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

Hindu Muslim Unity: Bangladeshis celebrate Holi together

Dhaka University

An ancient Hindu festival, Holi is marked as a triumph of good over evil, and has become popular among non-Hindu populations in South Asia. In Bangladesh, many members from the Muslim community also join their Hindu neighbours to celebrate the festival by smearing abeer (a coloured powder) and spraying water colours on each other. Students at universities and colleges in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, and elsewhere get drenched in colour, singing and dancing together. For the Hindu community, who constitute about 10% of the population, this festival brings a message of unity and friendship and helps in bridging the communal divide.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu woman-run madrasa inspires communal harmony

GWALIOR: A woman in Gwalior has set a unique example of communal harmony by running a madrasa, an Islamic school, to educate Muslim children belonging to downtrodden or poor families.  Today, this madrasa being run by Kamlesh Pathak is an edifice of communal harmony and inspires people. Pathak started this madrasa in 2006 to provide quality education to Muslim children hailing from economically weaker sections.

Imparting lessons in English, Arabic and Urdu, the Pathak-run madrasa imparts lessons till the fifth grade. “I had thought for a long time of starting something for the children coming from economically weaker sections. We chose English, Arabic and Urdu for teaching in the madrasa for extending benefits of education to the economically weaker children so that they can move ahead in life and do something for their family, for themselves and the nation,” said Kamlesh Pathak.

“These days people differentiate between Hindus and Muslims but aunty (Kamlesh Pathak) is not like them. She has opened this, which is a good effort. If Hindus and Muslims start living together like this, there will no longer be any differences,” said Sanno Khan, a student.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: religious poster art shares similarities

Calendars, posters and street murals in India reveal much about the power of colourful images to entertain, inform, devote and inspire on a daily basis. Although Hindu religious posters remain a dominant sight in India’s public sphere, Islamic and secular themes are not far behind. Hindu images depicting gods and goddesses (such as Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati), their attributes and myths and continue to utilise narratives handed down from ancient times.

None of the Indian museums or art galleries took them seriously enough to acquire or preserve them. However, some sociologists, art historians and private collectors have focused attention on them. Enthusiasts and scholars have already highlighted the development of Indian popular art with Hindu themes. But Islamic poster art is still relatively unexplored. What is most special about Indian Islamic posters is the ‘localisation’ of Islam and its practices in ways that probably cannot be found elsewhere in the Islamic world. For instance, if we were to highlight the locations of Sufi dargahs on a map, the Subcontinent would be densely dotted with these shrines, which date back to the 12th century.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Kashmir Hindus and Muslims reunite for Shivratri

Shivratri abhishakem

For the Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, Shivratri is the biggest festival on the calendar. And a scene that played out repeatedly this year in areas dominated by them was Muslims embracing and wishing their Hindu friends a happy holiday. For Kashmiri Hindus, nightlong prayers at home are followed by a visit to the temple on Shivratri. They also host a feast for friends the next day, known as Salam. Until militancy broke out in 1989, it was common for Kashmiri Pandits to host lunches for their Muslim friends and neighbors.

Mushtaq Ahmad waited for a Kashmiri Pandit family outside Ranishewar temple, housing an icon of Lord Shiva, in the rain, just to hug his friends and congratulate them. Mushtaq, who is a government employee, went to the home of his friend Sushil Kaul in Janipur, but was told by neighbors that the family had gone to the temple. He headed straight for the shrine. When Sushil and Mushtaq sighted each other, they couldn’t stop embracing. Tears rolled down their cheeks, retelling the story of two friends being back together.

Read more: Communal Harmony
Further reading: Night of Shiva, Shivratri Explained

Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims host Qawwali competition at Ganesh festival they helped organize

flags
Hindu and Muslim flags hoisted side by side

PUNE: As the rituals of Shri Ganesh Festival mandal in Hadapsar, Badshah Dalwai, trustee of a local mosque, is busy overseeing the preparations at the pandal. For the organizers of the festival, the event is inconceivable without Muslims in the area. “For us Ganeshotsav is not a Hindu festival, but a community event that we all participate in,” said Mohammad Ansari, a resident of the area.

Ansari and Dalwai have been participating in the festivities of Ganeshotsav since their childhood. Emphasizing the need for communal harmony, the residents of the area have taken to jointly celebrating several festivals of both faiths. They have even come up with their own traditions such as hoisting two massive flags – one in saffron and the other green – on Shiv Jayanti and Eid.

