. Some people in the Shia community came up with the idea of gifting 15 silver arrows to the temple, and wanted the Shia Waqf Board to be a medium for this. So I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, proposing the idea. That is all there is to it. On the sectarian issue, our stand is simple. The Shia Waqf Board will come together with the Sunni Waqf Board if they agree to go for a compromise on the Ram temple issue.

Q: But Shia clerics too have criticised your support for a Ram Temple on the disputed land.

A: Yes, lakhs of people will agree, a few will not. But in the end, there is no doubt about whether be it a Shia or a Sunni, all Muslims in India want the Ayodhya matter to be settled, once and for all. Muslims do not want any more violence on this issue. But some clerics and other motivated people want to keep the dispute alive because it benefits them. We want to resolve it. I support the Ram temple and I want the Sunni Waqf board to compromise and sit for an out-of-court-settlement. It is not practical even to build a mosque there. The mosque should be built at least 50-70 km away, where there is a Muslim majority neighbourhood.

Q: In the past, you have been known to be close to the Samajwadi Party. Has that equation changed now?

A: I have been the chairperson of the Waqf Board even during the BSP’s rule. My loyalties lie with the Waqf Board and not with any political party; parties come and go. The Waqf Board is an independent body and the chairperson is elected democratically. My opinions as a chairperson of the Shia Waqf Board have nothing to do with whichever government is in power. There have been corruption allegations and talks about I being close to the BJP now, but all these are just ways to undermine me.

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