Hindu Muslim Unity: American gurdwara promoted interfaith relations in California

Stockton Gurdwara 1912
Stockton Gurdwara, circa 1912

At the turn of the century, several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration). At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society – a gurdwara – opened in Stockton in 1911.

Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.

Over the next three decades, the Khalsa Diwan hosted Hindu leaders and Muslim leaders alike, including the Hindu leader Swami Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and authored Autobiography of a Yogi. Moreover, it served as a meeting ground for those seeking to build support for the Indian freedom struggle, especially those involved with the Ghadar Party. Despite having different religions, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus still felt strongly connected to India and identified strongly with Indian nationalism.

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Related links:
Sikhism and Religious Unity
Sikhism’s 10th Guru on Unity

Hindu Muslim Unity: Where Hindus fast on Ramadan & Muslims ban cow slaughter

Mithi, rural town in Pakistan

MITHI: A small town where both Hindus and Muslims have lived together since the creation of Pakistan enjoys cooperation and harmony.

“I am a Hindu from Sindh, but throughout my life I have lived with Muslims and this is why during Ramazan, we fast along with them; and when it is Muharram, us Hindu boys lead the procession because this is the culture which Sufism has given us” one Hindu resident said

It is a town where Muslims, out of respect for Hindus, do not slaughter cows; and where Hindus, out of respect for Muslim rites, have never organised any marriage ceremonies or celebrations during the month of Muharram. Not only that, the Hindus of Mithi also happily participate in providing food and drinks for Muslims during Ramazan, and both groups exchange sweets on Eid and Diwali. The crime rate in Mithi is at two per cent and never has anyone witnessed any incident of religious intolerance.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Various faiths congregate to listen to RamKatha

Multi-faith leaders in prayer
Multi-faith leaders in prayer

RAJKOT: India has amazing diversity. What is even more amazing is how India embraces so much diversity. Showcasing this assimilative aspect of India, scores of people from different religions recently gathered to listen to Ramkatha or the narration of the ancient.

Renowned Hindu preacher Morari Bapu narrated the story in Rajkot city of India’s western Gujarat state. The event was attended by high functionaries of different religious faiths. The main objective behind organising the event was to bring together people from different religions under one roof. Members of about 58 different communities including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs were present during the recital of the Ramkatha.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Indonesian Muslims honor Hindu day of silence

Balinese Hindus in prayer and silence
Balinese Hindus in prayer and silence

BALI: Once again this year, the people of Bali celebrated the Hindu Day of Silence, Nyepi, in remarkable harmony. Muslims and other non-Hindus on the island showed respect for the Saka New Year observance. Nyepi has four solemn restrictions: no fire, no working, no traveling and no entertainment or pleasure for 24 hours. Some refrain from eating and talking as well. Special rituals are carried out the day before and the day after.

The Balinese are always respectful towards their Muslim neighbours, a Muslim leader on the predominantly Hindu island confirmed. About 12% of Bali’s 3.5m residents are Muslim, government data shows. “We will continue to consistently tolerate and work together to prevent any possible conflicts. We will keep a good relationship,” said Mulyono Setiawan, head of the Bali regional board of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.

“We urged Muslims in Bali and elsewhere not to disturb the celebration of Nyepi. It is an important Hindu celebration,” Mulyono told Khabar Southeast Asia.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Malaysian Muslims perform Ramayana puppet theater

Muslim pupeeters perform Malay Ramayana shadow play
Muslim pupeeters perform Malay Ramayana shadow play

MALAYSIA: There are literary and folktale versions of Ramayana in Malaysia. The Hikayat Seri Rama exists in both written and oral form, and the Wayang Kulit Siam is a shadow play from Kelantan on the border of Malaysia and Thailand (Siam).

The main purpose of the Hikayat Seri Rama is to show the ideals of righteousness, love, loyalty, and selfless devotion. This Malay version has combined elements of the Indian Sanskrit Ramayana with local traditions and beliefs to create a highly developed story which is enjoyed by many. The Ramayana in Malaysia is used more for entertainment and social education rather than for spiritual or religious purposes. Kelantan is strongly Islamic, but it is also the main base for the Malay shadow puppet theatre.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistani Muslims & Christians join Holi celebration

children playing Holi in Pakistan
children playing Holi in Pakistan

KARACHI: Screams of joy and laughter echoed through the Lakshmi Narayan Temple as the colours of Holi consumed those within. Muslims and Christians joined Hindus in celebrating Holi, the festival of colors.

Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust president Sanjesh Sunny Dhanja was happy to see the way the celebrations had transcended religion and had become an event for the whole community. “We made it very clear that everyone is invited, regardless of their religion, and it makes me happy to see how people responded.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Biryani Baba has fed over ten million

Biryani Baba has been feeding people for 40 years
Biryani Baba has been feeding people for 40 years

VIZIANAGARAM: Attaullah Shariff Shataj Khadiri Baba, popularly known as “Biryani Baba”, has been feeding biryani to the poor for the decades  in Vizianagaram and Cheemalapadu of Krishna district.

