Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu brahmins participate in Shia Ashura

Ashura procession, Delhi
Ashura procession, Delhi

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.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistani rickshaws promote peace

rickshaws in Lahore, Pakistan promote messages of tolerance

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.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindus & Muslims travel to Iraq to protect Imam Hussain shrine

gateway to Hussain shrine, Iraq
gateway to Hussain shrine, Iraq

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.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Interfaith marriages and families thrive in U.P.

blood-related sisters with both Hindu and Muslim names
blood-related sisters with both Hindu and Muslim names

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.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Diwali’s shared teachings with Islam

Muslim students celebrate Diwali in Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Muslim students celebrate 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)

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistani Muslim family protects lone Hindu temple

Hindu temple in Pakistan
Hindu temple in Pakistan

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.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu & Muslim activists share 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

Malala & Kailash, winners of Nobel Peace Prize
Malala & Kailash, winners of Nobel Peace Prize

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.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistan’s ancient temples draw interfaith crowds

Hinglaj Devi pilgrimage shrine in Pakistani caves
Hinglaj Devi pilgrimage shrine in Pakistani caves

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.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims organize Durga puja for Hindu minority

preparing Durga deities
preparing Durga deities

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.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Malaysian Hindu promotes interfaith understanding

Interfaith and inter-ethnic tour group visit Chinese Buddhist temple
Interfaith and inter-ethnic tour group visit Chinese Buddhist temple

KUALA LUMPUR: In 2010, Uthaya Sankar decided to create a safe space for Malaysians of all faiths and ethnicities to discuss religion and race. He began organising interfaith walks, giving young Malaysians the chance to tour mosques, churches and temples. About two-thirds of all Malaysians are Bumiputera – ethnic Malays and indigenous groups. About a quarter of the population is of ethnic Chinese origin and about 7% of Indian origin. Malay Muslims form the majority, alongside sizeable Hindu, Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist communities.

At a Chinese Buddhist temple, Buddhists stood next to other Muslims and Hindus and burned incense as an offering. “It’s important for Malaysians to see that it is okay for people of all faiths to visit these places of worship,” he said.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Africa’s Christians, Muslims, and Hindus unite for animal conservation

Various religious leaders around burned ivory in Kenya
Various religious leaders around burned ivory in Kenya

NAIROBI: Religious leaders are the latest recruits in the war by conservationists against those slaughtering thousands of elephants and rhinos across Africa each year.

The partnership was sealed Thursday night inside Kenya’s Nairobi National Park, where three dozen religious leaders from nine African countries gathered amid rhinos, zebras, buffalo and ostriches all within site of the skyline of Kenya’s capital.  Standing before a pile of charred elephant ivory as dusk covered the surrounding savannah, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders grasped hands and prayed. The remains were from a 1989 burn of confiscated ivory that Kenya set on fire to draw attention to the slaughter.

“Faith leaders are the heart and backbone of local communities,” a conservationist noted. “They guide and direct the way we think, behave and live our lives,” she said, adding later: “I think this is the missing piece in conservation strategies”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims keep Ganesh festival alive

MAHARASHTRA: In 1893, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, then a 37-year-old journalist, took a momentous step to popularise the worship of Ganesh, using it as a powerful tool in the battle against the British Raj,. But even before that, a pandal on the city’s Laxmi Road used the Ganesh festival to foster communal harmony. A rhapsodic moment in 1887 led two Hindus and two Muslims to set up the ‘Guruji Talim Mandal’, the oldest Ganesh pandal in the city and, perhaps, in Maharashtra.

“Guruji Talim was a training ground for young wrestlers, including many Muslims. Bhiku Shinde and Nanasaheb Khasgiwale, along with their Muslim friends, the Nalbandh brothers, Hasham and Rustam, decided to install a Ganesha and started celebrating the festival even before Tilak’s Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav,” says Pravin Pardeshi, president, Guruji Talim Mandal, adding with a measure of pride that “there may be richer Ganpati pandals, but ours was built on the edifice of communal harmony.”

“At the time of its inception, members of the Muslim community actively participated in the rituals of Guruji Talim. Now, only Muslims with a memory of its history congregate here. In our riot-stricken times, I feel such examples should be widely propagated so as to forge stronger community bonds,” said Aaqil Madani, who has been visiting the pandal with his father since his school days.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu festival successful because of Muslim artisans

INDORE:  Six Muslim artisans of Malwa Mill locality of Indore have fashioned two memorable tableaux depicting Hindu tales for the Anant Chaturdashi festival. Presenting a unique secular bond which has been the hallmark of the city’s pluralistic culture, Anwar Ali and his group, including Mohd Ejaz, 33, Haidar Ali, 22, Mohd Ateeq, 40, Mohd Naseer, 40, and Mohd Jaffer, 40, have spent one full month, meticulously crafting two tableaux of Shiv Tandav and Mahabharat.

