‘Enough places of worship already’: Kerala HC rejects plea for converting building into mosque

The Kerala High Court on Friday rejected a petition seeking to convert a commercial building into a Muslim prayer hall and observed that “if further religious places and religious prayer halls are allowed in Kerala without any guidelines, there will be no place for the citizens to reside’’.

A bench of Justice P V Kunhikrishnan was considering a petition filed by Noorul Islam Samskarika Sangam, which wanted to convert a commercial building into a place of worship. The petitioner from Thottekkad in Nilambur listed the Malappuram district collector and police chief as well as the local station house officer, village panchayat and a local resident as respondents.

The judge said there were enough religious places and prayer halls for all the communities in Kerala as per the 2011 census. “As far as the present case is concerned, there are about 36 mosques situated within the 5-km radius from the existing commercial building of the petitioner. Then why another prayer hall for the petitioner is a million-dollar question,’’ the judge said.

Quoting the Quran, the judge said the verses clearly highlighted the importance of mosques to the Muslim community. “But it is not stated in the above verses of the holy Quran that a mosque is necessary in every nook and corner. It is not stated in hadith or in the holy Quran that a mosque is to be situated adjacent to the house of every Muslim community member. Distance is not the criteria, but reaching the mosque is important. In the instant case, 36 mosques are available within the vicinity from the commercial building of the petitioner. In such circumstances, there is no need for another mosque in that vicinity,’’ said the judge.

The judge directed the chief secretary to issue an order prohibiting the change of category of a building to a religious place except in inevitable circumstances and after obtaining reports from authorities concerned.

In the order, the judge said, the chief secretary should clearly mention that the distance to the nearest similar religious place is one of the criteria while considering applications for allowing religious places. The government should ensure that no religious place or prayer hall functions without permission from the competent authorities. Besides, the change of occupancy of existing buildings from one category to another category of religious places shall not be allowed in normal cases, he further said.

“God is there everywhere. If the Muslim community wants to conduct their prayers in the mosque itself, they can go to the nearest mosque instead of constructing a new prayer hall near to their residence. As I observed earlier, in the modern era, almost all the citizens have vehicles. Cycles are also available for transportation. Public transportation and private transportation facilities are also available. Moreover, every step towards the mosque by a Muslim will only increase their status and will vanish their sins. Therefore, the members of the Muslim community can walk to the nearest mosque so that they can achieve higher status and vanish the sins committed by them. For conducting [Muslim] prayers,… a prayer hall is not necessary within 10 metres or 100 metres from their residence. They can travel to the mosque for prayers if they are real devotees and the followers of the prophet.’’

While rejecting the petition, the judge quoted a study saying that Kerala has 10 times more religious structures than villages. According to the 2011 census, there are 1,018 villages, 87 municipalities and six municipal corporations in the state. The numbers of places of worship and hospitals are 1,01,140 and 29,565 respectively. The number of places of worship is almost 3.5 times higher than that of hospitals.

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