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Indian Muslim Group Claims Ownership of Taj Mahal

  • Anjana Pasricha

An Islamic organization in India has claimed ownership of the country's world famous Taj Mahal monument. The government-owned body that manages the monument says it will challenge the claim in court.

The issue of ownership of the marble monument to love surfaced a year ago, when a Muslim petitioner told a court in Uttar Pradesh State that the Taj Mahal should belong to an Islamic trust known as the Sunni Waqf Board, which manages Muslim graveyards and mosques in India.

Now the Sunni Waqf Board has formally declared it owns the famous monument, located in the city of Agra south of New Delhi, because it houses the graves of Mughal empress Mumtaz Mahal, her husband Shahjahan, and several relatives. All were Muslims.

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the pearl-white monument to the wife he loved in the 17th Century. It took 22 years and an army of 20,000 workers to create the splendid structure, which is now the world's most famous symbol of love.

Hafiz Usman, the trust's chairman in Uttar Pradesh, says that like hundreds of other Muslim monuments in the country, the Taj Mahal belongs to the trust.

Mr. Usman says there are several Muslim monuments that are managed by the government but are registered as properties of the trust. He says similarly, the Taj Mahal should be registered in its name.

Since 1920, the Taj Mahal has been managed and maintained by the Archeological Survey of India, or ASI - a government-body authorized to protect and maintain the world heritage site.

Officials at ASI say they have told the Islamic trust that the Taj Mahal is a national monument, and the trust has no jurisdiction over such properties.

Mr. C. Dorjee is Director of Monuments at ASI.

He says the Taj Mahal is a protected monument in charge of the federal government. He says the ASI will consider how to respond to the trust's claims after seeking legal advice.

But the Sunni Waqf Board is not about to back off. Mr. Usman has said the Board will do everything to establish its ownership of the Taj, and go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. The Board wants seven percent of the revenue gathered from the three million tourists who visit the Taj every year, and a role in its management.

Most historians are dismissing the Sunni board's claim as untenable. They say there has been no ownership claim for 350 years - and the trust's claims are unlikely to carry much legal weight.

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