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Religion should unite not divide – Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas, Associate Editor, ATB, Jan 2019, Edmonton

The Dalai Lama said India is still the best country upholding the religious harmony and peaceful co existence. “India, the most populated democratic country has shown the way for thousands of years,” he said. “My religion is kindness. All religions have the clear scope for promoting harmony,” the spiritual leader said adding he was disturbed by terrorism in the name of religion.

Religious harmony in India indicates the love between different religions in India. The Indian constitution supports and encourages religious harmony. In India, every citizen has a right to choose and practice any religion. You may see Muslims and Sikhs building temples. For most Indians as well as stars like Salman Khan, festivals of Hindus and Muslims are equal. Dalai Lama, states, “In the last 2000-3000 years, the widest variety of religious traditions, including Jainism have flourished in India.”

In the late 19th century and early 20th century Indian guru Sai Baba of Shirdi preached religious harmony through his teaching. To practise and promote it he combined the celebration of the Hindu festival of Rama Navami with a Muslim Urs. Muslims used to play the dhol during the visarjan of the Ganesha idol that marks the culmination of Ganesh Chaturthi. The Lalbaugcha Raja of Mumbai, an annually set up Ganesha idol, is also worshipped by Muslims. In 2019, a Hindu family in West Bengal chose to worship a Muslim girl as a part of Kumari Puja, a ritual performed during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja.

Indian-administered Kashmir is a Muslim-majority Himalayan region with Hindu, Sikh and Christian minorities, living in harmony. But the area divided by India and Pakistan, the 1990s turmoil forced many Kashmiri Pandits, to abandon their homes and seek shelter in other parts of India. Kashmir had 140,000 Pandits in the early 1990s, but that number was reduced to 19,865 by 1998. Yet there are gems of interreligious harmony and peaceful coexistence.

During Amarnath Yatra, Muslims help Hindus undertake the annual pilgrimage in the snow-capped mountains in southern Kashmir. A Hindu couple greeted the procession marking Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi the birthday of Prophet Mohammad, by distributing candies to Muslims as a symbol of love and affection. In Mattan, the houses of worship for Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims are just a few metres apart. Ramji, a priest at the temple in Mattan states, “We share a good bond with our Muslim and Sikh brothers. We take part in each other’s festivals. We also attend funerals when someone dies in Muslim neighbourhood.” The Tral area of Pulwama also has Sikh population of 8,165 as of the latest census of India living happily with 98,632 Muslims.

According to village elders, communal harmony has been passed on through the generations. “Kashmiri culture is a mix of three religions – Hindus, Buddhist and Muslims – which has come from our ancestors,” said Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a Kashmiri poet and social activist. Our thoughts have been divided. We always had oneness in Kashmir culture irrespective of religion.

South western state of Kerala is another example of civilized coexistence among Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Comity has been abetted by Kerala’s developmental success, made possible in part by the empowerment of women and the export of its most lucrative commodity—its people. 

Kerala’s intricate mosaic of reinforcing ingredients—geography and weather, history and culture, the rise of a knowledge society, and the paradoxical role of a caste system that has fostered both repression and fundamental reform. By the late Middle Ages, Kerala—then known as Malabar—was the prime source of a lucrative trade with Europe. Venetians purchased spices in Egypt or Yemen from Arab traders who obtained their high-value wares from Malabar’s Spice Coast. The spice trade brought together distinct ethnic and religious groups, including Christians and Jews, into peaceful and mutually beneficial contact. All three minority faiths learned to live alongside the Hindu majority. They became familiar with each other’s rites, and came to speak a common language, Malayalam. Kerala today is the most egalitarian in the country. 

Mehnaaz Khan, a Muslim lady residing in Edmonton, hailing from Hyderabad says, “Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians have always lived peacefully in India as far as I can remember. Diwali, Eid and Christmas are celebrated with equal veracity”

No one can quench the fires of warmth that have been keeping this unity in diversity seamless despite attempts at divide and rule, not even the current government which has not left any stone unturned, India will stand tall as a beacon of light taking on the darkness that seems to be widening its toll.

Do visit The Abundance of India at Festival Place, Sherwood Park Feb 8, 5- 8pm to watch glimpses of the culture and beauty of India’s diversity! Write to us at mary@asiantribune.ca with new perspectives and thoughts.

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