Muslims claim ownership of Taj Mahal

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The Independent Online

The Indian state is facing an extraordinary legal challenge to its ownership of the country's most famous national monument, the Taj Mahal. And the claim of ownership comes from the minority that has arguably faced the most discrimination and mistreatment in recent decades: Muslims.

The Indian state is facing an extraordinary legal challenge to its ownership of the country's most famous national monument, the Taj Mahal. And the claim of ownership comes from the minority that has arguably faced the most discrimination and mistreatment in recent decades: Muslims.

The Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, over whose death he was inconsolable. As well as her tomb, the Taj complex includes a mosque.

The ownership claim comes from the Sunni Waqf Board, a Muslim trust. The Waqf claims it has a legal title to the Taj because the Indian government granted it ownership of all Muslim tombs and graveyards in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located.

Since the Waqf has quasi-judicial powers, it is threatening to make a ruling and seize ownership of the Taj if the Archaeological Survey of India and the central government do not reply to its claim by the end of March.

The Taj is considered by many to be the world's greatest architectural masterpiece. It is almost certainly the world's most famous monument to love. Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet, called it a "teardrop on the face of eternity".

But its beauty and status as a religious site have not made it immune to the rivalries of the region. In 2002, when India and Pakistan nearly went to war, the Taj was covered in camouflaged netting, supposedly to protect it from a Pakistani air raid - though that would have meant officially Islamic Pakistan bombing a mosque.

This time the threat to the Taj is not so dire. It seems that what is really at stake are the lucrative gate receipts from the hordes of foreign tourists who come to see the Taj every year. The Waqf says if its claim is successful, it plans to commandeer 7 per cent of ticket sales.

But it is unlikely the Waqf will get the Taj. This is one piece of Islamic India even the most diehard Hindu extremists will not part with in a hurry.

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