The famous Jama Masjid of Delhi continued to be the biggest mosque in India for over 300 years till Taj-ul-Masajid (Crown among mosques) of Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) claimed that position in the early 1970s. Being the largest mosque in India and one of the largest mosque in Asia, Taj-ul-Masajid proclaims its role and significance in maintenance of communal harmony, besides exhibiting itself as a symbol of women empowerment. Since its inception, the mosque ushering the path of tolerance, benevolence and kindness. Also, the mosque has been used as a vaccination centre during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the mosque reminds the empowerment of women of the past. The construction of this magnificent structure was started by a lady Nawab namely Shah Jahan Begum who was the ruler of the Islamic principality of Bhopal in Central India for two periods: 1844-60 (when she was minor, her mother ‘Sikandar: Begum of Bhopal’ served as regent) and secondly during 1868-1901. After her death in 1901, the mosque continued to be built by her daughter Sultan Jahan Begum who was the ruling Begum of Bhopal between 1901 and 1926, till the end of her lifetime (May 12, 1930). An interesting aspect of the mosque is the ‘Zenana’ (women’s gallery) made for women to pray. Construction of a separate women’s gallery was an extraordinary feature in the mosque as in that period, women used to pray from home (a majority of women still do) and rarely visit mosque for prayer. A mosque constructed by a lady Nawab with a separate space for women speaks of the level of women empowerment in the then Bhopal.
In the Taj-ul-Masajid, the top floor is used for offering Namaz, while the ground floor is accommodated by shops especially doctor’s clinic, path labs, medicine shops etc. as the Masjid is situated adjacent to the Government Medical College of Bhopal. Today, majority of the shops in the mosque complex are rented or owned by non-Muslims. The best aspect of communal harmony come into play in the evening during Maghrib adhaan, when Muslim shop owners light the shops with Diya/Agarbatti and perform Aarti/Pooja, simultaneously.
A mosque complex being used by non-Muslims for the welfare of the society is a glaring example of the beautiful syncretic culture of India. Shah Jahan Begum was able to construct the mosque with space for other women as she was empowered. It is time for the women of India, especially Muslim women, to exhibit their talent and work for the betterment of the society/country, besides claiming their rightful space in the progressive world.