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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslims build temple

By Muzamil Jaleel

Ichhigam, Budgam: Deep in the Kashmir Valley and hundreds of miles from Ayodhya, little Ichhigam is beeping a big message: you don’t need the mandir-masjid players to keep your faith intact. Check with 60-year-old Brij Nath Bhat and 70-year-old Rupawati. They will tell you how they rang the bells today at the newly-constructed Sharika Bhagwati temple in this village, 30 km from Srinagar. From the nearby mosque, they could hear the azaan. It were as if the Muslims had joined them in their prayers. Because it was they who had constructed the temple, even donated money and parted with land and trees. Nine hundred Muslim families built this shrine for just eight Hindu families living in this village. And they did this just metres away from their own mosque, Khwaja Sabhun Aastan, on the banks of a stream that flows out of a sacred spring. 

Village elder Haji Hakeem Ghulam Mohammad, who heads the local wakf, was the moving spirit behind this. ‘‘They wanted to construct a temple. They told us about it and we were more than willing to help our neighbours,’’ he says. ‘‘ We have lived together for generations here and there was never any distance. Even the turmoil did not harm this bond.’’ The Hindus of the village had gathered in the temple compound. ‘‘Today was our first day of prayers at this temple. It has been possible only because of our Muslim neighbours. For us, everything has always been normal,’’ says Bhat, who spearheaded the construction work. 

‘‘They have always been helpful. When things went wrong and scores of Kashmiri Pandits left, the Muslims encouraged us to stay back. They stopped us, helped us when we felt scared, took care of our agricultural lands and orchards. They have always been there for us.’’ 

‘We had no temple here and when we decided to construct it, our neighbours even donated money. We are not affluent and their help through kadmay, sukhnay, dirmay (word and deed) came as a blessing,’’ says Bhat. A young man, Khursheed Ahmad Darzi, who runs a grocery just opposite the temple, underlines the message: ‘‘They are our neighbours and that is it. 
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