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Regulation of Mosques: A Choice or a Compulsion?

Regulation of Mosques: A Choice or a Compulsion?

By  Dr. Abdul Rauf Iqbal 

Mosque is an important religious and social institution which influences the life and views of Muslims. It is a seat of learning and preaching. It is primarily a place of worship, but it also provides educational, dispute resolution, religious, social and welfare services.

 

Sometimes, it also acts as a source of political and religious information for common people. When a state does not regulate mosques, there is a likelihood that extremist elements can manipulate public sentiments to undermine the authority of the state.

The situation can be further exploited by external anti-state organisations to create internal unrest. Both Muslim and non-Muslim societies tend to regulate mosques as they cannot afford to leave the mosques as a private affair.

Regulation of mosques includes registration with local authorities, appointment and supervision of imams, financial management and auditing, oversight over religious literature, weekly sermons, and day-to-day governance etc.

Regulating religious places is a sensitive issue, sometimes even leading to a violent backlash. However, states like Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Malaysia, Türkiye, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) effectively regulate mosques. On the other hand, states like Nigeria and Pakistan exercise lesser control over the mosques.

In Pakistan, there are many challenges associated with the regulation of mosques. In Pakistan, the Societies Registration Act of 1860 requires that all mosques should be licensed and registered. Accordingly, a committee led by the District Coordination Officer (DCO) is responsible for issuing a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the establishment of mosques.

The National Action Plan (NAP) of 2014 and the revised NAP 2021 emphasise on registration and regulation of religious institutes across the country. The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014 aims to integrate mosques into national and provincial education frameworks. Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Ordinance 2015 regulates the sound systems of all religious places including mosques.

 

 NISP 2018-23 also proposes wide-ranging reforms to make mosques centres of learning and religious guidance. The legal and policy guidelines are very clear about the mosque regulations; however, the ground situation is somewhat different. In the federal capital territory of Islamabad, 89 out of a total of 957 mosques are governed by the state while the government does not influence the remaining 868 mosques.

According to an estimate, almost 250 mosques in Islamabad are operating without a licence. Even, the mosques have been built in the parking areas and green belts of the city. The uncontrolled growth of privately run mosques poses a serious question on the authority of the state. Inversely, the capital administration seldom acts against such illegally operating mosques. This is due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

 

The authorities fear backlash from religious parties and therefore are hesitant to take any action, the issue of Lal Masjid is a case in point. Regulating the mosques is a long-term objective which requires strong political will, robust local administration, and a consistent approach. Keeping in view the history of mosque regulations in Pakistan, a phased-wise policy is required. It can start from selected urban and rural areas and then can be extended throughout the country. In this regard, community engagement is critical to managing public opinion and avoiding the backlash. Any backlash should be tackled amicably rather than completely backing off from mosque regulation.

 

The implementation process must be taken to its logical conclusion. The strategy to implement these policy decisions also needs an explanation. It is suggested that a pilot project be initiated in selected urban and rural areas to first register all the mosques. Other issues like appointment of imams, auditing of funds, and weekly sermons can be regulated in the second step. The federal and provincial capitals along with selected villages from each federating unit be taken as the sample to draw lessons for further improvement.

 

The local administration, which is otherwise responsible for the registration of mosques, should be tasked to engage with all the stakeholders rather than taking coercive measures. It cannot be done without engaging the local community, so a public-private partnership is badly required. There are mosques built on state land and removing them will provoke backlash from the religious pressure groups. To avoid the  situation, either the state can regularise them, or it can provide alternate space to relocate those mosques. It requires funding and political will.

 

The suggested public-private partnership can accrue the required funds and political will can help in mitigating the risks associated with the regularisation of mosques. This pilot project will help in drawing pertinent lessons for the regularisation of mosques. Periodic evaluation, feedback and accountability mechanisms should also be adopted in this regard. Based on the success of pilot project, the government should first register/legalise all the mosques in the country. Community engagement with dynamic local administration in a politically enabling environment will pave the way for second step of regularising imams, funds, and sermons etc.

In sum, regularisation of mosques is an accepted global norm. It is a compulsion rather than an option. In Pakistan, a consistent, phased-wise, and long-term approach backed by community engagement can help in regularisation of mosques.

 

Dr. Abdul Rauf Iqbal is Islamabad based analyst and works in a public policy research institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

*Opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The South Asia Times   

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