KARACHI: Screams of joy and laughter echoed through the Lakshmi Narayan Temple as the colours of Holi consumed those within. Muslims and Christians joined Hindus in celebrating Holi, the festival of colors.
Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust president Sanjesh Sunny Dhanja was happy to see the way the celebrations had transcended religion and had become an event for the whole community. “We made it very clear that everyone is invited, regardless of their religion, and it makes me happy to see how people responded.”
VIZIANAGARAM: Attaullah Shariff Shataj Khadiri Baba, popularly known as “Biryani Baba”, has been feeding biryani to the poor for the decades in Vizianagaram and Cheemalapadu of Krishna district.
When assessed, this comes to to be around one crore (ten million) people in the last 40 years. Mr Baba, 78, has continued the legacy of his guru Khadar Baba who passed away 40 years ago.
Mr Baba, who shuttles between Vizianagaram and Cheemalapadu Dargah, blesses the people who believe in him and offers them anna prasada at Langar Khana on the dargah premises. Mr Baba himself participates in cooking the biryani. Everyday, at least a thousand people eat in Cheemalapadu and Vizianagaram.
Mr Baba said, “I am just providing meals to the needy. With the help of donors and devotees, the programme continues smoothly. I don’t believe in religion or castes, I appeal to the public to help the poor. I believe that service to humans is equal to service to God.”
Thousands of Sufi shrines, big and small, dot the landscape in rural Pakistan. Each shrine has its own history and associated legends. But the shrine that stands against the dusty green hillocks in Dhoke Sahi Village is unique, both in terms of its past and present. Like other shrines, thousands of devotees have come to celebrate the saint’s union with his beloved God. But what is unusual is that the saint, for whom these devotees have gathered, is a woman.
This mausoleum is called home by women abandoned by their families. These women have dedicated their days to the service of Mai Sahiba. The older caretakers at the shrine guide women in both spiritual and worldly matters. On most days, women share their family troubles and receive prayers and blessings from Mai Hameeda and Mai Rashida, the caretakers.
This shrine, like others, receives millions of rupees in donations each year, which are spent on its upkeep and to finance the langar that feeds visitors. “Once, we received a letter and a donation of a few hundred thousand rupees from India. A Hindu man who had been her devotee before partition left the money with his son and asked to have it sent here for a well to be dug. Since we already had a well and an electric motor with it, we used it to install a biogas plant,” said Rashida.
The Sufi path involves going through specific stages under the guidance of a spiritual master. Mai Sahiba went through these stages over a course of many years under the guidance of Hazrat Babu Ghulam Sarwar in Lahore and eventually returned to the village to give religious education to people in the village. She also used her position as a figure of religious authority to help women with domestic issues. “It was usual for her to call a woman’s husband and lecture him on mistreating his wife. No one dared to disobey Mai Sahiba”
MANDASAUR: There is a picture of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, displayed prominently on the wall in the Principal’s office. Outside is a blackboard on which is inscribed a quote from the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad (Asato Maa Sadgamaya) and one from the Hadith (Knowledge is the greatest wealth.)
Gyan Sagar is one of the 128 madrasas run by a group of women in and around Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district. In 78 of these madrasas, Hindu students outnumber their Muslim friends (over 55 per cent of the students are Hindu), while 630 of the 865 teachers employed by the group are Hindu.
Set up in 1992 by Shahzad Qureshi, Madrasa Firdaus initially used to impart religious education and offered free tuition to poor students from other schools.
“We were educating children from poor families. A lot of poor Hindu families wanted to enroll their children in our schools, but were concerned about religious education,” says NMM chairperson Talat Qureshi “That is when we thought of reviving India’s older system of madrasas that offered subsidised education, and where such legends as Munshi Premchand, Raja Rammohun Roy, Bharatendu Harishchandra and Pandit Ramchandra Shukla had their education,” says Dr. Qureshi, a dentist by profession. As a result, Hindu religion is a compulsory subject for Hindu students studying in these study centres, while Muslim students have to study and pass Deeniyat.
As many as 85 Hindu pilgrims from various states of India came to Katas Raj, their holy site, on Wednesday evening and left for India on Friday. They were welcomed by District Coordination Officer (DCO) Asif Bilal Lodhi, Assistant Commissioner Choa Saidan Shah Samina Saif Niazi and other officials concerned in two receptions.
Speaking in one of the receptions Chairman Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Saddiqul Farooq assured the Indian pilgrims that they would always be welcomed in Pakistan with warmth and affection. He stressed the need of interfaith harmony. “We should respect every religion. If we respect humanity our problems will solve,” he maintained. He urged the pilgrims to take the message of love and peace to their country.
Shiv Partab Bajaj the leader of the pilgrims while speaking on the occasion thanked the Pakistan government for making tremendous arrangements for the pilgrims. “The love and respect which you people gave us can never be forgotten,” he said. He added that when he came first time at Katas Raj in 1982 the temples were in pathetic condition , but now the holy site had been renovated.
