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.

Read more: Communal Harmony


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.”

Read more: Communal Harmony

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.

Read more: Communal Harmony


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”

Read more: Communal Harmony

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.

Read more: Communal Harmony

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.

Read more: Communal Harmony

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.

Watch video: Communal Harmony

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.

Read more: Communal Harmony

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.”

Read whole interview: Communal Harmony

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.”

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindus rozedaars help Ganga-Jamuni culture thrive

breaking fast with dates
breaking fast with dates

LUCKNOW: For the past 65 years, fingers that turn tulsi mala to complete the 108 gayatri mantra chants also count the beads of tasbeeh during the month of Ramzan. These blessed hands belong to Khairatan Devi, a Hindu in Chawalwali Gali of Nakkhas Bazaar who fasts during Ramzan along with thousands of Muslims in the city. She reminds one of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah who said if his left eye represented a Muslim, the right a Hindu, thus sowing the seeds of Lucknow’s fabled Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.

Heritage researcher Sayed Rizwan said the roots of Hindu-Muslim solidarity in Avadh run deep. “When Abe-zam-zam (water from the masjid in Mecca) was no available, Muslims broke their fast with Gangajal (water from the Ganges River).”

Read more: Communal Harmony
What is Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb?



Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindus in Emirates observe Ramadan fast

Jayalal family of Kerala, India fast with Muslims in United Arab Emirates
Jayalal family of Kerala, India fast with Muslims in United Arab Emirates

ABU DHABI: A Hindu family in Abu Dhabi has been fasting this Ramadan. And not for the first time. They have been doing it for 14 years. “We cannot imagine a Ramadan without fasting. It is like an inner call,” said Indian expat Vakkam Jayalal, 54, who along with his wife Yamuna, 43, and two grown-up children observe fast throughout Ramadan.

The Jayalal family are not alone. There are many non-Muslims in the UAE who take on the month-long exercise in spiritual cleansing and devotion every year. While some are inspired by the concept, others observe the Ramadan fast to express solidarity with their Muslim brethren. Rajendran Parameshwaran, 48, another Indian expatriate in Abu Dhabi, says it is the 14th year he is fasting during Ramadan. Many other non-Muslims inspired by their friends’ commitment and devotion also observe the fast for a day or days to show respect for the religion.

Read more: Communal Harmony


Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims volunteer for Hindu yatra

Muslims join Jagannath procession
Muslims join Jagannath procession

BHUBANESWAR:  Hundreds of Muslims in Orissa joined in the nine-day Jagannath chariot festival being celebrated in several villages and towns across the state.

Reports spoke of all 800 Muslims joining the celebrations in the village of Deulasahi in Kendrapada district, for instance, like in previous years. The Muslims of the village also contributed funds for the event, said Sameshar Khan, a villager. “The village collectively forms a committee to organise the festival every year and our community are also members,” he said. This year, one of the villagers Naeem Ali donated a tree for constructing the chariots.Some Muslim carpenters also pitched in in building the chariots.

“Hindu residents join us in our Id festivals too,” said Sahid Khan, another villager, adding that the communities attended each other’s marriages and other cultural ceremonies.

Read more: Communal Harmony
Related link: Gujarati Muslims participate in yearly yatra

Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslim man donates land for temple construction on Shivratri

Aklakh Ahmed donating land for temple
Aklakh Ahmed donating land for temple

Aklakh Ahmed a resident of Allahabad district, displayed an act of humanity when he decided to give up his land for temple construction on Mahashivratri.

Ahmed offers namaz five times a day, decided to not only give up his land in Madhuban Vihar colony for construction of a Shiva temple but also laid the foundation stone of the temple. His selflessness and feeling of brotherhood reflected when he also collected donation and bricks for the temple, reported Amarujala News. The foundation laying ceremony on Thursday took place in the presence of several people from the locality and devotees from nearby Neeva and Salori areas. “He sacrificed his land for construction of Mahagauri mandir and he also extended co-operation in other things,” his admirers told Amarujala.

Ahmed said,”We all are servants of God. Then why should we differentiate ourselves on the basis of religion?” Ahmed is also the Conservator of Islamic seminary, Ashfaq welfare memorial society where kids from poor Muslim families take religious education.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: How a Muslim Experienced Agape at Puja

by Aamir Hussain (guest writer), originally published at Huff Post

I would like to show my appreciation for the unique interfaith environment at Georgetown University. Here is a story of how a devout Muslim learned about the Christian concept of agape by engaging with the Hindu community.

Since my arrival at Georgetown, I had been eager to explore my Indian background; I participated in many cultural events such as South Asian dance festivals and Bollywood movie nights. I also became enthusiastic about interfaith cooperation after attending an Interfaith Youth Core Leadership Institute in October 2010; I realized that dialogue among Abrahamic religions were especially common due to our school’s Jesuit-Catholic identity, and other institutionalized chaplaincies for Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, and Jewish students. However, inter-religious dialogue that focused on Hinduism, the largest faith community at Georgetown without a permanent chaplaincy, was relatively rare.

