Mosques on amenity plots: Do not go to jail, pass Go, collect 200

Published: April 19, 2011
Acceptance of prayers on illegal land depends on the worshipper’s intention, says cleric. DESIGN : MOHSIN ALAM

Acceptance of prayers on illegal land depends on the worshipper’s intention, says cleric. DESIGN : MOHSIN ALAM


An SSP who worked behind the MCB Tower off II Chundrigar Road would make it a point to go to the police headquarters for Friday prayers even though his office shared a boundary wall with a mosque. “My prayers won’t be answered if I go to an illegally built mosque,” he said referring to the one next door.

But not everyone, least of all perhaps policemen, make such fine moral distinctions in a city like Karachi where it is difficult to tell if your neighbourhood mosque is illegally built on someone else’s land or worse one meant for a park.

The law states that public amenity plots cannot be converted into mosques but “there are a lot of things which can be made ‘legal’ through documentation”, remarked a Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) officer.

The number of mosques built on illegal land has increased recently. According to building and planning experts, one mosque is enough to cater to a residential area but this is not the case in many neighbourhoods. In just one sector (7-D/3) of North Karachi, for example, there are 11 mosques encroaching on the land for community centres, parks and schools. North Karachi’s master plan reserved all 11 sites for amenity plots.

Even Madina Masjid, next to Dolmen Centre on Tariq Road, was built on a park 12 years ago. To this day, the owners refuse to comment. Delhi Colony near Clifton is a congested residential and commercial area. Yet, the narrow streets are lined with mosques, some of whom share boundaries.

“The problem is that every sect wants its own mosque – Barelvis, Deobandis, Ahle Tasheeh, Sunnis, etc – and if you speak against it, you are considered a kafir [non-believer] within seconds,” said religious scholar Abbas Husain. “Illegal occupation of land is not considered going against religion at all.”

Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Naib Amir Mairajul Huda believes otherwise. “There are far more pressing issues to deal with in Karachi than the number of mosques built on illegal land,” he said. Referring to the religious connotations of offering prayers in an illegal mosque, he said, it depends very much on “the intentions of the person offering the prayer”. “It has nothing to do with the status of the land.”

But his statement can be taken in direct contradiction with the party’s stance. After all, the JI’s Niamatullah Khan, Karachi’s former mayor, went to the Supreme Court against encroachments and illegal occupation of amenity plots in Karachi. The city government was forced to start demolishing the buildings and picked a mosque as its first target.

The JI’s Huda agrees, however, that if a mosque is built on illegal land, it can be demolished “by transferring it to another area”. Former city nazim Mustafa Kamal believes that the issue is more serious and can cause a lot of anger among the people. “[Even though] the intention is not to forcefully bring down a mosque for no reason, people fail to understand that,” he said. Kamal recalled that he faced a similar situation when they were building a flyover on Stadium Road, a few years ago. The mosque was built right next to a footpath and it had to be removed because it was coming in the right of way, he said. Eventually, the structure was brought down but not after a lot of hue and cry.

Illegal encroachments by mosques have been going on for the past many years, said a member of NGO Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment. “But everyone, including the city government, the KBCA, as well as, the law officers, seem oblivious to their surroundings.”

The KBCA officer defended himself and said that, “we are very serious about pursuing such issues”. He explained that the eviction process is not simple and “in most cases, the police refuse to help us out”.

The tactics used by religious groups and their strong backing is something that cannot be handled by just one department, he said. “It needs a concerted effort to control encroachments in general and by mosques in particular,” he added.

