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Published in the 16-30 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Hindus & Muslims share more than they differ 

India has been a glorious land of inter-faith harmony says Firoz Bakht Ahmed

"One religion is as true as another," Robert Burton quoted in his book The Anatomy of Melancholy. On the same lines stated Bernard Shaw, "There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.” This is true for India where throughout history, there has never been a separation of people on basis of religion Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

These days it’s unfortunate that we look not for a human being but for a Hindu or a Muslim into each other’s eyes! Ameer Khusro, the inspired Sufi poet of northern India, declared, "There is neither Hindu nor Muslim, but only man as the embodiment of the Divine!" This can be achieved only by pious action. Besides, the Bhagwad Gita (III. 22, 19) too emphasizes the need for piety, "Always efficiently do your duty without attachment. Doing work without attachment, man attains the Supreme."

Sufi texts record that after Sant Kabir died, his lovers and connoisseurs of his dohas—both Hindus and Muslims—fought over the right to cremate or bury his mortal remains. As the quarrel started fanning communal passions, an elderly gentleman requested both the groups to cover the sant’s body and to wait till next morning. Astonishingly goes the legend, when the sheet was taken off, the warring communities found that in place of the body, two heaps of flowers were kept. Hindus cremated the Tulsi flowers while Muslims buried the Jasmine heap.. The moral of the story is that the two diverse cultures of Muslims and Hindus are inseparable and need run like parallel lines of a railway track—always together socially but also retaining their religious identities. 

Owing to its accommodative spirit, Islam possessed unique tendencies of integration and thus found fertile ground in India. The Qur’an and the Prophet spelt out in clear words that Islam was not a new faith but a system of guidance on how to lead life, a continuation of the message of God revealed through the ages in all lands. 

Islam recognised the authenticity and veracity of all religions, prophets and revealed books preceding it. According to a Hadith recorded by Ibn Majah, Prophet Muhammad was of the firm opinion that men of God had been sent to every community and region in this world. "Lakum dinukum waliya deen" in the 30th chapter of Qur’an precisely means: "You (non-Mulsims) follow your religion, we follow our religion.” It was made imperative for all Muslims to respect other religions and their followers.

Even before the catastrophic Partition, Muslim peasants in Bengal participated as joyously in the village Durga Pooja as their Hindu neighbours and the tradition continues even today! In Bangladesh, Hindus celebrate Eid. If entire Muslim villages in Malaysia can watch the Ramayana performed on stage, there is no reason why they cannot do the same in India.

Meena Kumari, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman and Mumtaz umpteen times played the roles of devoted Hindu wives with sindoor on their foreheads. Who, irrespective of faith, hasn’t praised the bhajans sung in Muhammad Rafi’s sonorous voice, ghazals of Jagjit Singh and Chandan Dass or the sarod recital devoted to Hindu deities by Amjad Ali Khan or the shehnai dedicated to goddess Saraswati by Bismallah Khan? The rath percolated in the Muslim society as the ta’zia.

To the umpteen millions who annually trek the famous Ayyappa temple in the Sabri hills in Kerala, the shrine of Vavuruswami (a Muslim saint) at the approaches to the great temple is a sacred landmark. The dargah is highly revered and worshipped by all the pilgrims who climb the hills singing hymns in praise of both Lord Ayyappa and the Muslim saint. 

Vavuruswami is known and trusted follower of God Ayyappa. It is the prerogative of the Muslim custodian of the shrine to take care of the pilgrims and guide them to the hill temple above during this famous pilgrimage.

At the same time, congregations at the tombs of Sufi saints like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi, and annual festivals in honour of Mirabai, Surdas and Tansen have made a powerful contribution to positive secularism in India over the years. They allowed people to retain their distinct identities and yet come together as one nation.

The facts of history show that, for instance, several of Shivaji’s commanders in his fight against Aurangzeb were Muslims. Most of Aurangzeb’s army generals were Hindus (mostly Rajputs and Marathas). One of them was Appa Gangadhar who after a great victory, was amply rewarded by Aurangzeb. He asked for a spot in Urdu Bazar near the Red Fort to build a temple in honour of his deity Gauri Shankar. Not only was that permission readily granted, Appa was even helped financially to build the temple. So, if you happen to go to Chandni Chawk some day, do visit Gauri Shankar Mandir on whose façade, Appa Gangadhar is mentioned. Most of Tipu Sultan’s ministers and advisers were Hindus. 

According to Muraqqa-e-Delhi of Nawab Dargah Quli Bahadur, Mughal emperors consumed only Gangajal. Their celebration of Holi, Diwali, Dussehra is well known. If the rulers were Muslims, the economy was run by Hindu administrators and officers. Muslim monarchs trusted Hindu accountants. In the military field if Aurengzeb had brave Rajput generals, Shivaji, trusted Muslim generals only.

Historical records kept at many South Indian temples—humble and renowned— show that Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali revered some Vedic deities at the Hindu shrines. In his own capital of Seringapatnam, the historic temple of Sriranganatha was under the personal care of Tipu Sultan. Hyder Ali gifted the famous Nanjundeswara deity at the historic temple at Nanjangud in Karnataka state known as "Hyder Ali lingam.”

Another great shrine, well known in South India, is the temple dedicated to Thuluka Nachiar, the Turkish Goddess in the temple of Srirangam. The deity happens to be a Muslim princess, whose father had taken away the Vishnu image from a Vedic shrine. The princess had fallen in love with the image and when the Hindu priests guided by a supernatural dream came to take away the idol, she refused to part with it according to the legend. Ordered by her father to give away the image, the heartbroken girl followed the deity to the temple of Srirangam. There "she disappeared" into the sanctum sanctorum as it happened in the case of Meerabai in Marwar. In honour of her great devotion to Lord Vishnu, she is worshipped as his consort in this historic temple.

Innocent Hindus are made to believe by communally bigoted elements in myths like the rabbit-like breeding Muslims will one day outnumber them and that the popularity of the ghazals of Ghalib, qawwalis of Sabri Brothers and poetry of Mir, Zauq, Iqbal and Faiz, are dangerous signs of the coming social and political domination of Muslims. Muslims are told on the other hand that the rituals like applying tilak in a state ceremony is going to defile their religion in the same manner as do the use of coconut and diya in important ceremonies. These acts are all part and parcel of an Indian culture which is the result of a confluence of multifarious faiths and cultures. For centuries Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians of India have shared common customs on the occasions of birth, death and marriages. 

It is lamentable that even after more than half a century of independence from British slavery, we are still following archaic laws catering to communities on sectarian grounds.
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