BERN: It is thought to be a one-of-a-kind: tucked away in a multicultural, working-class suburb of Bern stands a house with five sanctuaries, one per religion. The House of Religions is a place for coexistence and interaction.
In the early 2000s, Rotach, a theologian of Jewish origin from Zurich, was the presenter of a German-language television show called “Sternstunde” (great moment). It was there that she met Hartmut Haas, a Moravian pastor (a branch of Protestantism) who today manages the association House of Religions – A Dialogue of Cultures.
“He had spent several years in Palestine. It was just after September 11, 2001, when everyone was talking about the clash of civilisations,” Rotach recalls. “He came with an imam and a rabbi and the three brought up this utopia of a place where the religions would coexist and understand each other.” At the time, the fathers of the idea were well aware that such a place would not miraculously rise from the earth. But Haas was in no mood to wait for a building and started the association in his kitchen before finding a space in town.
He called it the House of Religions and the communities started a restaurant, organised various activities such as language and integration courses, yoga and so on. The institution then moved into wooden huts, where the Hindus had a small temple and the Buddhists, the Alevis (derived from Shiite Islam) and the Moravians gathered to pray and meditate.
DELHI: Indian Shiites commemorated Ashura, which for them is a day of mourning that honors the martyrdom of the Imam Husain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was supposedly killed at the 7th century Battle of Karbala. That historical event prefigured the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, and is remembered annually through passion plays known as the ta’ziyeh or taziya and startling scenes of ritual scouring and self-flagellation.
Joining the throngs in Delhi on Tuesday was an unusual community of mourners. They carried out their own taziya procession and beat their chests in lamentation. But they were Hindus, not Muslims. A report in the Times of India follows these Hussaini Brahmins, also known as Mohyals, a community of Hindus in North India who adhere to certain Muslim traditions and rituals. According to Mohyal lore, a number of famous ancestors fought on Husain’s side at Karbala and died in the battle. The community now bears the legacy of that mythic lineage.
They embrace an eclectic range of Hindu and Muslim practices. “We believe that both Hindus and Muslims should follow each other’s rituals and traditions,” Rajinder Kumar, a Mohyal man tells the Times of India. “Our community observes Muharram and women keep fasts just as Muslims do.”
Despite the relative obscurity of these Hussaini Brahmins, their existence speaks of a wider legacy. For centuries, the subcontinent has been a crucible for many divergent traditions and beliefs, some coming into friction, most existing in harmony. Muslims celebrated Hindu holidays; Hindus still worship at the old shrines of Sufi saints.
LAHORE: What started off as a humble attempt to provide a counter narrative to extremism and hate speech has turned into a campaign reaching out to hundreds of people through advertisements promoting social and religious coexistence using rickshaws.
The campaign is run by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) – a society working for tolerance, equality and peaceful coexistence. It has spread the message through 2,400 flexes pasted on rickshaws across the city. The flexes were designed for free thanks to volunteers. Discounts were available for printing.
“Our message is not radical. We use mild language and promote peaceful co-existence citing Islamic traditions and sayings of the Quaid-i-Azam,” says Diep, member of IPSS.
MUMBAI: 125 Hindus, in addition to thousands of Shias and Sunnis, have registered their names to travel to Karbala, Iraq to defend the holy shrine of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad from the anticipated attack by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which has unleashed a reign of terror on the predominantly Shia Iraq.
One of the most important events in early Muslim history was the battle of Karbala fought in 680 CE in which Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima al-Zahra and her husband Imam Ali, was slaughtered along with a small band of disciples in a bloody battle against the tyrant Caliph Yazid. This event occurred in the Islamic month of Muharram, and it is for this reason that this month is observed with great solemnity in many parts of the Muslim world.
Prof. Yoginder Sikand, a former Professor of Islamic Theology, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi writes, “What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in large parts of India is the prominent participation of Hindus in the ritual mourning. In several towns and villages, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the death of Hussain, by sponsoring or taking part in lamentation rituals and tazia processions. In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, standards representing the Karbala event. The Hindu Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh have their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu.”
AGRA: During the rule of Aurangzeb (1658-1707), villagers there were asked to either convert to Islam or leave their homes. Faced with such a threat, almost all of them had changed their religion at that time. After Independence, a group of local leaders exhorted the townsfolk to go back to Hinduism. Some did, others didn’t. But religion since then hasn’t mattered to the people here.
“Why should it?” asks Vikram Singh, a Thakur in the village of about 10,000 roughly 50 km away from Agra. “My mother Khushnuma is a Muslim, my father Kamlesh Singh a Thakur. My sister Sita is married to Inzamam and my wife Shabana is thinking of naming my newborn Santosh.” Today in Khera Sadhan, it is common to have a family of four brothers with two of them Hindu, two Muslim. Or have a husband who doesn’t care about the religion of his wife, or her children for that matter. Here, Muslims worship in temples and Hindus go to the dargah. Eid and Diwali are both sacrosanct.