All is not lost, however, as after 10 years, the KBCA has finally been allowed to have its own police, which can help with raids. Apart from that, the officials at the KBCA are waiting to see through amendments to the Sindh Building Control Ordinance, 1979. “We have proposed a few changes where the punishment will be 10 years and the fine will be Rs2 million.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • faraz
    Apr 19, 2011 - 10:15AM

    Our mullahs don’t feel ashamed that armed guardsmen are permanently deployed in mosques due to armed rivalry among different sects; when everyone is asked to raise his arms before entering a mosque to check whether he has a suicide vest or grenades underneath. The so called Dar ul Harb is more peaceful for muslims than our own Dar ul Islam.Recommend

  • Chilli
    Apr 19, 2011 - 10:45AM

    Sunni Tehrik and Dawat-e-Islami erected largest number of illegal mosques in Karachi. They are threatening peace of the city by making their mosques in front of other sects mosques to create confusion. Their green turban force is seen capturing lands illegally. Near jail road you will find two to three mosques of Dawat-e-Islami in one single street converting 80/100 sq yard plot to a mosque. They are very dangerous and can convert the whole city to their battle zone.Recommend

  • Henna
    Apr 19, 2011 - 12:06PM

    Karachi needs GREENERY, NOT MORE MOSQUES. People can even pray in a park, if they would like!
    I mean, it’s total chaos at azan time when instead of hearing one azan i am hearing five and can’t make head or tail of anything!
    Mosques banatay raho, aur loag bahir bhookay mar’ray hon.Recommend

  • Salman
    Apr 19, 2011 - 12:40PM

    I dont agree with the story. Masjids are the symbol of a Muslim country. and if the common people, or the residents of the localities where they are being build have no issue, why raise hue and cry over it? its the government responsibility to provide land for masjids and since they have failed to do so, people have no option then to build their own.Recommend

  • ozone
    Apr 19, 2011 - 12:44PM

    “The problem is that every sect wants its own mosque – Barelvis, Deobandis, Ahle Tasheeh, Sunnis, etc – and if you speak against it, you are considered a kafir [non-believer] within seconds,”

    These are the reasons for building more mosques & why people are not against it..
    Even govt. cant do anything against them bcz they are afraid if these mullahs comes out at streets they will not be control of anyone.Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Apr 19, 2011 - 4:51PM

    There might be alot of truth in what’s written in this article but there are alot of illigal buildings in Karachi besides mosques. In Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Block 4, near Maskan there is a flat complex built on land that was supposed to be for a park next to a mosque. What do you have to say about those flat built there? I would have loved to have a park where kids could play in the evening but now the kids have to play on the road. Why would you only target mosques? I agree that building illegal masjids is criminal and if I knew that a masjid was built on someone else’s land, I wouldn’t want to pray if I knew one was built on illegallly. Recommend

  • Balma
    Apr 19, 2011 - 6:50PM

    Most of the masjids in Karachi are illegal. EVen in DHA, I believe Sultan Masjid and MAsjid Ali are illegal. Can someone confirm?

    I really see no reason that I have to hear ten azaan-e-fajr simultaneously, but bit out-of-phase. It is ridiculous. These muazzins shout on loud speakers…when I have been told that 50 years ago, mullahs claimed that loud speakers are shaitaani amal:-)
    Why do regular azaans have to be on the loud speakers?

    These mullahs of pakistan are khatrah-e-iman!
    I propose to the national assembly, sindh assembly, and the city government that all masjids on non-masjid land should be demolished. Similarly, all other illegal structures in addition to the masjid should be demolished.

    As the numbers of masjids has gone up in Karachi, choree, loot-maar, qatal-o-ghaarat, haraamzadgi have gone up too.
    As someone has said: marz baRhtaa gayaa, joo’n joo’n davaa kee!Recommend

  • LOL
    Apr 21, 2011 - 3:14AM

    Pakistan is the land of the Mullahs. It was supposed to be pure but Zia came upon it. Welcome to Mullahland. Recommend

  • Radial
    Apr 21, 2011 - 12:55PM

    What a wonderful scam. Mullah parties encroach land for a mosque, and then also use the space to house their mullahs and their foot soldiers (madressa students). If I want to start a little private army, this is the perfect way to seize government or private land, and announce that it would now be used for a mosque. Recommend

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