Are Mosques Essential for India’s Muslims?

The empirical analysis offered by Lokniti–CSDS's surveys shows the centrality of mosques for India's Muslims.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court declined to set up a larger bench to review its 1994 verdict that had observed that a “mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam” and that “namaaz by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in the open.” The apex court’s contention was that the observation in 1994 was made in the limited context of acquisition of land by the state and that it would have no bearing on the title suit in the Ayodhya matter. In his dissenting note to the 2:1 order, Justice S Abdul Nazeer disagreed with the majority opinion of his non-Muslim counterparts. Citing the 1954 Shirur Mutt case, Justice Nazeer wanted the 1994 case to be referred to a larger bench for it to look into the question of “whether … an essential practice can be decided without a detailed examination of beliefs, tenets and practice of the faith in question” (M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs V Mahant Suresh Das And Others Etc 2018)

 

While commenting on the beliefs and tenets of religions is an exercise best left to theologians and is beyond the scope of this article or my expertise, Justice Nazeer’s call for an “examination” provides survey researchers like me a context and an opportunity to share some data on the religious behaviour and practices of followers of Islam in India and other religions as well. Scriptural evidence aside, what is the actual Indian reality regarding mosque, temple, church and gurudwara attendance? What does behavioural evidence tell us?

 

The Lokniti programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, with which I’m associated, has, over the years, collected a good amount of basic data on the religious practices or habits of Indians. During every Lok Sabha election since 2004, as part of its National Election Study (NES), Lokniti has been consistently asking voters belonging to all faiths about certain aspects of their religious behaviour—how often they visit their respective places of worship, how regularly they pray (do puja, paath, namaz, prayer), and how frequently they observe religious fasts (vrats, rozas, etc). The findings thrown up by these questions are quite revealing, especially in the context of the apex court’s judgment and Justice Nazeer’s dissent.

 

Who is More Likely to Visit A Place of Worship?

 

Out of the four major religious communities of India—Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs—it is Muslims who are most likely to visit their place of worship, the mosque, on a daily basis. In fact, they are twice as likely to do so compared to Hindus visiting a temple daily. In 2014, while one in every three Muslim voters (33%) said that they visited a masjid daily (Table 1), the proportion of Hindu respondents who said that they go to a mandir every day was only about 17% or one in every six (Table 2). Among Sikhs, the proportion of those visiting a gurdwara daily was found to be 31% (Table 3) and among Christians, those visiting a church every day were around 15% (Table 4). Remarkably, among the adherents of all four religions, these figures of daily visits to their respective places of worship have remained quite stable during the last decade or so. In 2004, 31% of Muslims, 16% Hindus, 16% Christians and 27% Sikhs were found to be visiting the mosque, temple, church and gurdwara, respectively, on a daily basis. This stability in everyday behaviour, with only minor ups and downs, gives one even more confidence in the survey data being reported here.

 

Table 1: Frequency of Muslims Visiting a Mosque

Year

Daily

(%)

Weekly

(%)

Only on festivals (%)

Never

(%)

N (Sample) size

2004

31

29

17

23

3,100

2009

31

31

19

19

4,597

2014

33

34

17

16

2,756

2018*

34*

34*

22*

10

1,935

Note: No response has been merged with the never category.  *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

Table 2: Frequency of Hindus Visiting a Mandir

Year

Daily

(%)

Weekly

(%)

Only on festivals (%)

Never

(%)

N (Sample) size

2004

16

29

43

12

21,616

2009

18

33

39

10

29,682

2014

17

36

38

9

18,002

2018*

17*

45*

30*

8

11,568

Note: No response has been merged with the never category.  *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

Table 3: Frequency of Sikhs Visiting a Gurdwara

Year

Daily

(%)

Weekly

(%)

Only on festivals (%)

Never

(%)

N (Sample) size

2004

27

31

33

9

684

2009

30

29

32

9

668

2014

31

40

23

6

432

2018*

31*

49*

10*

9

295

Note: No response has been merged with the never category. *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

Table 4: Frequency of Christians Visiting a Church

Year

Daily

(%)

Weekly

(%)

Only on festivals (%)

Never

(%)

N (Sample) size

2004

16

56

20

8

877

2009

12

60

24

4

942

2014

15

65

16

4

610

2018*

37*

33*

20*

10

304

Note: No response has been merged with the never category. *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

Christians were most likely to say that they visit the church on a weekly basis since church attendance on weekends is an important religious practice for many followers of Christianity. Their regularity of visits to the church therefore needs to be measured not on a daily basis, but in weekly terms. Recently, during a nationwide survey conducted by Lokniti in January 2018, when the option categories offered to the respondents for the same question were worded differently as “regularly” (instead of daily), “sometimes” (instead of weekly), “occasionally” and “never,” most Christian respondents opted for the “regularly” category and not the “sometimes” option (Table 4). This indicates that they perceived their weekly visit to the church as a regular habit.

 

Hindus and Sikhs are also more likely to visit their respective places of worship on a weekly rather than daily basis. In fact, weekly visits among Hindus to a temple and among Sikhs to a gurdwara have gone up steadily over the years. Over a decade ago, in 2004, Hindus and Sikhs were mostly visiting a temple or a gurdwara occasionally, that is, only on festivals. Today, however, most of them prefer visiting their respective places of worship on a weekly basis: 45% among Hindus and 49% among Sikhs. Occasional visits have registered a sharp decrease.