The evening entertainment organized during the ten-day festival is the main attraction for the residents. The same stage where spiritual discourses, Marathi theatre, music and dance competitions are held also witness a qawwali contest. “This has also become a tradition of sorts. For the past five years, a couple of days after the immersion, we organize a qawwali competition…it has become an annual feature of the festival”

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Sikh symposium promotes communal harmony

While Sikhism is a distinct religion from Hinduism & Islam it has made major contributions to inter-religious harmony

AMRITSAR: “Sikhism is a Panth which was founded on the principles of interfaith understanding, mutual respect and harmony” said former Jathedar during the inaugural address of symposium on Contribution of Sikhism.

Dr. Singh said politicians were dividing the people in the name of religion for their own benefits. He said that the holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib was not only on for Sikhs but for the whole humanity. He also stated that the divine teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib provide directions to lead balanced life and being a good human.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Related:
Sikhism & Religious Unity
Muslims offered prayer space in Gurdwara
10th guru on Hindu-Muslim Unity
Sikhs & Hindus rebuild mosques

Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistani Muslims honor Hindu pilgrimage site

holy dip before entering pilgrimage site

KARACHI: It is approximately 250 km (155 miles) from Karachi, Pakistan’s most populated city. Moreover, it is near the peak of one of the mountains of the Makran Coastal Range. And from the Indus Delta River and the Arabian Sea, it is 120 km. The area of Hinglaj Mata Temple is located in the rugged mountains, and its journey is extremely tiring.

The pilgrimage of Hinglaj Mata Temple is also famous among the local Muslims, particularly the Zikri Balochs (predominantly an ethnic Baloch group originating from Iran). They call it “Nani Ki Haj.’

“The Baloch and Hindus have been living just like brothers for centuries. We even attend each other funerals. And it is manifest to everyone that the Baloch and Hindus are facing alike problems. They are not complainants about the Baloch people. They, if you ask, call themselves Baloch and they are Balochs,” said Asif Magsi, who is a resident in Lasbella District of Balochistan.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Five holidays on same day in Jan 2014

religious communities celebrating various holidays

MUMBIA: From Makar Sankranti, Bhogali Bihu, Lohri, Pongal to Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, a string of festivals lined up on Tuesday will make it a day of celebration of sorts for the city. Each of the festivals – largely celebrated to mark the harvest season in different parts of India – will be observed by different Hindu and Sikh communities. Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi will be celebrated to mark the birthday of Prophet Mohammed by Muslims.

Makar Sankranti is attributed due to astral changes. It is said that the Sun enters the Capricorn zodiac sign. Lohri is celebrated by Punjabis, both Sikh and Hindu, and Bhogali Bihu by the Assamese while Pongal is celebrated in southern India. While these celebrations will be held mostly in homes, the birthday of the Prophet will be celebrated across the city through rallies.

One such rally will be conducted by the All India Khilafat House Committee. In its 94th year, it was started by Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Mohammed Ali Johar. I “The idea of the rally is to promote communal harmony, create goodwill for community in the minds of other people and brotherhood. These will be highlighted by the saying and quotes of Prophet Mohammed,” said Sarfaraz Arzoo.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Muslims create effigies for Dassera festival

effigy of Ravana
effigy of Ravana

KANPUR: City based artisans are busy giving final touches to the effigies of Ravana a day before the festival of Dussehra. These effigies will be set on fire to commemorate the end of Navratri fasting and the victory of avatar Ram over Ravana in war. The craftsmen, all of whom were Muslims said that they have been making the effigies of the Ravana for several years now. They said that they have inherited this work from their parents who used to make these effigies earlier.

“We have applied vermillion on the forehead of Ravana with the help of paint. Also we have pasted a crown over his heads. The task, which still remains to be done is to attach all the three body parts but this job would be done on the day of Dusshera”, said Zahid who was busy completing the effigy of Ravana along with his colleagues.Similarly, the group of craftsmen were witnessed making the effigy of Ravana at Saket Nagar ground.

“Apart from making these effigies we also attach firecrackers inside it. We place lights in eyes of effigies to to attract crowd. This will last for around half and hour after which the effigies will be set on fire”, said Mehraz, a craftsmen.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Kicking off New Year with bhajans and qawwalis

KARACHI: A night full of bhajans, sufi songs and qawwalis is what the Karachi-based Hindu NGO Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust (PHSWT) has planned for the New Year eve while carrying forward the message of peace, promoting interfaith harmony and dialogue for a peaceful coexistence.

