GOMOH: It’s a language traditionally associated with sacred Hindu texts. But about 100 Muslim girls in two Jharkhand schools have shattered the stereotype about Sanskrit, choosing the classical language over Urdu and Persian, saying it is much easier to learn and score good marks in. Dozens of these girls in customary headscarves chanting Sanskrit hymns from the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita is a common sight at the schools in Gomoh, a sleepy hamlet in Jharkhand.
So, do the parents object? “No, not at all,” said Shalu Nisha, who is preparing for her class X examinations at the Government Girls High School. “In fact, they insisted that I take up Sanskrit instead of Urdu for my matriculation,” she added.
KOLKATA: Shahid Ali is a Muslim priest who will perform the rituals at a Durga Puja this year. But that’s not the only reason we’re writing about him. Like the deity he will worship, Shahid and the humble locality he stays in, are a symbol of the victory of good over evil, of humanity over divisive faith and of the secular mind over zealous theocrats.
Balwant Singh, a member of the puja committee, says: “Shahid fasts for all four days and performs puja according to Hindu shastras“
SRINAGAR: Under the majestic chinar in a cremation ground, Mohammad Yasin Dar, 55, has lit a bonfire to stay warm on a nippy February morning. He has spent a larger part of his days at the place for 10 years. A devout Muslim, he has embarked on an unusual mission—to perform last rites of the dead of Kashmir’s minuscule Hindu population.
“Earlier, it was a pathetic situation here. There was no one to cremate bodies of Hindus as everyone was afraid. Cops would ferry the dead in dingy vans and lit the pyre in a callous manner,” said Dar. “I had a dream in which a Hindu goddess commanded me to restore her temple in the cremation ground. As I had no means, I told the management to do it else I would not stay here,” quipped Dar.
During a trip to India my mother made a pilgrimage with her cousin to the city of Shirdi, home to the shrine of Shirdi Sai Baba, a holy figure revered by both Hindus and Muslims. As she would later tell us, their voyage to the city was nearly derailed by bad weather (the summer monsoons in Maharashtra) and an unwillingness by most taxi drivers to make the 1.5 hour drive from the train station to the holy site. That is, until a bidi-smoking Muslim taxi driver pulled up in a barely functioning old Fiat taxi, got out and welcomed my mother, her cousin, and a family friend who also joined in the journey, into his car.
The taxi driver not only took them to Shirdi, but volunteered to drive them around Shirdi, and then take them to other Hindu temples in the surrounding area. For the two days they were in the city, he would pick them up promptly at their hotel and take them wherever they needed to go. All the while, he chain-smoked his bidis and told my mother and her traveling companions the stories behind Hindu religious shrines.
When she returned from Shirdi, she recounted in near disbelief of how the taxi driver saved their pilgrimage and made sure they were safe from sun up to past sun down.
When AS Dileep Kumar decided to shed the faith he was born into and adopt a new one, the reasons were several.
“Sometime before we started on our journey on the path of Sufism, we went to an astrologer to show him my younger sister’s horoscope because my mother wanted to get her married. This was around the same time when I was keen to change my name and have a new identity. The astrologer looked at me and said, ‘This chap is very interesting.” He suggested the names: “Abdul Rahman” and “Abdul Rahim” and said that either name would be good for me. I instantly loved the name “Rahman.” It was a Hindu astrologer who gave me my Muslim name.”
I was intrigued by the mention of Jhulelal, a quintessential Sindhi Ishta Devta in this Sufi Dhammal. But that is what Sufism, especially Sindh’s Sufism, is all about: synergy and secularism. I have heard of Sufi shrines in Sindh which are frequented, nay crowded, by Muslims, Hindus and even Nanakpathis, during Urs.
An innocent riddle about a local fish, and I was about to find out that Jhulelal, that benign old man with a white flowing beard, has a lot to do with it. Jhulelal is found far and wide in Pakistan, as Azhar Lashri tells me: “The thing that fascinates me about Jhulelal is the inscription of his name on buses, trucks, vans and taxis, He is everywhere. This is a very ubiquitous phenomenon in Pakistan.”
Jhulelal is not a regular Hindu/Sindhi/Sufi/Islamic deity. For one, Jhulelal or Daryalal is known and worshipped in many forms, across religious sects. Although there are several tales of Jhulelal known across Sindh and the global Sindhi diaspora, there is a complex synergy between Jhulelal, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Shehwan, Shaikh Tahir of Uderolal and Khwaja Khijr, worshipped at different times by different groups. The link that connects these deities and saints is singular: The Indus River. Jhulelal is a part of the Daryapanthi or Daryahi sect which worships the Indus, a form of river or water worship which may have its origins dating back to the ancient Mohenjo-daro civilisation.