“The Hindu priests like Shyam Dwivedi helped me and my brother-in-law Mohd Jaffer in studying the two Hindu scriptures and then taking out the necessary excerpts from them to draw paper prototype of the tableaux,” Anwar told TOI on Wednesday.

Importantly, Mohd Jaffer hails from Chandan Nagar area which was plagued by communal violence last month.

“It’s Allah (alimighty) who brought us to this world, but it’s solely the Hindu deities, who for generations have rendered livelihood to our families. Forget about communal violence in Chandan Nagar or even West UP’s Muzaffarnagar, for us both our religion and Hinduism are equally important,” Jaffar and Anwar said.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslim artist has created Krishna’s crown for twenty years

Mukut on Krishna's head
Mukut on Krishna’s head

INDIA: The festival of Janmashtami is observed as a celebration of Hindu avatar Lord Krishna’s birthday. Special poojas are performed both in homes as well as temples. On this day Krishna deities are adorned with colourful and beautiful dress and ornaments.

Muslim artist Guddu has been creating mukuts (crowns) for Krishna murtis for over two decades now.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslim artisans prepare for Krishna festival

Temple in Krishna's birthplace of Mathura
Temple in Krishna’s birthplace of Mathura

MATHURA: Thousands of Muslim artisans in the region have been working round the clock to make countless bejewelled costumes and accessories for the statues of Krishna and other Hindu deities for the Janmashtami festival. “We are working beyond our scheduled time in order to prepare maximum ‘poshak’ (dresses) of Thakur ji (Lord Krishna),” said Ikram, one of the artisans.

Another worker Iqbal, who is known for his expertise in preparing crowns for the deities, says he feels ecstatic whenever he comes up with a new design. Preparing attractive dresses and accessories has taken shape of a cottage industry in Mathura, Vrindaban and Goverdhan which employs roughly six thousand Muslim families.

While it is another example of communal amity, the artisans say any communal tension elsewhere has never impacted the relationship between the two communities. “Only politicians directly or indirectly are associated in such activities. We work like a family here. There is no exploitation,” said Azlan. “Our relations have never been strained in spite of communal riots that have taken place elsewhere in the country,” said his co-worker Zaheer.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Poet translates Gita into Urdu

Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri
Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri

Popular Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri has translated The Bhagavad Gita into Urdu shayari. Jalalpuri had earlier translated Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali and Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat into Urdu poetry.

“Like the Quran, the Gita also has a divine style and it contains the words of the Lord. The shayar that I am, I found it difficult to overlook the poetic luft and andaaz in the shloks of the Bhagavad Gita. The philosophy of life after death is very attractive, whether you choose to believe it or not. Having translated the third chapter of the Quran Sharif in Urdu poetry in Tosh-e-Aakhirat, I found a striking similarity in the moral teachings of the two books. My aim was to tell the Urdu speaking awam (masses) that you are unaware of the great book that is the Bhagavad Gita and to tell the Hindus that the Gita is much more than a book you swear by in the court of law. An urgent need to see the sangam of these communities is what made me translate this book.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: American Hindu chef hosts iftars

gourmet samosas
gourmet samosas

HOUSTON: The sought-after Chef Kiran Verma of Houston is hosting an event to show how to put a modern-Indian twist on traditional Ramadan recipes. For the last few years, Verma has hosted and catered iftars at her restaurant and throughout Houston. She said that Muslims come to her restaurant to find high-quality halal foods which uphold the precise rules of Islamic consumption. While she does not serve halal meat and foods all the time, she makes a special effort for Muslims during Ramadan. Despite the sandstone sculpture of Krishna at the entrance to Kiran’s restaurant, Muslims from Bangladesh come each year to pray in one room and dine in another at Verma’s restaurant on Westheimer.

Verma hopes people not only enjoy the food she prepares, but the atmosphere and attitude she composes. “Shared meals bring people close because we are happily satisfied together; you don’t think negative thoughts, it takes you to a positive place,” she said.

While people may be surprised that an Indian Hindu is cooking for a Muslim holiday, Verma said, “I just always feel that when I cook for different cultures or sects that it makes them feel like we are one.”

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