 

Among Muslims too, weekly visits to the mosque have increased from 29% in 2004 to 34% in 2014. But unlike Hindus and Sikhs, this rise has not come at the expense of occasional visits since the community has also seen a gradual increase in the proportion of those who visit the mosque only during festivals (from 17% to 22%). Muslims, in fact, are the only community that has seen a steady and consistent rise in “place of worship” visits across categories, be it on a daily basis, weekly basis, or occasionally. This has resulted in a sharp drop in the proportion of Muslims who never visit the mosque. About a decade and a half ago, nearly one in every four (23%) Muslim in India never visited a mosque. In 2018, the figure has come down to only one in every ten (10%). This steep decrease is largely on account of greater participation of women. Over the years the gender gap among Muslims with respect to visiting a mosque has shrunk steadily and considerably (Table 5). In 2004, 47% of Muslim women reported never visiting a mosque. This figure dropped to 36% in 2009, then to 31% in 2014, and was merely 18% at the start of 2018. Today, as per Loknit–CSDS’s most recent survey, about one in every four (23%) Muslim women visits a mosque regularly and one in three (36%) does so sometimes.

 

Table 5: Muslim Women Visit the Mosque Far More than They Used to a Decade Ago and with Greater Regularity

Year

Visit mosque Daily

(%)

Visit mosque Weekly

(%)

Visit mosque Only on festivals (%)

Never visit mosque

(%)

N (Sample) size

Muslim men

Muslim women

Muslim men

Muslim women

Muslim men

Muslim women

Muslim men

Muslim women

Muslim men

Muslim women

2004

43

17

37

18

16

18

4

47

1,706

1,394

2009

42

19

38

22

16

23

4

36

2,432

2,165

2014

45

20

38

28

13

21

4

31

1,469

1,287

2018*

43

23

32

36

22

23

3

18

1,034

901

Note: No response has been merged with the never category. *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

Who Is More Likely to Pray on a Daily Basis?

In addition to being more regular in visiting their place of worship, Muslims are also far more likely to pray on a daily basis compared to followers of other religions. During all the survey years (2004, 2009, 2014, and 2018) at least three in every five Muslims reported offering namaz on a daily basis. On the other hand, the proportion of Hindus praying daily has consistently been less than half. Christians and Sikhs have usually tended to pray more regularly (that is, on a daily basis) than Hindus in proportionate terms, but always less than Muslims (Table 6).

 

Table 6: Frequency of prayer (puja, namaz, prayer, paath)

Year

Daily

(%)

Weekly

 (%)

Only on festivals (%)

Never

(%)

H

M

C

S

H

M

C

S

H

M

C

S

H

M

C

S

2004

45

63

56

45

21

23

24

26

25

11

12

20

9

3

8

9

2009

48

65

55

50

23

21

28

21

21

11

13

17

8

3

4

12

2014

44

60

52

54

26

27

33

25

23

10

9

11

7

3

6

10

2018*

44

60

51

41

36

30

26

39

14

8

10

3

6

2

13

17

Note: No response has been merged with the never category. *In 2018, the categories offered were regularly, sometimes, rarely and never. H=Hindus; M=Muslims; C=Christians; S=Sikhs.

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

While this finding of a higher proportion of Muslims praying daily in comparison to followers of other religions is not surprising, given that praying five times a day is considered an obligatory duty of Muslims, what is interesting and significant in the context of the apex court’s recent judgment is that nearly half the Muslims who offer namaz daily have also been found by the Lokniti–CSDS surveys to be visiting the mosque daily. This can be seen across all years (Table 7). While one cannot be absolutely certain that most of these daily namazees who are also visiting the mosque daily must be doing so for the purpose of offering namaz, it would be fairly reasonable to make such an assumption. The same surveys also consistently reveal that 90% of Muslims who visit the masjid daily also offer namaz daily.

Table 7: Half of those who offer namaz daily also visit the mosque daily, among Hindus only a third of those who do puja daily also visit the temple daily

Year

Daily namazees who also visit mosque daily

(%)

Daily puja performers who also visit temple daily

(%)

2004

47

32

2009

46

33

2014

50

34

2018*

50

33

Note: *In 2018, the category offered to the respondent was "regularly" instead of "daily."

Source: National Election Studies in 2004, 2009 & 2014 & Mood of the Nation Survey in January 2018 by Lokniti–CSDS.

 

The salience of these findings regarding Muslim praying habits gets underscored further when juxtaposed with the praying practices of other religions. Lokniti surveys have consistently found that only one in every three Hindus who does puja daily visits the temple daily. Said in another way, two-thirds of Hindus who pray daily do not necessarily do so at a temple (Table 6). As far as Sikhs are concerned, half of them who pray daily also visit the Gurdwara daily, a figure similar to the one observed among Muslims.

This comparative analysis of religious behaviour as deduced from survey data shows that a mosque is as important/significant for India’s Muslims for the purposes of prayer and worship as a temple is for Hindus, a Gurdwara for Sikhs and a church for Christians. In light of this behavioural reality, the argument of (in)-essentiality made by the Supreme Court in 1994 with respect to the place of worship of one particular religion (Islam) does seem unfair, and needed a review.

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