WADALA: Mumbai-based Ilyaz Shaikh, 27, and his 24-year-old wife Noor Jahan were on their way to the Sion Hospital when Noor Jahan went into labor. According to a report in the Mid Day, the taxi driver asked them to get out when he heard Noor Jahan screaming in pain, as he did not want her to have the baby in his vehicle.
“We were so worried. My wife was close to delivering the baby and all we could see was a Ganpati mandir. As soon as we got down outside the temple, some women, who were sitting in the verandah of the mandir, rushed to help us. We didn’t even have to ask,” Ilyaz said.
The women in the Ganpati temple who had gathered to pray early in the morning, prepared a make-shift delivery room with saris and bedsheets borrowed from nearby homes, for Noor Jahan who was in the throws of labor by then.
“I was tense when I was close to delivering in the middle of the road. But when I saw that there was a temple, I realied that God himself is watching over us. What could be better than giving birth in front of Lord Ganpati,” Noor Jahaan said. The couple, happy that their son was born safe and sound, decided to name him Ganesh.
DEHRIYAWAN: A village in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad district has one temple and mosque located adjacent to each other. And, the villagers visit them together. Hindu and Muslim villagers participate in each other’s festivals and have never allowed communal strife elsewhere to affect them. The village mosque and temple enable both communities to mingle prior to or after their prayers. Brijesh Yadav, a student, said that most of the residents pray at both the temple and the mosque, and even celebrate each other’s festivals. “As you can see that the temple and the mosque have been constructed side by side. Nobody gets into an argument here. We celebrate their festivals, they celebrate ours. Whenever we want, we worship in our temple as well as mosque. We have been studying since childhood that there is only one God and we all are his children. So as this temple and mosque show that there is no distance between them, likewise there should be no distance between all of us. The biggest example is shown here in Dehriyawan,” said Yadav. “We do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim. In all festivals, marriages we visit each other. Any conflict between some other temple and mosque does not affect the harmony here in Dehriyawan,” said Mohammad Haji Waseem, a local resident. The mosque was constructed in 1970 and the temple was built soon after. By Amit (ANI)
INDORE: Mohammed Zahir is the caretaker of Lord Shiva temple in Khandwa, Indore. He takes care of the temple with the same enthusiasm as for the Dargah round the year. From dawn to dusk he takes care of the temple, from cleaning the periphery of the temple to the core of it, that is, the ‘Lingam’. Religions have never been an obstacle to his services. He believes that Allah, God, Bhagwan all are one, but our way of thinking makes them different.
There is no Hindu Pandit to offer any prayer or to do the rituals, he alone helps tourists offering their prayers and garlands that they bring for the temple. He also offers his services to the Dargah 100 meter away, which also comes under ASI. He takes care of both the places equally and thinks that it will help him teach equality and harmony to his five children.
ACCRA: Ghana’s population of 23 million includes 12,500 Hindus, of which 10,000, like their Swami Ghanananda Saraswati, are indigenous Africans. The African Hindu Monastery (AHM) is now Ghana’s largest centre of Hindu worship.
The AHM’s non-exclusionist attitude is apparent from the picture of Jesus alongside the Hindu gods on the main mantelpiece, as well as images of spiritual leaders from other religions. The monastery’s members also believe that the Supreme God is known by other names, such as Yahweh and Allah.
There is even one Muslim among the devotees. Jamer Baroudy says he was born into the Islamic faith but his mother introduced him to Hinduism when he was eight years old. Mr Baroudy says: “I am aware that Islam prohibits idol worshipping but then God doesn’t make any distinction. I visit this temple because I find solace here.”
The AHM is not just accommodating of multiple religious traditions but also open to people of all races, classes and communities. Indian worshippers are not only members of the dominant Sindhi community, but also recent immigrants: managers and contract labour alike. But most worshippers are Africans, again from different professions and backgrounds. When I asked a disciple about the group’s opinion of the caste system, he pointed out that there is no society in the world that does not break its people up into the privileged and the unprivileged, be it through profession, ancestry or race. Ghanaian Hindus like him, however, are clear that people have an equal right to education, the means to a good life and most importantly, religion.
TORONTO: A group of Greater Toronto Area Muslims is raising $10,000 to help repair Kitchener’s Ram Dham Hindu temple after it was vandalized on Sunday. The online fundraiser was inspired by a highly successful campaign to raise money for Peterborough’s only mosque after it was set ablaze over the weekend, says Arshia Lakhani.
