New Delhi: Jamia Millia Islamia’s architecture professor S.M. Akhtar, who has been entrusted with the job of designing the new mosque in Ayodhya, said its size will be the same as that of Babri Masjid.
The professor also said he will took it “as a responsibility to deliver the project that can serve the society”.
The new mosque will come up on a 5-acre land in Dhannipur village.
Complying with the Supreme Court order delivered last year, the UP government allocated the five acres of land to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board for the construction of the mosque.
In February this year, the Waqf Board established a trust, Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF), which Tuesday handed over the responsibility of designing the mosque to Akhtar, a renowned architect and dean of Jamia’s architecture department.
Besides the mosque, the five-acre land will have a hospital, a research centre, community kitchen and a museum, and Akhtar will design all of these.
Speaking to ThePrint, Akhtar said the complex “will provide a glimpse of Hindustaniyat, insaniyat (humanity) as well as Islamic values”.
“Community and nation-building are very important and education plays a key role here. And I don’t just mean traditional education. Knowing yourself, your culture and your history is equally important, if not more,” Akhtar said.
Asked about the construction of the new mosque, he said it will be built keeping in mind the needs and requirements of the present times.
“Old mosques were built according to traditions of that time. Today, it will be constructed keeping in mind the needs and requirements of the 21st century. The design of the 16th century will not work for the new mosque. Today, mosques are being constructed in India as well as the entire Europe, following new designs,” said Akhtar, who is from Lucknow.
He also said the mosque will be constructed in an area spanning over 15,000 sq feet, as Babri Masjid also covered that much of space. “The mosque’s design will be completely unique,” he added.
People’s opinion to be sought too
Asked if he has visited Ayodhya, the Jamia professor said it’s not needed right now.
“Right now, there is no need to go there. I have seen the entire area. Very soon, its design work will start. One of my teams will work on this. As soon as its design is complete, they will present it before the IICF. All this might take some time as people’s opinion also needs to be sought,” he said.
Akhtar did not want to reveal much details about the project cost and the time it will take to complete the construction.
“My first task is to complete the design as soon as possible. Right now, it will be too early to comment on anything related to timing and cost of the construction.”
S.M. Akhtar is a town planner too
Professor and founder dean, Faculty of Architecture & Ekistics, at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, S.M. Akhtar is a well-known architect, and also a town planner.
Jamia’s “architecture department is known by his name”, said Akhtar’s colleague Mohammad Saquib, who has worked with him in varying capacities since 2004.
It was Akhtar’s multi-disciplinary background that helped him secure the Ayodhya project.
“It’s not just the work of an architect, it’s also one of a town planner and that is why we chose professor S.M. Akhtar,” IICF’s spokesperson Athar Hussain told ThePrint.
“Our idea is to have a message for the country and the world about how the Indian and Islamic culture confluence together and influence our society. The best way to portray that is via architecture, and for that purpose we chose professor Akhtar,” he added.
According to Saquib, Akhtar “is one of the most promising architects to undertake such a project”.
However, this is not the profession that Akhtar had in mind initially. Having studied science in college, Akhtar later drifted to architecture, public administration, planning, environmental sciences and even economics.
“The desire to impart knowledge in many fields is what led me to academics,” he told ThePrint. “I established the architecture faculty at Jamia in 2005 and started six Masters programmes as well as PhD programmes. Before that, I was into consultancy for about two decades,” he added.
“My perception is that architecture is always created for the future, whatever was in the past cannot be replicated. If you are trying to imitate structures made in the past, then that is a perversion. Buildings are never replicated, it has to be created. There is no point carrying nostalgic images that are not of material use but have emotional baggage,” he told ThePrint.
Soon after news of him taking over the mosque complex project broke out, support poured in from his friends and colleagues from across the world, said Akhtar.
One of the first few to offer his help was renowned architect Charanjit Singh Shah, who has known Akhtar for 40 years.
“We have a philosophically common understanding of architecture and live in today, not the past,” Shah told ThePrint.
“A person like Akhtar, provided he is given a free hand, is the most rightful person to create this historically valued structure and will give a lot of strength to unite India,” Shah told ThePrint.
IICF is making public appeal for donations
IICF spokesperson Hussain, meanwhile, said the basic idea is to create a complex that can be seen as an example of unity across the country.
“We have named the complex as ‘Masjid Complex’,” he added.
“The complex will also house a research centre, hospital, community kitchen and a museum. Akhtar has been selected to ensure that all these buildings have coordination between them. He is known for designing such types of buildings. Along with being an architect, Akhtar saheb is also a town planner whose entire family also belongs to Ayodhya,” said Hussain.
He added that IICF is making a public appeal for donations to aid the construction.
“We have opened accounts in ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank in Lucknow for this purpose. People will also be able to donate online very soon via our website,” he added.