Sanctity of shrines must be protected
One of prime objectives of social scientists has been to discover causes of inter-community conflicts and to seek their solution so that humanitarian values transcend beyond petty material considerations. Anna B Bigelow, associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, tried to find the reasons for unique demonstration of social relations among people of different religious communities in the historical Malerkotla town of Punjab. She illuminated on how it has been possible for the people of Malerkotla to rise above issues which divide communities and devastate them.
“Shared Shrines and Inter-Community Relations in Malerkotla” was the basis of her lecture conducted at Jamia Hamdard on 26 July and attended by scholars. Despite large-scale devastation and bloodshed in other parts of Punjab during Partition, the Muslim majority princely state of Malerkotla remained unscathed by violence. Malerkotla, the town of shrines, presents a beautiful picture of inter-communal co-existence. Dargah Haider Shaikh presents an Islamic perspective where you see peace and harmony between Hindus and Muslims. People from as far as Singapore and Canada besides Muslims and Sikhs of Punjab visit the shrine and pay their obeisance. The rulers of the erstwhile princely state of nawabs did not object to the practice and the Muslim community benefited from it. This secular nature of the former nawab has been one of the reasons for the town’s peaceful atmosphere.
With the passage of time and mainly during Partition some of these shared shrines were destroyed but the practice still goes on in some parts of Punjab. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs should come out to save these sacred places, Anna said. Now some of these shrines, like some temples and mosques in Pakistan, have changed into hubs of terrorism. This, she claimed, is one of the reasons for the encounters which otherwise won’t take place.
In chaste Urdu she said that the idea of Hamare Paas Quran Hai (We have the Qur’an) to justify wrong deeds and negate others would be against the spirit of Islam. She quoted an anecdote and supported it by Surah Al-Kafirun of the Qur’an which says, "For you your religion, and for me mine."
Speaking about the history of the town’s peaceful nature, the professor narrated an incident that took place in the early 18th century. Two of Guru Gobind’s younger sons along with their grandmother were captured by the Muslim ruler of Sirhind. Nawab Sher Muhammad Khan of Malerkotla protested against this action of the ruler, saying "You don’t have the right to take the innocents’ lives." Although he could not save the boys, news of his objection reached the Guru who blessed the nawab. Anna further said that peaceful atmosphere in Malerkotla is due the blessings of the Guru, as some people believe. After Guru’s death came destruction of Sirhind which the Guru had foretold. It is believed that a gurudwara was later built over the grave of those two sons.
Decrying the disruptive action of the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the professor said that destruction of Buddha's statues in Afghanistan led Muslims to suffer in Malerkotla where a copy of the Qur’an was burnt. But before the incident could aggravate further, the town’s Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs decided to end it saying that they won’t subscribe to such things. This shared history of Malerkotla, said Anna, makes us aware of how to continue in future.
In response to a question raised by a participant, as to what made this small piece of land accommodating each other while India is full of history of fanaticism, Ms Anna said she didn’t look at things in the light of any particular case. She said physical interaction, local institutions, unique demography all put together make Malerkotla what it is. A Muslim majority town, in a Sikh state which in turn lies in a Hindu-majority India, everybody is in minority somewhere. Hence no single cause can be cited to be the reason for the town’s peaceful co-existence. People of Malerkotla are peaceful by nature. They also had a refugee camp for Muslims going to Pakistan during Partition. She praised Jamaat-e-Islami’s peace initiatives and also admired the Tablighi Jamaat’s efforts in that region.
On the possibility of extending the same zeal of harmony to other parts of the country, she said some of these things could be done but every history was a mix. However, she felt sorry for the pitiable condition of Nawab Sher’s grave whose story is known to most Sikhs even today. She said there has been some encroachment at some historical sites and maqbaras which puts the sanctity of the shrines in danger.
She said rather than studying Ayodhya and Godhra the social scientists needed to study situations like Malerkotla and work towards extending such things to other places. She also spoke about some similarities between Muslims and Sikhs and said, like Muslims Sikhs too prayed by raising hands. She suggested to work on similar fronts and not the ones which are against other religious communities like asking a vegetarian to eat
Since Partition there have been some changes in Malerkotla. Some of the ruling classes and castes like Khans, Pathans and Nawabs migrated to Pakistan. The most substantial change in social standards has been due to the establishment of schools, academic institutions and peace missions, said Anna Bigelow and hoped that the monuments and specially the message of Malerkotla’s peculiar history of communal harmony will endure.
— Manzar Imam
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