“As Muslims we are quickly realizing that these hate crimes are not just affecting our community; it is not just our mosques being burned, or our people being attacked. This extends to all visible minorities who are victims of hatred,” the group wrote on its gofundme page.
“This is a time to show that love and solidarity between communities speaks louder than hatred. Please show your support.” The temple was vandalized when someone sent five stones crashing through two of the building’s windows.
MUMBAI: Mohammed Tahir and his wife Zubeida, main organisers of a local Navratri festival, have been celebrating since 1983.
Tahir said that his wife had dreamt of the Goddess and the couple has since been setting up a makeshift temple every year dedicated to Goddess Durga. “Every year, the temple has a different setting. We have made replica of the Balaji, Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu, Kedarnath and Badrinath,” said Tahir.
Zubeida said the temple was for everyone who believed that all religions taught different paths to reach the same God. “It is for everyone who believes in the unity of religions. We all celebrate it together, be it Hindu or Muslim. In fact people from various religions and regions come here,” said Zubeida.
Mohammad Tahir, 61, is a labour contractor and has been to Vaishnodevi temple 15 times. “I wanted to keep a Bhandara like that temple and asked the goddess for strength to replicate it in my area. People have been very helpful and have donated a lot of groceries. Over 700 people are fed here daily, after the evening Aarti. Till date, I’ve never had to ask for funds. They just come.”
MUMBAI: Unlike usual Ganpati processions, this Ganpati procession in Mumbai maintained silence until the Friday afternoon Namaaz concluded, while the Muslims reading Namaaz made way for the procession to pass conveniently.
PATNA: Muslims in Bihar, in a stellar demonstration of communal harmony, have donated land to help build the world’s largest Hindu temple which will have the capacity to seat a staggering 20,000 people. “Muslims have not only donated land, they have also provided land at a nominal rate for construction of the world’s largest Hindu temple. Without help of Muslims, it would have been difficult realise this dream project,” Acharya Kishore Kunal, secretary of the Patna-based cash-rich Mahavir Mandir Trust that is undertaking the ambitious project, told IANS.
Kunal said that more than three dozen Muslim families have their land in the middle of the proposed location of the temple and some Muslims families have land along the main road that connects to the project site. “Some Muslims donated lands and others helped and supported us to purchase their land for the temple. If Muslims had not come forward, the temple project was sure to have got delayed…”
“The temple will be earthquake proof (since it) is near the Nepal border,” Kunal said. He said the Virat Ramayan Mandir will be taller than the world famous 12th century Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, which is 215 feet high. The complex will comprise 18 temples with high spires and its Shiv temple would have the largest Shivling in the world, another distinction.
The Sufi and Bhakti tradition in Pakistan and India are two such trends from within Islam and Hinduism respectively, that are focused more on the unity of humanity as a whole, overcoming sectarian divides.
The saints from these traditions had massive appeal among people of different religions and they were away from the centers of power, unlike the clergy. We have seen rich traditions of people like Kabir, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Shankar Dev, Lal Dedh, clearly from within the Hindu tradition, while Nizamuddin Auliya, Moinuddin Chishti, Tajuddin Baba Auliya Ajan Pir, Nooruddin Noorani (also known as Nund Rishi) coming from a clear Sufi tradition and Satya Pir, Ramdev Baba Pir, having a mixed lineage, where Bhakti and Sufi themselves are deeply intertwined.
Sant Guru Nanak did try a conscious mixing of the two major religions of India. He traveled up to Makkah to learn the wisdom of Islam and went to Kashi to unravel the spiritual moral aspects of Hinduism. His first follower was Mardan; and Miyan Mir was the one who was respectfully invited to lay the foundations of the Golden Temple of the holy Sikh Shrine. Guru Granth Sahib has an inclusive approach to religious wisdom. No wonder people referred to him as, ‘Baba Nanak Sant Fakir, Hindu ka Guru Musalman ka Pir’ (Saint Nanak is a saint for Hindus and a pir for Muslims).
Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh has been the house of communal harmony right from its existence. Here everyone believes in the age old ethos which has led to upsurge the traditional root of the country. One such instance is of Shah Alam Zaidi. Muslim by religion, Zaidi and his family donated a land for building a Hindu temple and a mosque adjacent to each other. Zaidi is famous among the people of the region, as he serves to the temple with utmost devotion and faith. During the occasion of Navratari he takes part in all the rituals performed in the temple. Built two hundred years ago this temple and mosque in its side clearly reflects the fact that the culture of communal harmony still prevails in the country.
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.”