Hindu Muslim Unity: How Indus River cultures shaped Sufism

Bulleh Shah, Sufi poet and philosopher
Bulleh Shah, Sufi poet and philosopher

The Indus is one of the oldest and longest rivers in Asia. Though it originated in the Tibetan Plateau in China, much of it flows across Pakistan. Various religions and cultures have thrived here: Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. Each of these religions were indigenised.

Historically, the strand of Sufism which emerged on the banks of Indus (especially in Punjab and all the way across Sindh), consciously eschewed religious orthodoxy and, at times, even rebelled against it.

The poetry and music that emerged from Sufi circles along the river is therefore largely a result of the theological, political and social tensions between Sufis and the orthodox ulema and clerics.

Read more: Communal Harmony

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu pilgrimage in Pakistan

Hindu pilgrims, Pakistan
Hindu pilgrims, Pakistan

Every year, my grandparents used to take us to Uncle Devraj’s house in Karachi where together we celebrated the annual full moon sighting, known as Diwali. Devraj was Hindu, and my grandfather was Muslim, but they both spoke Sindhi and shared familial roots. Theirs was not a unique story. Unlike in Punjab, where partition brought bloodshed on an unprecedented scale, the Sindh province to the south saw little or no communal violence. The Hindus of Sindh largely stayed behind. Muslim and Hindu families shared bonds that reached back generations; a sense of respect for community prevailed. My grandfather even had his own collection of Hindu icons in his study. Perhaps I’d taken the Durga from Devraj’s house thinking it would be equally at home with him.

Those memories, long forgotten, came flooding back when I decided to make a trip to the Hinglaj—a Hindu holy site located half a day’s journey from Karachi. The Hinglaj temple is located in a cave in the Hingol mountains. It is where the goddess Sati’s head (one of the forms of Durga) is said to have fallen from the sky after her body was cut into 51 pieces by Vishnu. “The Hinglaj is to us as the Ka’abah is to you,” said my local Hindu guide, Danesh Kumar, referring to the shrine in Mecca toward which all Muslims direct their daily prayers.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Mughal art depicts Krishna

Krishna and devotees at Govardhan Hill
Krishna and devotees at Govardhan Hill

History shows that many Muslim artists have produced exquisite paintings of Krishna. Centuries after they were created, connoisseurs delight in these enchanting revelations of skill and artistry.

The Mughal influence is visible in the Vaishnava devotional paintings, temple carvings and iconographic expressions. The supremacy of Krishna and the bhakti school was maintained by the Vaishnavas in the midst of an overwhelming Mughal influence during this period.

In the Mughal School, there was a considerable crossover between Vedic devotional themes and Persian style illustrations. After the Mughal Empire collapsed, Krishna leela scenes again proliferated in miniature works of artists under the patronage of non-Muslim states of Rajasthan, and from 1750 onwards, their work branched out into many wonderful schools of devotional art.

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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.”

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).

Malcolm X: How a Muslim leader compelled a Hindu to sharpen his dharma

Malcolm X praying (1925-1965)

by Ravi

The start of my deeper journey into sanatan dharma wasn’t influenced by a guru, a spiritual master, or people in the desi community. It started with my exploration of the Black Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. Many of the leading figures and writers of this era referenced the glory of earliest and ancient Black civilizations going back into antiquity. From there I started to read the various chronicles written by Afrocentric scholars, historians, and archaeologists.

These historians wrote about the first humans out of Africa. They challenged widely held beliefs – that the Pyramids were built by whites,  or that the first humans arose out of Europe. They detailed the grandeur of various African empires that later civilized the Greeks and Romans. When books on these subjects were first published they were dismissed as exaggerated fiction. We now see volumes of evidence being discovered by archaeologists that affirm the knowledge documented by leading Black academics.  After learning how much rich history and heritage existed amongst the globe’s Black peoples and the high self esteem they held, I started reading books on indigenous America and then transitioned to Asian archaeology. I found out about similar pyramids and advanced cities that existed in ancient South Asia. And just as archaeologists and geneticists disproved theories that ancient Egypt was built by northern white Africans distinct from southern Black Africans, they also disproved theories that South Asia was “civilized” by fictitious invading white Aryans. Supposedly these invaders brought Sanskrit and the Vedas to northern India. From there I decided to study Hinduism in depth.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was one of the first books that I read (and re-read) when researching the Black liberation movement. In several chapters Malcolm gives high praises to Gandhi and the people of India for their resistance against the British empire. Is it contradictory that a man regarded as a polarizing figure would praise Gandhi – someone historically known for being a pacifist? It shouldn’t be if one takes a closer look.

