The Chacha Nehru Madarsa in Aligarh under the Al Noor Charitable Trust has decided to build a temple and mosque inside its premises to foster religious tolerance while ensuring a safe space for students to pray.
After the announcement on Saturday evoked a sharp response from both Hindu and Muslim groups, Salma Ansari, wife of former Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who runs the institution, on Sunday, allowed media a glimpse of the prayer room where one section was devoted to idols of Hindu gods while in the other arrangements were made for recitation of the holy Quran.
Ms Ansari said the step had been essentially taken for the security of students in hostels who had to go out to pray.
“We have students as young as 4 and there are children with special needs as well. They are taken out for prayers on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. As these days, incidents of victimisation of children are on the rise, we felt it appropriate to have a mosque and temple in the premises itself. We already have this functional prayer room so I didn’t find it odd at all,” she said
With a strength of around 4000 students, the English medium school is being run since 1999 under the U.P. Madarsa Board and caters to the underprivileged children of the city, free of cost.
“We have been imparting modern education along with theology long before Central Government came up with the scheme for modernisation of madarsas with a curriculum that includes science and maths along with religious instruction. I wanted to prove that slum children can excel in English medium,” said Ms Ansari, adding the alumni of the school excel in yoga and had secured admission in prestigious schools.
“Those who say that allowing students of other religion to pray within the premises is against the tenets of Islam, don’t understand Islam. When the Prophet entered Medina, he ensured that Christians and Jews could practise their faith,” Ms Ansari said.
There is a fear in a section of Muslims that it can lead to a demand for a temple in Aligarh Muslim University campus. Ahead of general elections, such a demand was made by a student group led by the grandson of a local BJP MLA.
“There is no link between the two. We are too small an entity to be compared to the university. I am concerned about the need of my students. They should have the freedom and access to practise their religion.”
She recollected how she grew up watching mythological films. “Those were the only films we were allowed to watch. I loved Shivji and Hanuman. In the school, we start the day with recitation from Holy Quran followed by Gayatri Mantra and Lord’s prayer.”
Reacting to the charges of Hindu Jagran Manch that the decision was some kind of trap, Ms Ansari said when she asked for help to educate underprivileged children, nobody turned up, but now they were attributing motives. “Only education can annihilate this scourge of ignorance,” said Ms Ansari.