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NEW DELHI: A ban on Friday prayers in public places in Noida, an industrial hub outside New Delhi, has angered the city’s Muslim community.

“We have been offering Friday prayers in a nearby park for the past five years. Why do they want to stop us from performing our prayers,” asked Nouman Akhtar, a cleric who used to lead the group meetings.

The Noida administration this week warned that companies in the city would be held responsible if Muslim employees offered prayer in public places. Muslims have been told to offer Friday prayers during work hours in mosques, or open-air enclosures, or inside company premises.

A worker at a nearby garment factory said that employees “used to offer weekly prayers at the park because there is no mosque.”

Companies that received notices from the Noida administration refused to comment on the issue when contacted by Arab News.

However, news reports suggest that some firms are planning to meet the local administration to discuss the issue.

Noida, a satellite town outside the Indian capital, is known for its IT parks and industrial hubs. The planned city is the most modern in Uttar Pradesh, a state ruled by the Hindu right-wing party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has a history of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Brajesh Narayan Singh, district magistrate of Noida, told a press conference the city directive issued to companies was deceptive. 

“If Muslims have permission from police and the administration, they will be allowed to continue with their prayers,” he said.

Human rights activist Ovais Sultan Khan described the prayer ban as “a politically motivated tactic to encourage a belief among Muslims that they are not equal citizens.

“The Friday prayer is not linked with companies, yet notices have been issued to them. It is an attempt to tell firms that they should not hire Muslims,” he told Arab News.

“The district administration is taking dictation from their Hindu right-wing bosses. This is part of a deliberate and systematic marginalization of India’s Muslim population.”

Masood Akhtar, an opposition Congress Party legislator, said: “The BJP wants to create division between Hindus and Muslims so they can get votes in the election. It’s a direct attack on the Muslim population.

“The party has nothing to show for the past four years since taking power. Polarization of communities in the name of religion is the only weapon they have left,” he said.

Samajwadi Party legislator Iqbal Mahmood accused the BJP leadership of “creating an atmosphere of hatred.”

“How can you object to a prayer meeting on a Friday for half an hour?” he asked. “The government doesn’t want to see Muslims living in the country.”

However, the BJP blamed the opposition for “creating controversy.”

“We don’t discriminate against Muslims. There was a complaint from the public that the prayer congregation was disturbing them. They demanded Friday prayers be stopped and that is what is being done,” Rakesh Tripathi, BJP spokesperson in Uttar Pradesh, said.

“If you are offering prayers in a public place just to demonstrate your strength, it’s wrong. You need permission.”

The ban would “help to avoid communal tensions between different communities,” he said.

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