Insaniyat over insanity
It is a strong logic. The answer to a dispute from mediaeval India might eventually lie in a mediaeval practice. Simultaneum mixtum first came to be used in the Europe of the Reformation less than five years before the conqueror Babar, or his general Mir Baqi, raised the Babri Masjid in 1528 AD over an area where Hindus believe a temple
to Lord Ram stood. The Latin phrase was used in Germany to denote a church premises used by more than one type of Christian for prayer after Martin Luther decided in 1517 that the Vatican’s sale of indulgences was really a chit fund scam, something we in India are familiar with, and nailed his objections, the Ninety-Five Theses, to a church door.
As a principle, simultaneum was used with effect down the ages when no other alternative presented itself. It has involved the peoples of three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — in Europe and West Asia. Much later, even if they didn’t know the word simultaneum, Hindus and Muslims worshipped at Ayodhya at the same time. In 1859, the British put up a fence to separate the places of worships after communal violence. It was a separation; it was also a forced sharing.
Simultaneum, or forms of it, is still the practice at disputed sites in the Levant, at sites considered among the holiest by the Abrahamic religions. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is today administered by no less than six denominations of Christians and the guardians of the main door of the church are still the descendants of the same two 12th century Muslim families appointed by the conquering Kurdish general Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, in 1192 AD. Christians were permitted by a treaty between Saladin and Richard I (the Lionheart) to visit the holy site after the Third Crusade failed to wrest back Jerusalem from Saladin. The region of the eastern Mediterranean is filled with historical examples of the absence of tension, and even collaboration, between religious groups, without, of course, the intervention of later politics. There are examples of Christian, Jewish and Muslim voluntary pilgrimages (Ziyara) to pray where saints and prophets were born or died. Just like Ayodhya. Right here in India we have the tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharief, venerated by all faiths.
Exactly a day after the judgment of the Allahabad high court, the government and the principal Opposition, the BJP, were talking about reconciliation. One is reconciled to a path only if there is no other way. It has taken more than 60 years, but the judgment has shown India exactly that: in the face of a dispute of this nature, there is no other lasting way. Arun Jaitley of the BJP suggested on Friday that when the verdict is appealed, the Supreme Court could facilitate an amicable settlement. A senior Congress leader, Digvijay Singh, too, said much the same thing. The common stream of thought was reconciliation. They may not be wrong.
One must know what the places mentioned earlier mean to the religions that claim them. In Jerusalem, where three faiths meet, stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Christians revere the site as marking Golgotha, or the Hill of Calvary, where the Bible says Jesus was crucified. Tradition also assigns to this church the location of the sepulchre where Jesus was buried. In Jerusalem, too, is located the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, the traditionally held location of the First and Second Temples. It is also revered by Muslims and a waqf controls the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The first of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is administered by six branches of Christianity — the Roman Catholics, the Syrian Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian Churches. Each differs in varying degrees from the other, each has separate and strictly controlled prayer times and no one order intrudes into the space of the other. In 1187 AD, on October 2, the day this article was written, Jerusalem fell to Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. A few years later Salahuddin Yusuf ibn Ayyub, for that is Saladin’s full name, the first meaning Righteousness of the Faith, commanded that a Muslim family be the keeper of the main entrance and the key to be given to their neighbours, another Muslim family. The Nusseibehs still turn the key and the Jouddeh still bear responsibility for their safekeeping.
As far as the Temple Mount is concerned, though the area has been under Israeli control since the Six-Day way of 1967, the Muslim Waqf was given control of the Noble Sanctuary and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jewish prayers are forbidden and the entry of non-Muslims to the compound is regulated. A pessimist would argue that restrictions such as these are why the Levant is a troubled place. An optimist would say India now has the opportunity, and maturity, to show the world how to resolve a dispute born almost 500 years ago.
What could not be shared by reconciliation since the first suit was filed by Mahant Raghubir Das in 1885 is now to be divided by command. Or shared by force, if you will. Unless, of course, the Supreme Court says otherwise. The verdict on Ayodhya so far is for the disputed land to be divided into three equal parts, one for each litigant. But even in this division there lies a sharing, a sense of co-existence, of reconciliation. It does not take a genius to realise this. One cannot comment on the Allahabad high court judgment without reading 10,000 pages. But I will say this. The verdict of September 30, 2010, must have taken a lot of courage for the judges know that a judgment on a historic dispute will finally be judged by history. It is encouraging and daring and fills the stretch of time that leads to the Supreme Court with hope. The calm that followed the judgment is an illustration of this. The metropolises of this nation remain at peace. The hope of economic progress has begun to douse incandescent emotion. The temples of today are dedicated to the worship of commerce. In rural India, where the suffering caused by the avarice of politics is the most painful, reason has prevailed. A significant contribution to this pacific state has been made by the governments at the Centre, in Uttar Pradesh and other states. The guilt of having fallen asleep in 1992 kept them awake in 2010. Humanity won. India preferred insaniyat to insanity.