Such functions in Pakistan would help create awareness about Hindu community and provided cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between different communities, he said. “That’s what we aim through our bhajan and qawwali night on New Year.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Kashmir Muslims escort Hindu wedding procession through danger zone

Hindu couple’s marriage kept safe with help of Muslim friends

KISTHWAR:  Family of Dr. Ashish Sharma getting married to Dr. Sonia Sharma, had to join at the bride’s home to solemnise their wedlock. “It was like crossing a hellhole,” Ashish’s father said. “We are just six Hindu families among 300 Muslim households in Shaheedi Mohalla. Hindus and Muslims were fighting pitched battles. Over a hundred vehicles, shops and hotels had been torched. But our Muslim neighbours, who were attending the function, said that the wedding should not be deferred and promised to escort the baraat”  the groom Ashish revealed.

In the evening, 70 Muslims escorted Ashish’s baraat to protect it from possible attacks. The married couple returned without being harassed or attacked by anyone from Pochal to Shaheedi Mohalla.

Dr. Wajid among the escort said: “Prophet Mohammad has said the minorities are my sacred amaanat for the Muslim Ummat. It’s our religious obligation to protect them…We all treat Nareshji as our brother, Ashish as our son and his sister as our daughter.  Whenever there’s a Janaza, they join us; whenever, there is a funeral procession, we join them. We eat, wear and live alike. They speak our language [Kashmiri]. The only difference is that they go to a temple and we go to a mosque for worshipping the Almighty.”

Read more: Communal Harmony

Hindu Muslim Unity: Bangladesh temple draws interfaith crowds

Dhakeshwari temple, Bangladesh

DHAKA: She gave Dhaka her name (from Dhakeshwari which means Goddess). And though she has been attacked several times she remains an inspiring example of communal integration in Bangladesh. The best time to witness this is during Durga puja. The 800-year-old Dhakeshwari temple is like no other Hindu temple in the world.  It is a must-visit for not only the country’s estimated 14 lakh Hindus, but also for the vast majority of Muslims here.

The long queues waiting to be served the rich bhuna khichuri served on Ashtami include Muslims too. “Durga Puja, for us, is an occasion to do some social service and strengthen bonds between members of other communities,” says Bashudeb Dhar, president of the Mahanagar Sarbojonin Puja Committee. Prominent members of all communities, including Buddhists and Christians, are invited to participate in the festivities. But the committee also reaches out to the general public by offering free meals and organizing community initiatives.  “There have been attempts to destroy this secular culture. Our participation in Durgotsav is important to defeat these attempts,” says Mohammad ‘Montu’ Naseem, a prominent businessman. Prominent Muslims serve on the organizing committees of most pujas here. “Pujas are an integral part of our cultural and religious heritage and we must fight all attempts to destroy it,” says Awami League leader Abdul Qadir Nissar.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Ganga River brings Hindus and Muslims together

Gangotri, Himachal Pradesh

VARANASI: The holy river that is the lifeline of millions of people has emerged as an important “unifying factor” between the two communities. Hindu saints and religious leaders have been agitating on the ghats of the river in Varanasi demanding immediate and concrete steps to save the river. The Muslim clergy also feels that it has provided the community with a great opportunity to strengthen its bonds with the Hindus. “The issue of the Ganga is not related to any particular religion. Those who associate the Ganga with a religion are wrong.

It is an opportunity for the Muslims to come forward and take an active part in the ‘Save Ganga campaign’, ” noted shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawwad said on Friday. “There could not be any better way to demonstrate the Hindu-Muslim unity,” the maulana added. “If a Hindu takes a dip in the ‘holy Ganga waters’ for salvation, the ordinary Muslims also use the water for Wuzu (the act of performing ablution or washing oneself up before standing in prayer),” says Shahid Saleem, a trader.

Read more: Communal Harmony

Further Reading:
Save Ganga Movement
Going Green: Ecology in Hinduism
Going Green: Ecology in Islam

Hindu Muslim Unity: Brahmins honor Imam Hussein’s martyrdom

Hindus brahmins join Shia Muslims in procession honoring Imam Hussain’s death

MUZZAFPUR: Hindus joined Shia Muslims to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, saying it was part of their tradition. The martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, his family and followers marks the 10th day of the month of Moharram. These Hindus belong to the Bhumihar Brahmin Mahasabha and claim their lineage as the Hussaini Brahmin sect.

“We also mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain like Shia Muslims. It is part of a centuries-old tradition started by our ancestors,” said Mahinder Singh, one of the dozens of Hindus who marched barefoot.  “It is a historical fact that our ancestors joined Hussain when he was fighting against Yezid at Karbala,” Sharma told IANS. “We are following an ancestral tradition,” he said. Singh said according to historical records, Hussaini Brahmins had settled on the banks of the Euphrates river after the battle of Karbala. Later they moved to India. In the preface to his novel titled Karbala, published in 1924 from Lucknow, Munshi Prem Chand stated that Hindus who died in the Karbala war were believed to be descendants of Ashvathama.

Read more: Communal Harmony