#religion | Developing understanding of diverse religions


As the daughter of a Muslim who represented his country, India, with a great deal of pride, I was raised in the context of diverse religions.

The family had close friends who were Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Parsi and Buddhist. This cosmopolitan environment existed in the various countries where we lived: India, Burma, Japan, Canada and Europe.

Part of this context was the fact that we were of the early generation after Indian independence, so full of pride and hope. This pride and hope was present even within the context of the horrors of breaking up of India, by Partition in 1947, into countries based on religion.

The founding members of Indian independence drafted a constitution that clearly states its secular nature. This is to accept the plurality of religions with a government that would be non-religious, while defending the rights of its citizens to live in mutual tolerance of each other.

But recent Indian government actions are not protecting minorities in India. The ruling party, BJP — Bharatiya Janata Party — has defined Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as part of Hinduism and therefore not minorities, while Islam and Muslims are seen as non-Indian.

This is given licence because the major political party is encouraging communalism — the separation between groups of citizens by religion.

Even though I am no longer an Indian citizen, it is heartbreaking to see the eruption of such intolerance and hatred being practised in India.

As a Muslim, I often hear the criticism that perhaps there is something inherent in Islam that leads to violence. Obviously I don’t think this is part of any faith, but since the rise of Hindutva — India as the land of Hindus — there does seem to be more open intolerance and hatred in Indian society.

Although others have no hesitation in criticizing Islam and Muslims, I have been reluctant to delve into other faiths. I am very aware that as a Canadian Muslim who is living away from the subcontinent, I am treading into a minefield in writing this column!

As my knowledge of Hinduism is limited, I asked a Hindu friend for his knowledge.

My friend Rakesh explains that Hinduism is not a religion like Islam or Christianity, with one leader/God/Prophet, and with one written scripture. There is the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, written circa 2 BC, but there are other scriptures as well. There is no particular God — in truth there are hundreds of gods and people choose the deity they like. The goal of life is to attain “liberation” by breaking the chain of cycle of birth, death and rebirths.

The purpose of Hinduism is to journey to the “ultimate,” which is a union with Brahman/God. This is the dissolution of the ego and ignorance so as to achieve “moksha” or enlightenment. This can be done via the paths of yoga: Bhakti or devotional; Karma or action; Raja or self-discipline; and Jnana or knowledge.

Rakesh describes the spiritual journey by stages — the individual soul that is searching for liberation turns to a particular personal god, who in turn leads to the Universal soul or Brahman.

I understand the valid criticism about the caste system, but I don’t think many Hindus defend this, either.

So does it sound like this faith can teach intolerance and hatred or communalism? It is again the introduction of religion in politics, whether it be Political Islam or Hindutva, which is dividing its citizens by religion alone.

I have written often that the introduction of any religion in politics leads only to harm. This has nothing to do with any particular religion, whether it be Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. The BJP philosophy of Hindutva — Hinduism above others — has become part of the government’s agenda and no different from the religious states of Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Why can’t we heed the positive messages of each of our religions rather than pick on the negatives to separate ourselves and fall prey to the dangers of communalism?

A gentle reminder from the Qur’an to Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews: “Certainly God has sent messengers before you, of them are those we have mentioned to you and of them are those we have not mentioned.”

And, “Every community faces a direction of its own, of which God is the focal point. Vie, therefore, with one another in doing good works.



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