Are Mosques Essential for India’s Muslims?


The empirical analysis offered by Lokniti–CSDS’s surveys shows the centrality of mosques for India’s Muslims.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court declined to set up a larger bench to review its 1994 verdict that had observed that a “mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam” and that “namaaz by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in the open.” The apex court’s contention was that the observation in 1994 was made in the limited context of acquisition of land by the state and that it would have no bearing on the title suit in the Ayodhya matter. In his dissenting note to the 2:1 order, Justice S Abdul Nazeer disagreed with the majority opinion of his non-Muslim counterparts. Citing the 1954 Shirur Mutt case, Justice Nazeer wanted the 1994 case to be referred to a larger bench for it to look into the question of “whether … an essential practice can be decided without a detailed examination of beliefs, tenets and practice of the faith in question” (M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs V Mahant Suresh Das And Others Etc 2018)

While commenting on the beliefs and tenets of religions is an exercise best left to theologians and is beyond the scope of this article or my expertise, Justice Nazeer’s call for an “examination” provides survey researchers like me a context and an opportunity to share some data on the religious behaviour and practices of followers of Islam in India and other religions as well. Scriptural evidence aside, what is the actual Indian reality regarding mosque, temple, church and gurudwara attendance? What does behavioural evidence tell us?

The Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, with which I’m associated, has, over the years, collected a good amount of basic data on the religious practices or habits of Indians. During every Lok Sabha election since 2004, as part of its National Election Study (NES), Lokniti has been consistently asking voters belonging to all faiths about certain aspects of their religious behaviour—how often they visit their respective places of worship, how regularly they pray (do puja, paath, namaz, prayer), and how frequently they observe religious fasts (vrats, rozas, etc). The findings thrown up by these questions are quite revealing, especially in the context of the apex court’s judgment and Justice Nazeer’s dissent.

Who is More Likely to Visit A Place of Worship?

Out of the four major religious communities of India—Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs—it is Muslims who are most likely to visit their place of worship, the mosque, on a daily basis. In fact, they are twice as likely to do so compared to Hindus visiting a temple daily. In 2014, while one in every three Muslim voters (33%) said that they visited a masjid daily (Table 1), the proportion of Hindu respondents who said that they go to a mandir every day was only about 17% or one in every six (Table 2). Among Sikhs, the proportion of those visiting a gurdwara daily was found to be 31% (Table 3) and among Christians, those visiting a church every day were around 15% (Table 4). Remarkably, among the adherents of all four religions, these figures of daily visits to their respective places of worship have remained quite stable during the last decade or so. In 2004, 31% of Muslims, 16% Hindus, 16% Christians and 27% Sikhs were found to be visiting the mosque, temple, church and gurdwara, respectively, on a daily basis. This stability in everyday behaviour, with only minor ups and downs, gives one even more confidence in the survey data being reported here.

Table 1: Frequency of Muslims Visiting a Mosque

go to source for tables and more:

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