Ask 55-year-old Shaukat Ali and he will tell you that he recently arranged for his youngest brother Raju Singh to marry Lajo, daughter of Sunil Thakur and Reshma. The wedding ceremony will be attended by Shaukat’s brothers Rizwan Ali and Kishan Singh. The nikah will be held at a temple. “We are amazed when we hear stories of people fighting about inter-faith unions,” says Salim Thakur, a Geeta and Quran by his bedside. “My neighbour and first cousin Love Kush Singh has been offering Eid prayers in the village mosque for as long as I can remember. Yet, like everyone else in this village, he also celebrates Holi and Diwali.”
Light is Diwali’s central symbol, and Muslims can therefore open new channels of interfaith dialogue by examining the importance of light within Islam.
In Islam light can be a mark of God’s presence. One of Allah’s 99 Beautiful Names is An-Nur, meaning “The Light,” and many prophets such as Musa (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH) reported seeing blinding lights while communicating with Allah. Light also symbolizes goodness; the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reported that the angels, wholly good beings created by God for a multitude of purposes (including cataloging mankind’s deeds and asking Allah to bless the virtuous, among others) are made from light. Finally, light represents Allah’s gifts of divine guidance and human intellect to all people, not just Muslims. Indeed, the Quran specifically mentions that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were each “a light and guidance” unto the people (Quran 5:44-46), and that every community in world history received messengers who provided “clear [guiding] light” and “convincing proof” encouraging them to serve God and forbid evil (Quran 4:174 and 16:36).
Islam’s conceptions of light are by no means unique; many other religions have similar constructions of light representing God’s presence, goodness, or Divine revelation. So how is Diwali relevant to Muslim spiritual growth? The answer lies in one of the most enigmatic mentions of light in the Quran which involves a surprising parallel to Diwali practices.
Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, which means “row of lamps,” and one of the festival’s signature events involves the lighting of many small lamps to signify the triumph of good (represented by light) over evil (represented by darkness). The mystical Quranic verse known as Ayat-an-Nur (the verse of light) explains the light of God through an extended metaphor about the lighting of a lamp. The verse can be translated as:
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star — lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light! Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things.” (Quran 24:35)
JOHI: Sikandar Chandio’s Muslim family ‘protects’ the only temple in Johi, a town in which no Hindu family resides. A Hindu man handed over the charge of the temple to his grandfather, Jamaluddin.
“My grandfather didn’t purchase it,” he admitted. “The Hindu man gave the possession to him through a verbal agreement. I was born in this temple, so were my children. We all are watchmen of this building,” Chandio said.
“We are staying on a hope that someone will come and we’ll hand over the temple’s possession,” he said. “We believe this is sacred for somebody, which is why we guard it. But it is not an easy task to protect it or to resist a certain mentality.”
OSLO: An Indo-Pak, Hindu-Muslim combination of Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai today shared the Nobel Peace Prize honours for 2014 for their work on promoting child rights in the troubled sub-continent.
Yousafzai spoke with Satyarthi by phone Friday, and they agreed to work together to advocate that every child is able to go to school. She said they also decided to try to build a stronger relationship between their countries, which are longtime rivals.
“The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism. Many other individuals and institutions in the international community have also contributed. It has been calculated that there are 168 million child labourers around the world today. In 2000 the figure was 78 million higher. The world has come closer to the goal of eliminating child labour.”
PAKISTAN: Reema Abbasi’s just-released compendium of Pakistan’s historic temples, is full of such stories where belief, minority identity, secular faith, bigotry and extremism criss-cross all the time. These are mostly ancient Shiva and Shakti temples: some date back 1,500 years and others, a few centuries. But like all shrines, they’re not just stone and sculpture, their lives are deeply intertwined with society and politics.
There are over 70 lakh Hindus in Pakistan, mostly in the borderland deserts of the south and in Sindh. The numbers are dwindling (last year 500 fled in the face of extremist threat). But these ancient temples – over 40 of them – are places of worship for them and for pilgrims from India and elsewhere too. Contrary to what most tend to believe, they are also much loved shrines for many Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan. In Thatta, Sindh, recent efforts by land-grabbers to swallow temples was opposed by not just the Hindus but also Muslims and Christians.
“I am proud of this solidarity – people didn’t wait for the government to take the step. When the establishment saw the public response it stepped in to protect the temple,” points out Abbasi.
TRIPURA: Muslims in two villages bordering Bangladesh in Tripura are jointly celebrating the Durga Puja with Hindus. Dominated by Muslims, the Kulubari and Durgapur villages in western Tripura’s Sepahijala district, attract people of all religions across the northeastern state. Over 90 per cent of the total population of both Kulubari and Durgapur villages are Muslims, who comprise around nine per cent of Tripura’s total of 3.7 million
“The festival is for all. Why should we not organise this with everyone else? This is Tripura. We would like to live here together, die together and also like to share everything amongst us,” said Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury, an elderly Muslim leader in Kulubari village.
“We are really happy that Durga Puja is celebrated in our village with the active help of the majority Muslims. This is incomparable in many parts of our country,” said, Swapan Saha, a Hindu villager and a government school teacher. “Without the sincere support of Muslims, we can’t dream of celebrating the festival in such a big way as the Hindu population is very few.”