When assessed, this comes to  to be around one crore (ten million) people in the last 40 years. Mr Baba, 78, has continued the  legacy of his  guru Khadar Baba who  passed away 40 years ago.

Mr Baba, who shuttles between  Vizianagaram and  Cheemalapadu Dargah,  blesses the people who  believe in him and offers them anna prasada at  Langar Khana on the dargah premises.  Mr Baba himself participates in cooking the biryani.  Everyday, at least a thousand people eat in Cheemalapadu and Vizianagaram.

Mr Baba said, “I am just providing meals to the needy. With the help of donors and devotees, the programme continues smoothly. I don’t believe in  religion or castes, I  appeal to the public to help the poor. I believe that  service to  humans is equal to service to God.”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Female Sufi mausoleum receives interfaith support

Women gathered at Mai Sahiba shrine
Women gathered at Mai Sahiba shrine

Thousands of Sufi shrines, big and small, dot the landscape in rural Pakistan. Each shrine has its own history and associated legends. But the shrine that stands against the dusty green hillocks in Dhoke Sahi Village is unique, both in terms of its past and present. Like other shrines, thousands of devotees have come to celebrate the saint’s union with his beloved God. But what is unusual is that the saint, for whom these devotees have gathered, is a woman.

This mausoleum is called home by women abandoned by their families. These women have dedicated their days to the service of Mai Sahiba. The older caretakers at the shrine guide women in both spiritual and worldly matters. On most days, women share their family troubles and receive prayers and blessings from Mai Hameeda and Mai Rashida, the caretakers.

This shrine, like others, receives millions of rupees in donations each year, which are spent on its upkeep and to finance the langar that feeds visitors. “Once, we received a letter and a donation of a few hundred thousand rupees from India. A Hindu man who had been her devotee before partition left the money with his son and asked to have it sent here for a well to be dug. Since we already had a well and an electric motor with it, we used it to install a biogas plant,” said Rashida.

The Sufi path involves going through specific stages under the guidance of a spiritual master. Mai Sahiba went through these stages over a course of many years under the guidance of Hazrat Babu Ghulam Sarwar in Lahore and eventually returned to the village to give religious education to people in the village. She also used her position as a figure of religious authority to help women with domestic issues. “It was usual for her to call a woman’s husband and lecture him on mistreating his wife. No one dared to disobey Mai Sahiba”

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Women-run madrasa teaches Upanisads & Hadiths

Classroom where sayings of the prophet are taught alongside Hindu scriptures
Classroom where sayings of the prophet are taught alongside Hindu scriptures

MANDASAUR: There is a picture of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, displayed prominently on the wall in the Principal’s office. Outside is a blackboard on which is inscribed a quote from the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad (Asato Maa Sadgamaya) and one from the Hadith (Knowledge is the greatest wealth.)

Gyan Sagar is one of the 128 madrasas run by a group of women in and around Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district. In 78 of these madrasas, Hindu students outnumber their Muslim friends (over 55 per cent of the students are Hindu), while 630 of the 865 teachers employed by the group are Hindu.

Set up in 1992 by Shahzad Qureshi, Madrasa Firdaus initially used to impart religious education and offered free tuition to poor students from other schools.

“We were educating children from poor families. A lot of poor Hindu families wanted to enroll their children in our schools, but were concerned about religious education,” says NMM chairperson Talat Qureshi “That is when we thought of reviving India’s older system of madrasas that offered subsidised education, and where such legends as Munshi Premchand, Raja Rammohun Roy, Bharatendu Harishchandra and Pandit Ramchandra Shukla had their education,” says Dr. Qureshi, a dentist by profession. As a result, Hindu religion is a compulsory subject for Hindu students studying in these study centres, while Muslim students have to study and pass Deeniyat.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistan welcomes Hindu pilgrims from India

Indian Hindu pilgrim visits Katas Raj in Pakistan
Indian Hindu pilgrim visits Katas Raj in Pakistan

As many as 85 Hindu pilgrims from various states of India came to Katas Raj, their holy site, on Wednesday evening and left for India on Friday. They were welcomed by District Coordination Officer (DCO) Asif Bilal Lodhi, Assistant Commissioner Choa Saidan Shah Samina Saif Niazi and other officials concerned in two receptions.

Speaking in one of the receptions Chairman Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Saddiqul Farooq assured the Indian pilgrims that they would always be welcomed in Pakistan with warmth and affection. He stressed the need of interfaith harmony. “We should respect every religion. If we respect humanity our problems will solve,” he maintained. He urged the pilgrims to take the message of love and peace to their country.