While Malcolm was passionately loyal to his sect he had no problem praising those of outside religions. Several times in his autobiography, Minister X praised the people of India not only for their revolutionary spirit but also for being  deeply “religious brown people” – a term that included Hindu revolutionaries. He openly supported liberation for all colonized peoples and frequently connected the struggles of Asian, African, Latino, and indigenous peoples to a common cause.

Even though Malcolm was portrayed as an advocate for violence he was never charged with any acts of unlawful behavior during his time as a minister. When learning that a Black man had been victim to police brutality and then imprisoned, Malcolm didn’t demand his followers to pick up rifles. Instead he ordered his men to peacefully assemble in front of the police station. Malcolm then negotiated with the police chief to get the injured man medical treatment. Tactics like these were not all that different from methods used by people like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lastly, Malcolm X wasn’t one of those people who merely advertised his religious identity. He observed his tradition’s principles and ensured that this was reflected in his lifestyle. While remembered for his fiery oratorical skills, Malcolm’s unswerving commitment to personal conduct tends to be ignored. Like Nat Turner, Geronimo, or Gandhi, Malcolm X knew that personal discipline should go hand-in-hand with transformation of the greater society. He abstained from alcohol,  obeyed his religion’s tenets, and executed worship on a regular basis. He also promoted proper speech and once stated that people who curse do so because they’re not intelligent enough to articulate their thoughts properly. More importantly, he knew that serving others required self sacrifice. Finally, Malcolm preached cleanliness, mimicking many religious creeds of being next to Godliness (daily bathing is a necessary and ritual practice for a person dedicated to the spiritual path).

Reading Malcolm X, learning how he conducted himself while learning more about Hinduism helped me refine myself in executing dharma. Malcolm knew that he represented something both great and misunderstood so he made sure to present himself clean-cut in appearance and eloquent in speech. Because he knew his beliefs came under intense scrutiny he made sure to study as many books as he could as to answer any criticism intelligently. As a practitioner, I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Hinduism and animosity directed at dharmic traditions. After reading multiple versions of Hindu books with different commentaries and implementing practices in daily life, I came to the conclusion that this path was best suited for me. Seeing how Black scholars knew so much about their history and traditions I decided I also needed to know my tradition and religious heritage inside and out. In essence, part of the reason Dharma Deen Alliance exists is to share knowledge and answer all the misconceptions.

Is personal conduct unimportant and unrelated to advancing a broader cause? A person steeped in material excess may think leading a disciplined lifestyle like Malcolm X led lacks joy. But I can say from personal experience that I’ve seen people immersed in consistent spiritual practice experience a greater calm and happiness than those attached to immediate stimulation of the senses. Activities like shopping, eating junk food, watching TV, or getting drunk certainly provide a nice temporary relief. But they can’t permanently eliminate stress or anxiety. And if anyone made that realization it was Malcolm X. A former hustler who used drugs and frequently looked for ways to make and spend money, he then turned his life around and experienced much greater peace and stability through regular devotion.

And if someone like Malcolm Little can emerge from a vile background and generate so much clarity then it shows us what a powerful impact the path to Higher truth can have.

…my religion is my personal business. It governs my personal life, my personal morals. And my religious philosophy is personal between me and the God in whom I believe…put your religion at home in the closet. Keep it between you and your God.
– Malcolm X, the Ballot or the Bullet

Related reading:
Sri Ramakrishna: How a Hindu saint influenced a Muslim to sharpen his deen