The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which is tasked with the monument’s management, said in a Nov. 5 order that only Muslims living around the Taj Mahal can pray on Fridays in the mosque adjacent to the mauso-leum. Muslims from other areas are barred, Vasant Swarankar, super-intending archaeologist at the ASI’s Agra chapter, told media. Namaz (prayers) can only be offered on Fridays. Imams and staff can enter the mosque only from noon to 2 pm, according to the order.
The world-renowned mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife in 1658.
The UNESCO-designated world heritage site receives more than 200,000 overseas tourists and some 4 million local tourists every year. But Friday is a holiday when no tourists are allowed. The ASI said it was only implementing a July Supreme Court order that only residents of Agra should be allowed to enter the mosque for congregational prayers as unregulated entry could adversely affect the monument.
However, leaders of Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, say the order is unnecessary.