In 2003, during a visit to Fatehpur Sikri, we were taken to the private residence of the caretaker of the Saleem Chishti Dargah located inside the complex. Once inside, we were warmly received by the caretaker, an elderly gentleman and his family. We were served sharbat and shammi kababs. Soon after, in our presence, the caretaker received another group of Indian men and women, all dressed in expensive clothes and they spoke to each other in English with a distinct American accent.
“Ye sab sap hi logoN ka to hai,” [This all, is all yours only] the caretaker said to them before introducing the family to us. We were delighted to discover that they were direct descendants of Akbar, the emperor who built the magnificent complex.
We spent some time with them and left the residence to take a round of the complex. In the central courtyard, I was horrified to see carts of vendors selling bangles, cosmetics and cheap snacks. The carts were stationed in front of the Dargah and all the vendors were Muslims. In another section of the complex, I saw banana peels, discarded footwear and paan stains on the walls. I left the complex disappointed.Years later at the Jama Mosque, I was disappointed to see unkept surroundings and encroachment, mostly by Muslims.
In recent weeks, we have seen angry reactions of Muslims who were horrified by remarks on Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb. I am not surprised by the BJP leaders badmouthing the Mughals and the Taj Mahal. I am also not surprised by absurd suggestions from the Shia Waqf officials who are part of BJP government. They are part of right wing and have no respect for Islamic heritage. What disappoints me, however, is the indifference and disregard shown by Muslims who misuse and encroach heritage structures.
Visit Sufi shrines and you will see dirty surroundings and encroachment. Nizamuddin and Ajmer are good examples of neglect, willful disregard for cleanliness and disrespect for the shrine. Compare the two shrines with Hindu temples or Sikh Gurudwaras or an old church in your city.
While outrage of Muslims over BJP leaders’ irresponsible statements is understandable, the community must ponder what has it done to preserve Islamic heritage. We must ask ourselves what are we doing to truly respect and cherish what we have.
Romanticisation of Islamic heritage alone will not be able to save our historic buildings.
—Bobby Naqvi is a Political Editor at Gulf News and is based in the UAE.