American Islamists are using a mosque’s destruction 30 years ago to cast Indian Muslims as living under a fascist threat. They are hoping public ignorance of the site’s history as a Hindu temple and a court’s ruling setting aside land for a new mosque will create a false perception of a looming Muslim genocide in India.
In particular, the Islamists attack the Hindu nationalist movement “Hindutva.”
“In 1992, the world watched with horror as Hindutva extremist political leaders incited street mobs to demolish the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque of incalculable historic and cultural value,” Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a press release earlier this month.
Awad’s statement marked the 30th anniversary of the demolition of a 16th-century mosque in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya, which had been built under the rule of Muslim conqueror Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty in northern India.
“The destruction of India’s Islamic heritage is part of a campaign of cultural ethnic cleansing by Hindutva extremists and the far-right Modi government that enables them,” Awad asserted. “The international community must take action to end the Indian government’s war on Islam and Muslims.”
CAIR was not alone. For example, on Dec. 6, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) called the mosque’s demolition, “The darkest day in the history of independent India.”
Interestingly, these same groups were silent in 2020 when Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to convert the ancient Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
In contrast to CAIR’s simplistic and bigoted description of the Babri mosque issue, the truth is far more complex.
The mosque was built atop a “grand temple” believed by millions of Hindus to be the birthplace of one of Hinduism’s chief deities—Shri Ram. As a result, Hindus and Muslims have filed competing claims over the site, which lingered in courts for decades.
“Archaeologically there is enough evidence to say that below the controversial Babri mosque, there were temple remains,” K. K. Muhammad, a former regional director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), told The Times of India in 2019. The presence of several artifacts and sculptures found after the mosque’s demolition “clearly says the temple has been dedicated to that incarnation of Lord Vishnu (Shri Ram).”
Muhammad was part of an ASI team that carried out an excavation of the site in 1976-77. His conclusions were confirmed in a 2003 ASI report.
Hindu frustration with the slow judicial process and a political establishment unwilling to take sides on the issue galvanized a movement to build a temple on the disputed site. The movement reached an “inflection point” in 1992, when the mosque was demolished by a group of kar sewaks (Hindu religious volunteers) who attacked the mosque’s domes with crowbars and hammers.
The mosque’s destruction led to violent riots in Mumbai, followed by Islamist terror attacks on the city in 1993.
A Sept. 2020 special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court ruling concluded that the “Babri demolition was spontaneous, not preplanned” and acquitted all 32 individuals accused in the case.
In a unanimous Nov. 2019 ruling, a five-judge Supreme Court panel paved the way for building a temple on the disputed site. While calling the 1992 mosque destruction “a serious violation of the rule of law,” the court allotted a five-acre plot in a “suitable, prominent place in Ayodhya” to construct a much larger mosque.
“Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of Muslims who’ve been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed,” the Court acknowledged.
The Sunni Waqf Board accepted the Supreme Court ruling and plans to build a mosque, an Indo-Islamic research center, a hospital and a library on the plot allotted to it.
“We too denounce the violence that arose in the tearing down of Babri and its aftermath,” Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. “Yet it is telling that CAIR provides zero acknowledgment about the archaeological, documentary and testimonial evidence confirming the deeply sacred significance of that site to Hindus for millennia as well as the decades of legal deadlock over its status.”
Shukla also suggested the need for “truth and reconciliation that acknowledges the toll of iconoclasm throughout South Asia” and added that “if intercommunity-based compromises cannot be reached, legal processes should be utilized for restorative justice for past desecration and destruction of important Dharmic, i.e., Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh, sacred sites and temples.”
American Islamists like CAIR are having none of this. Instead, they falsely portray Muslims as victims of one-sided aggression by “Hindutva extremists.” They describe Hindutva as “a shameless ideology, a hateful ideology” and allude to its supporters as “fascists” and “Nazis.”
“This ideology is very clear,” Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) Advocacy Director Ajit Sahi said during a May Islamist convention. “It says that India is the land of the Hindus because their forefathers started out in this country and they created the religion of Hinduism thousands of years ago.”
India’s political leadership is “sworn to the Hindutva theology of Hindu nationalism,” Sahi added. “Their one goal, single goal, is to convert India into a Hindu country.”
Sahi attributed the ideology’s origin to the late political and ideological leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
But historian Vikram Sampath, author of a two-part biography of Savarkar, argues that Hindutva was “a political pushback to political Islam” and a “cultural, national identity marker.”
Sampath states that Savarkar envisioned a Hindu state where “the majorities are not going to get extra concessions because they were more in number and conversely the minorities also will not get any extra privileges.”
“And there’s not going to be a state religion of Hindu Rashtra,’ Sampath said. “It’s Hindu not in terms of its religious connotation, but it’s a cultural and national identity, which is what Hindutva was for [Savarkar].”
By drawing comparisons with “Nazism” and “fascism” and calling Hindutva “a hateful extremist ideology,” American Islamists only seek to deflect attention from radical Islam and Islamist terrorism, and portray India’s religious strife as one-sided Hindu violence.
Abha Shankar is the research director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.