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Friday, September 22, 2023

Despite Hijab Controversy, an Inter-Faith Devotion Firmly in Its Place

The Muslim devotees offer prayers to Shri Swami Samarth Mutt in Mumbai

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

INDIA. Mumbai: While the hijab controversy has been hogging headlines, after the Karnataka Government banned the hijab in the classrooms, many examples proving that an inter-faith belief has no bounds are coming to the fore.

There are many examples of Lord Ganesh being worshipped by many non-Hindus, and Hindus attending mass in the church. There are also examples of the Ganeshotsav being celebrated jointly by Hindus and Muslims in certain parts of Maharashtra.

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The educational institutes have the freedom to frame their guidelines about the dress code to maintain uniformity on campus. It is up to them whether or not to relax their regulations. If any school wants to maintain a certain decorum it is its prerogative.

But over and above this controversy, there are ample examples to prove that in this spiritual land of India, inter-faith devotion goes on and the people participate in festivals without any reservation.

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Usually, traditional religious signs like the hijab and burkha keep Muslim women away from the mainstream of society. But there are exceptions. For example, some burkha-clad Muslim women regularly visit Shri Swami Samarth Mutt located at Andheri West in North West Mumbai. The other devotees are curious but the management of the Mutt doesn’t object.

A formal inquiry with visiting Muslim women revealed that they come to the Mutt because they find solace. They call the Mutt daily to seek bliss. Speaking to the Transcontinental times, they said that when they were in trouble, they were advised by some people to offer prayers to Shri Swami Samarth.

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Initially, they were hesitant anticipating a backlash from their community. But they mustered courage and came to the Mutt. They could overcome their difficulties and now it is a routine for them. “In any case, we are a liberal family and we believe that finally god is one and almighty cannot be kept in bounds,” said Pinky Khan, a mother of two daughters- Shireen and Kashid.

Mahesh Natekar, the Manager and Head Priest of the Mutt, said, “We do not object to anyone visiting the Mutt to offer prayers. However, we insist that the women devotees should not come to Mutt wearing westernized clothes like short pants, jeans, etc. Besides, the devotees should wash their feet before entering the temple. We have also displayed a board communicating this at the entrance of the temple,” he added.

The non-Hindus also visited Shri Swami Samarth Mutt located at Akkalkot in the Solapur district in Western Maharashtra. Some of the compendiums of Shri Swami Samarth mention about his Muslim devotees. Fanaticism encouraged by certain leaders vitiates the atmosphere. The common man is in no way interested in controversies. Progressive thinking is always good for society, Natekar said.

Advocate Suleiman Bhimani said that, “Basically the god is ‘Nirankari'( the formless). A human being cannot equate himself with god. ‘Yajurved’ (the prose mantras for worship rituals) and the Quran preach the same thing. Article 21 of the Constitution protects every citizen’s freedom. No one should interfere with personal faith and belief. Because of the adamant attitude of certain religious leaders, the controversies flare up damaging communal amity”.

Another example is that of Mumbai police, who are the first to offer a “Chaddar” (a large piece of clothes adorned with flowers and silver zari thread) at Makhdum Shah Baba’s tomb at Mahim in Central Mumbai during the 10-day long annual “Urs” held in December.

The tradition has been going on for the last over 100 years. It is said that Baba used to reside at the place where the Mahim police station is located at present.

He used to assist the police in disguise when they were in distress and desperate to nab the criminals. The police undertake a padayatra in accompaniment of music throughout Mahim before offering the chaddar to Makhdum Baba.

Similarly, people across the country visit the tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti at Ajmer in Rajasthan. They include Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Nearly 500 chaddars are offered at the tomb.

Besides, any political leader visiting Ajmer invariably visits the tomb. The Sufi sect was founded with the advent of Islam in India. Tolerance and universal brotherhood are some of the tenets of the Sufi sect. In a way, Ajmer’s tomb is considered as a symbol of national unity.

In Gotkhindi village in Sangali in Maharashtra, the Ganesh festival has been celebrated by Hindus and Muslims jointly in a mosque for the last several years. When the Ganesh festival and Muharram coincide, the Ganesh idol and panjas (alams) are installed in the same pandal.

In Cacra Village (a locality in Panaji city) in Goa, the Hindus and Christians celebrate the Ganesh festival jointly. Most importantly during the festival, non-vegetarian food is not consumed by the devotees.

In St Michael’s Church in Mahim in Mumbai, there is a heavy crowd of devotees comprising Hindus and Christians to attend Novena every Wednesday. Mount Mary festival at Bandra in North West Mumbai occurring in September is yet another example of inter-faith belief as evident from the strong congregation of people with a liberal mix of Christians and Hindus.

According to Prof Marcellus D Souza, one should worship the devotee in which he/she believes in. The people should not fall prey to the leaders’ provocation. Finally, god is universal appearing in different forms, and Unity in diversity is our motto.

Also Read: Iranian Rock Climber Goes Missing after Competing in Seoul without a Hijab


  • Raju Vernekar

    Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

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