Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friends across faiths

Humra Quraishi
Last spring, I visited a gurudwara for the first time in my life. Why not earlier? I was apprehensive: Would a Muslim be welcome? Contrary to my fears, the experience turned out to be a happy one. It was so peaceful and tranquil in the gurudwara. I was there for an hour with Sikh friends. And then, it struck me how little we know of each other's faiths. What was holding us back? Most of us are happy to consume misleading myths of different faiths. Often I've been told that I don't 'look' like a Muslim. Asked to explain, they admit rather sheepishly that the general impression they have of Muslims is that of a woman covered by a veil, with a bunch of children in tow... At various stages in life, I've had to give explanations and counter-explanations to convince people that Muslims are no different than the rest.
In fact, Indian Muslims follow social customs which closely resemble Hindu ones; yet, stereotypical notions and myths continue to circulate, creating differences between communities. Right from childhood, suspicion and apprehension of other religions gets drilled into our little heads. It seems almost as though you would betray the religion you are born into if you entered places of worship of other faiths. Instead, visiting one another's temples, mosques and churches should be part of growing up — this will definitely broaden our perspective just as reading opens our minds and hearts to other horizons. The 13th century Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, made it a point to routinely interact and hold spirited dialogues with the Brahmins. Little wonder, then, he could expound a beautiful philosophy that if the Almighty did not make demarcations between Hindus and Muslims, vis-a-vis the outreach of his bounty like sunshine, water, fruit and trees — then, who are we to create rigid barriers of caste and creed?
In God's eyes, all humans are equal. Differences and conflicts are entirely man-made. The best way to bridge gaps and clear doubts is by having more people-to-people contacts between different faiths. A Tamil friend confided that she had thought, all along, that Islam was a militant and aggressive religion, until she heard Maulana Wahiduddin Khan speak and explain that the word Islam means peace. If only religion was not made out to be such a formidable subject, we would be able to look upon God as a close friend and confidante, whether he lived in a guru- dwara, temple, church or mosque, or even if you prefer to see him in nature — in trees, flowers and mountains, for instance. God, the Creator, cannot obviously be confined to small spaces — he is everywhere. Kahlil Gibran said: "And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles/ Rather look about you and you shall see him playing with your children/ And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the clouds, outstretching His arms in the lightening and descending in the rain/ You shall see him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees...
God's presence can be sensed everywhere: in the teachings of religions, and simply in every person you come across. Befriend those from different faiths and freely question each other about your respective faiths. This is the best way to clear doubts, most often sown by those who want to divide and misrule. I recently met a Jesuit priest who lives in Ahmedabad. He said to me: "In these days of communal strife make it a point to tell your neighbours and close friends that the essence of each religion of the world is to co-exist in total harmony.” To this, I'll add a few lines from a Bangladeshi friend who provides shelter to stray dogs and cats: "We have two stray dogs and four cats — but they have never fought with one another... they're better behaved than human beings." The Times of India October 26, 2002


  1. Nice article to put on brother. Saalam to you. i quoted ur blog in my blog as well.

  2. Sadiq M. Alam said... Tushar quotes in his blog the experience on a visit to a Gurudwara, the Siekh place of worship. How God can be felt everywhere is nicely composed here. The post is titled, friends across faiths.