Where God once lived

June 25, 2012


December 6, 1992 will always be engraved in the memories of Muslims and Hindus residing all across the globe especially in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The day marks the demolition of Babri Masjid which was built in 1598 on a site which is considered sacred for many Hindus. The communal riots that followed the demolition claimed over 2,000 lives of people from both religions.

The resonance of the demolition was felt across borders, both in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where many Hindus suffered the wrath of angry Muslims seeking revenge for the blasphemous act. Dozens of Hindu temples were desecrated, whereas hundreds of Hindus living in Pakistan and Bangladesh faced retaliatory acts of violence in almost all the major cities of both countries

The unfortunate incident raises many questions such as how are the people, who attack temples or churches, considered better than the people who demolish mosques? How is the desecration of one holy site justified whilst the other is not? Shouldn’t demolition of such sites be considered blasphemous no matter which religion is affected by it? And most importantly are people who are destructive towards other religious sites entitled to retaliate or even complain when their sacred sites are damaged?

It is quite ironical how we retaliate when our religious sites are desecrated; however, when we carry out the same blasphemous acts against other places of worship we consider our acts in accordance with religious decrees. Does any religion consider acts of violence and destruction permissible? The fact that we all know the answer to the aforementioned question infuriates me further because it is not lack of awareness which motivates people to do this, but sheer bigotry and intolerance.

Almost two decades after the demolition of the mosque in question, I wonder if we have learnt any lessons from our previous mistakes. The fact that religious sites are still vandalised, and the violence that ensues such acts, speak volumes about our moral decline and ineffectiveness to learn from the precedent.

Whether it is the demolition of Gosha-e-Aman, or act of vandalism against a Hindu temple in Peshawar or the desecration of a Sikh temple in Mardan by the land mafia, the lack of inter-faith harmony is reflected in all aspects.

Whether such violent behaviour is considered a move to convert non-Muslims or a way to eradicate minorities is yet to be established, however, it is quite evident that the hostility certainly does not deter them from practising their religion.

A Roman Catholic from Karachi, on condition of anonymity, said “I clearly remember the day when St Patrick’s Cathedral was attacked in 1998. It was a bomb attack which fortunately did not kill anyone; however, the interior of the cathedral was damaged greatly. Some churchgoers were reluctant to attend mass for weeks but most of us firmly believed that when our time will come nothing would be able to hold us back. This is our way of life. This is our belief and nothing will stop us from practising what we do.”

Further interaction with people from other religions also proved that its not just Muslim fundamentalists who entice people to resort to violent tactics. Fanatics from other religions are also following the same strategies.

A Christian, on condition of anonymity, said, “Biblical prayers, that we grew up reciting, are now being altered. Amendments are being made and they are being modified to motivate Christians to consider Muslims and Hindus inferior.”

“We tend to mind our own business, keep a constant check on our religious sites and do not allow people from other religions to frequent our places of worship. It is not widely known but we frequently receive threats from various religious groups which is why we have become even more reclusive. In fact, most of us are instructed to stay away from non-Parsis,” said a Parsi.

Their narratives proved that the hatred and insecurity are mutually felt by all religious groups. Whether we talk about Parsis, Christians, Hindus or Ahmadis, the lack of respect for each other’s beliefs is palpable. However, the question is: has the majority not given the minorities ample reason to be hostile towards us?

One of the deadliest religious massacres in the history of Pakistan took place on May 28, 2010 when two Ahmadi sites of worship were attacked. The attacks claimed over 90 lives and left dozens wounded. However, the Ahmadiyya community still awaits justice for the deadly attacks carried out against their community.

Ahmadis frequently face the brunt of religious hatred in Pakistan and remain under constant scrutiny. Many of their worship sites are vandalised or demolished each year and others receive threats.

I grew up believing that whenever and wherever people pray, regardless of their religious beliefs; God bestows his blessings and answers to his people. Attacking a place of worship is equivalent to not only launching an attack on humanity but also on God’s blessings and a place which is considered his symbolic abode universally.

Mark Twain must have foreseen the fanaticism which mars us all when he said that, “Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the true religion — several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.”

Considering Christians superior to Hindus or Muslims to Christians or visa versa raises more questions on our moral values. It is important to understand that everyone is entitled to practise their own religion according to their holy scripture. It is also pertinent to highlight that every religion and sacred site demands respect and should receive nothing but respect.

Now is the time to get rid of our holier-than-thou attitude and restructure the moral fibre of our society before it is too late.

Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com