Religious harmony: The hallmark of India

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Communal harmony is the hallmark of democratic India. The rule of law pervades over the entire field of administration and every organ of the state is regulated and governed by democratic principles. The Indian Constitution supports and encourages religious harmony. Article 51 A (e) of the Constitution of India clearly states as the fundamental duties “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.”

Every citizen has a right to choose and practice any religion. There are examples of Muslims and Sikhs building temples.

People of different religious traditions live harmoniously and seers of all religions in India have called for religious harmony.

The late 19th century and early 20th century Indian guru and yogi 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.

Dargahs in India such as the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, have been a place for Muslims, Hindus, and people of other faiths since medieval times.

According to the Dalai Lama, India is a model for religious harmony, “In the last 2000-3000 years, different religious traditions, such as Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, and others, have flourished here.”

Even though India is predominantly Hindu, its leaders have often included Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Zoroastrians, etc. Dr. Zakir Hussain, Mohammad Hidayatullah, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were Muslim and Giani Zail Singh was a Sikh.

Indian Army has had chiefs like Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw who was a Zoroastrian, Sunith Francis Rodrigues was a Christian, Joginder Jaswant Singh and Bikram Singh were Sikhs.

The list of India’s 100 richest people includes Dilip Shanghvi, a Jain, Azim Premji, a Muslim, and Pallonji Mistri, a Zoroastrian.

Popular film stars in India like Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan celebrate festivals of Hindus.

Demonstrating how religion can never be a barrier when it comes to true friendship, Razzak Khan Tikari, a Muslim, performed the last rites following all Hindu rituals of his best friend Santosh Singh who lost his life to a terminal disease. There are countless instances in India where Muslim and Hindu communities have prayed, rejoiced and felt grief together.

Take the instance of the mosque in the Malappuram city of Kerala which continues with the tradition of celebrating an 18th century Hindu martyr even today. His name was Kunhelu and he is a respected legendary figure. It is believed that Kunhelu lost his life along with 43 Muslim warriors in a battle, when the then ruler of Kozhikode attacked Malabar, about 290 years ago. Kunhelu belonged to the goldsmith community and he joined his Muslim friends in the war which started over an issue of tax collection. Every year, a group of Muslims gather at the Valiyangadi Jumma masjid to pay homage to the martyr who is buried at the mosque. The descendants of Kunhelu are also invited during prayer meetings.

In 2015, during the celebration of Bakra-Eid, many Muslim devotees in Mumbai were seen performing their prayers inside a Ganpati pandal. When members of the Seva Sangh Ganeshotsav Mandal in Colaba saw that the Madrassa Rahamatiya Talimul Quran mosque could not accommodate all the devotees who had turned up to offer their prayers, they invited them to the pandal meant for Ganesha Chaturthi celebration so they could pray in peace.

Similarly, in Nathowal village near Ludhiana, people from the Sikh and Hindu communities helped repair an old mosque . They also took care of more than 65 per cent of the repair expenses. The project cost was around Rs 25 lakh, of which Rs 15 lakh was contributed by Sikhs and Hindus. The three communities live in peace in this village.

The entire country knows the tale of pregnant Noor Jahan who went into labour in a cab, while going to the hospital in Mumbai. Spotting a Ganesha temple at a distance, she and her husband walked towards it and were helped by a group of women who created a makeshift delivery room in the temple. To commemorate this gesture and the fateful day, Noor Jahan named her son Ganesh.

Abid Alvi, a Muslim youth, has translated the Hindu prayer, Hanuman Chalisa, into Urdu with the view that it will unite the two communities as they will understand each other’s culture and beliefs better. A resident of Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, Abid took three months to complete the translation. He wishes that Urdu books should be converted to Hindi and vice versa.

Just like Abid, Rajeev Sharma read about Prophet Muhammad and was impressed by his teachings. So he wrote a book about him in Marwari, a regional language of Rajasthan. The 112-page-long book called “Paigambar ro Paigaam” talks about the life of Prophet Muhammad, and has made the book is available for free on his e-library.

There is the famous case of 73-year-old Muslim from Beed city in Maharashtra, Shaikh Riyazoddin Abdul Gani, better known as ‘Rajubaba Kirtankar’, who is popular for singing Meera Bhajans while balancing a water-filled pot on his head. Fascinated by Hinduism when he was a child and used to sit outside temples to learn kirtans. He was invited by Hindus to the temple, and started singing there.

Is there communal disharmony in our country today? If yes, the instances are rare and magnified by the insidious media. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are capable of living in peace together like they have done for centuries in India. Mischievous and malignant elements in society, much like the British divided and ruled India for years are continuously trying to drive a wedge between the communities. Eventually it is the responsibility of the political and religious leadership, civil society, intelligentsia and the media to uphold the Constitution and the integrity of institutions.

The communal harmony campaign week (November 25-29) is celebrated every year to promote national integrity and the government has erected Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – Statue of Unity in Gujarat for the same.

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