Shiv Partab Bajaj the leader of the pilgrims while speaking on the occasion thanked the Pakistan government for making tremendous arrangements for the pilgrims. “The love and respect which you people gave us can never be forgotten,” he said. He added that when he came first time at Katas Raj in 1982 the temples were in pathetic condition , but now the holy site had been renovated.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Switzerland creates interfaith House of Religions

House of Religions in Bern, Switzerland
House of Religions in Bern, Switzerland

BERN: It is thought to be a one-of-a-kind: tucked away in a multicultural, working-class suburb of Bern stands a house with five sanctuaries, one per religion. The House of Religions is a place for coexistence and interaction.

In the early 2000s, Rotach, a theologian of Jewish origin from Zurich, was the presenter of a German-language television show called “Sternstunde” (great moment). It was there that she met Hartmut Haas, a Moravian pastor (a branch of Protestantism) who today manages the association House of Religions – A Dialogue of Cultures.

“He had spent several years in Palestine. It was just after September 11, 2001, when everyone was talking about the clash of civilisations,” Rotach recalls. “He came with an imam and a rabbi and the three brought up this utopia of a place where the religions would coexist and understand each other.” At the time, the fathers of the idea were well aware that such a place would not miraculously rise from the earth. But Haas was in no mood to wait for a building and started the association in his kitchen before finding a space in town.

He called it the House of Religions and the communities started a restaurant, organised various activities such as language and integration courses, yoga and so on. The institution then moved into wooden huts, where the Hindus had a small temple and the Buddhists, the Alevis (derived from Shiite Islam) and the Moravians gathered to pray and meditate.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindu brahmins participate in Shia Ashura

Ashura procession, Delhi
Ashura procession, Delhi

DELHI:  Indian Shiites commemorated Ashura, which for them is a day of mourning that honors the martyrdom of the Imam Husain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was supposedly killed at the 7th century Battle of Karbala. That historical event prefigured the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, and is remembered annually through passion plays known as the ta’ziyeh or taziya and startling scenes of ritual scouring and self-flagellation.

Joining the throngs in Delhi on Tuesday was an unusual community of mourners. They carried out their own taziya procession and beat their chests in lamentation. But they were Hindus, not Muslims. A report in the Times of India follows these Hussaini Brahmins, also known as Mohyals, a community of Hindus in North India who adhere to certain Muslim traditions and rituals. According to Mohyal lore, a number of famous ancestors fought on Husain’s side at Karbala and died in the battle. The community now bears the legacy of that mythic lineage.

They embrace an eclectic range of Hindu and Muslim practices. “We believe that both Hindus and Muslims should follow each other’s rituals and traditions,” Rajinder Kumar, a Mohyal man tells the Times of India. “Our community observes Muharram and women keep fasts just as Muslims do.”

Despite the relative obscurity of these Hussaini Brahmins, their existence speaks of a wider legacy. For centuries, the subcontinent has been a crucible for many divergent traditions and beliefs, some coming into friction, most existing in harmony. Muslims celebrated Hindu holidays; Hindus still worship at the old shrines of Sufi saints.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Pakistani rickshaws promote peace

rickshaws in Lahore, Pakistan promote messages of tolerance

LAHORE: What started off as a humble attempt to provide a counter narrative to extremism and hate speech has turned into a campaign reaching out to hundreds of people through advertisements promoting social and religious coexistence using rickshaws.

The campaign is run by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) – a society working for tolerance, equality and peaceful coexistence. It has spread the message through 2,400 flexes pasted on rickshaws across the city. The flexes were designed for free thanks to volunteers. Discounts were available for printing.

“Our message is not radical. We use mild language and promote peaceful co-existence citing Islamic traditions and sayings of the Quaid-i-Azam,” says Diep, member of IPSS.

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Hindu Muslim Unity: Hindus & Muslims travel to Iraq to protect Imam Hussain shrine

gateway to Hussain shrine, Iraq
gateway to Hussain shrine, Iraq

MUMBAI: 125 Hindus, in addition to thousands of Shias and Sunnis, have registered their names to travel to Karbala, Iraq to defend the holy shrine of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad from the anticipated attack by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which has unleashed a reign of terror on the predominantly Shia Iraq.

One of the most important events in early Muslim history was the battle of Karbala fought in 680 CE in which Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima  al-Zahra and her husband Imam Ali, was slaughtered along with a small band of disciples in a bloody battle against the tyrant Caliph Yazid. This event occurred in the Islamic month of Muharram, and it is for this reason that this month is observed with great solemnity in many parts of the Muslim world.

Prof. Yoginder Sikand, a former Professor of Islamic Theology, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi writes, “What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in large parts of India is the prominent participation of Hindus in the ritual mourning. In several towns and villages, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the death of Hussain, by sponsoring or taking part in lamentation rituals and tazia processions. In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, standards representing the Karbala event. The Hindu Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh have their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu.”

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