The Kerala High Court on Friday denied permission to construct a mosque in a locality that has many mosques, observing that the state already has a large number of religious structures and their ratio to the population is very high.
Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan opined that Kerala, that is termed as "God's own country", is crammed full of religious places.
"Because of the peculiar geographical situation of Kerala, it is known as 'God's own country'. But we are exhausted with religious places and prayer halls and we are not in a position to allow any new religious places and prayer halls except in the rarest of rare cases," he said.
The court observed that even though mosques are important to the Muslim community, it is not necessary, as per the Holy Quran, that there be a mosque in every nook and cranny.
"The verses of the Holy Quran clearly highlight the importance of he mosque to the Muslim community. But it is not stated in the above verses of the Holy Quran that a mosque is necessary in every nook and corner.... It is not stated in the 'Hadis' or in the Holy Quran that mosque is to be situated adjacent to the house of every Muslim community member. Distance is not the criteria, but reaching the mosque is important," it said.
The court also referred to a study on religious structures, based on the 2011 Census, which it termed as "alarming" as it said that Kerala has 10 times the number of religious structures as villages and 3.5 times the number of hospitals.
"Kerala is exhausted with religious institutions and prayer halls... If every devotee ... Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Parsi, etc. starts to construct religious places and prayer halls near their residence, the state will face serious consequence including communal disharmony. In this case, the intelligence report and the police report says that if the present conversion of the commercial building to a religious prayer hall is allowed, there is chance for communal disharmony. It is a sensitive issue," it noted.
In the instant case, since 36 mosques were existing within the vicinity in question, the court held that there was no need of another mosque in that vicinity because the adherents of Islam can go to other nearby mosques, especially considering the fact that most citizens have access to some kind of vehicle or public transportation.
"It is true that Article 26(a) of the Constitution of India states that subject to the public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes. That does not mean that they can construct religious places in every nook and corner of the country. Kerala is a very small state," it said.
Justice Kunhikrishnan also referred to a movie song by acclaimed poet, late Vayalar Ramavarma which speaks of how man created religions, religion created God, and together they divided the world and humanity.
The verdict was given on a petition seeking to change a commercial building to a Muslim place of worship so as to enable Muslims in the vicinity to access a mosque to offer prayers.
The District Collector considered the request and denied it, based on reports of the district police chief who noted that there are about 36 mosques situated within 5 kilometre radius from the existing commercial building of the petitioner.
This prompted the petitioner to approach the High Court.
The court went through the 'The Manual of guidelines to prevent and control communal disturbance and to promote communal harmony' issued by the state, via a Government Order, and found that even for a change of occupancy, the permission from district authorities is necessary.
In the present case, the court found no reason to interfere with the decision of the state authorities and dismissed the petition.
It then asked to issue the following directions to the state government and police authorities, including, that the Kerala Chief Secretary and the state police chief shall issue necessary orders/circulars directing all the officers concerned to see that there is no illegal functioning of any religious places and prayer halls without obtaining permission from the competent authorities as per the Manual of Guidelines.
If any such religious place or prayer hall is functioning without necessary permission, they should take necessary steps to close down the same forthwith, it said.
Besides, the court said that it should be clearly mentioned that the distance to the nearest similar religious place/prayer hall is one of the criteria while considering the application for religious places and prayer halls and also directed the Chief Secretary to issue a separate circular/order prohibiting change of category of a building to a religious place/prayer hall, except in the rarest of rare case, and that also only after getting report from the police and intelligence, ascertaining the ground realities of that particular place.