Due to my interests in South Asian culture and interfaith work, I always wondered whether a Hindu-Muslim dialogue event would be possible. I realized that my identity put me in a unique position to facilitate such a dialogue; my family is Indian and Muslim, and we are often viewed as the “cultural bridge” between most Indians (who are predominantly Hindu) and the Muslim community. Growing up, I had read epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and always viewed them as proud symbols of my Indian cultural heritage.

Since I was eager to discuss these works with others, I began attending Hindu pujas. I was amazed by how quickly and easily the Hindu students accepted me into their community despite my different religious background. The Hindu students went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, and were not offended when I abstained from certain prayers, rituals, and chants that I felt were contrary to my Muslim beliefs.

Due to my enthusiasm for Hindu literature, I was able to have deep, personal conversations about faith, values, and identity with my Hindu friends. I also experienced growth in my Muslim faith by reflecting on Hindu perspectives on various topics like the teacher-student relationship, just-war theory, and spiritual devotion. As I learned about these new perspectives, I became more eager to contribute in discussions with my Muslim friends, and reflect on the intersections between Islam, Hinduism, and South Asian identity. Indeed, I felt so at home with the Hindu students that I now consider their acceptance of me to be agapic. In Tattoos on the Heart, a book about the gang rehabilitation program Homeboy Industries, Fr. Gregory Boyle described agape in terms of the “no matter what-ness” of God (Boyle 52). In other words, agape means that God’s love for all creation is unconditional, and is open to all regardless of what anyone might have done in their lives. For the Hindu students, it was not agapic that they accepted me in spite of some wrong I had committed; rather, it was their unconditional love and acceptance of me despite my completely different background and religious beliefs.

One aspect of puja that really resonated with me was music. I had sung and played instruments from a very young age, but never felt the need to integrate this into my spirituality. However, hearing how Hindus experienced God through music showed me that music was a sacrament, a way to connect the tangible to the intangible (God). As the Catholic priest Fr. Michael Himes describes in The Mystery of Faith, anything (a particular practice, location, or item) that helps one connect with God’s grace/love can be considered a sacrament (12). For Muslims, the closest things to sacraments are our Five Pillars, which involve praying, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, among other things. However, I soon discovered that Islam did have a semi-musical tradition in spirituality, and that it was sometimes not emphasized. One form of this was the art of tajweed: eloquent, almost musical recitation of Quranic verses. I remembered the quote from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “Adorn your voices with the Quran” (Mishkat-ul-Masabeeh, Book 3) and the Prophet’s high respect for his companion Bilal who was known for his melodious call to prayer. Therefore, I resolved to improve my own Quran recitation, and in the process, felt better connected to my own tradition.

After I shared these experiences of personal growth with both my Hindu and Muslim friends, both student organizations became enthusiastic about holding a joint dialogue event. For both communities, this event was a chance to build new partnerships and set a precedent for interfaith cooperation outside of the Abrahamic traditions. I worked with the board members of the Hindu and Muslim Student Associations to develop discussion questions on a wide range of topics. Although some of these questions revealed philosophical divides between Islam and Hinduism, we titled the event “Shanti and Salaam” (meaning “peace” in Hindi, and Arabic, respectively) to emphasize the centrality of peacemaking in both religions.

“Shanti and Salaam” was a huge success: the event, held in April 2012, drew over 40 student participants, and was one of Georgetown’s most successful student interfaith dialogue events. In fact, the event was so popular that it has become an important feature of programming for both the Hindu and Muslim Student Associations every year. As a Muslim, I am glad to have experienced personal growth while understanding my Hindu friends on a deeper level, and further exploring the Christian concepts of agape and sacraments. It was immensely fulfilling to live up to one of my favorite Quranic verses which says, “O mankind, indeed We [Allah] have created you from male and female and made you into peoples and tribes that you may understand one another” (49:13).

Hindu Muslim Unity: Ajmer Muslims rebuild centuries-old Shiva temple

Khwaja Gharib Nawaz

AJMER: The khadims of the Dargah of Khwaja Garib Nawaz Chishti lent a helping hand to reconstruct an age-old Shiva temple, barely 400 metres from the main shrine in Ajmer.  On the left of the main Nizam Gate, tucked in a corner, lay the ruins of a centuries-old temple of Shri Pipaleshwar Mahadev till last year. However, now a magnificent temple stands at the site, built by the labor of both Hindus and Muslims.

“It was unanimously decided that since we are here for the service of the Khwaja, it would only be right on our part to pitch in for the construction of the temple,” says Sayeed Ibrahim Fakre, former member of state minority commission. The khadims along with some minority organisations generously contributed to rebuild the temple.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims assist Hindu pilgrims in reaching mountain shrine

“They are tirelessly helping people from far and near to take on this arduous journey comfortably and then they deserve blessings. While we find it difficult to climb on our own back they take people in palanquins on their shoulder and with great ease. Commendable indeed and a matter of great happiness”
– Hindu devotee on Muslims assisting pilgrims