It’s a short distance from vandalism to prayer — 17, Shakespeare Sarani to 185, Dharamtala Street. The city that has, to date, seen several protests, violent and peaceful, against the US-led aggression in Iraq, is set to see a different type. A congregation of 20,000 Muslims will hold a special prayer session — the namaz-e-ghaibana — at Tipu Sultan’s mosque on Friday.
Chief qazi of the government of West Bengal and Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan Masjid S.M. Noorur Rahman Barkati is going to lead the congregation, that is likely to be double the size of the usual Friday gatherings.
The prayer, however, will not be aimed against anyone, clarified Barkati. “We will pray for those who have died in the pounding of one of the most ancient civilisations of the world... We want to pray for the innocent people who have died despite having no role to play in the war between two governments,” the Shahi Imam added.
Though Friday’s gathering will essentially be a religious one, the political content cannot be denied. “We would not have organised this special prayer meet, had it been an ordinary war,” Barkati explained. “But what we are witnessing in Iraq is basically an act of aggression by two colonial powers (the United States and the United Kingdom), unprovoked by anything,” he said.
Two other targets will be India’s neighbour (Pakistan) and Iraq’s neighbour (Kuwait), which, according to the imam, “are behaving like anything but good neighbours. We will raise our collective voice against these two countries for supporting this act of aggression,” the Shahi Imam told Metro. He lauded the National Democratic Alliance government, however, for “already having gone on record, condemning the war”.
Initially, there were plans to lead a protest march to the American Center, the Shahi Imam admitted. “The unruly protests, however, have forced us to change our plans,” he said. “There has to be some difference between our mode of protest and what it has been till now. So, we decided against a demonstration in front of a glass-and-concrete building,” Barkati explained.
The mosque has also decided to call for a general boycott of American goods.
The central committee of the Maoist Communist Centre, too, has declared “war” on the US aggression, but has refrained from announcing any agitational programme, on the lines of the other Naxalite organisations that vandalised a Nike showroom on Shakespeare Sarani on Thursday.
The St Xavier’s Teachers’ Association, too, has expressed its distress at the Iraq situation.