From Sectarian to Multi-Religious Congregations
Mirza A. Beg
January 18, 2012
Indian Muslim Observer Jan. 23, 2012
The article “Surya Namaskar, Fatwa and Muslims “, by my friend Mike Ghause (printed below- http://www.indianmuslimobserver.com/2012/01/latest-editorial-surya-namaskar-and.html) brought to my attention a rather juvenile endeavor by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Mr. Chauhan. He wants to congregate the largest assembly of worshipers, to garner a place in the Guinness book of world records, beating the record held by Kazakhstan. Mr. Chauhan has asked the schools to participate, perhaps because it is easy to assemble a large crowd by collecting obligated student.
Every one knows, certainly the Chief Minister of a state should know that a pluralistic society respects all religions equally. A call from the Chief Minister, the chief authority of the state with jurisdiction over the schools with multi-religious body of student is a form of coercion of students from other religions.
Apparently a respected Muslim Qadi (Legal Scholar) advised (Fatwa) that the bowing to any other entity except God is un-Islamic and the Muslim Students should abstain.
I substantially agree with Mike’s views in his article. I might add that the Indian democracy has come a long way, but has not matured enough. Often unnecessary small misunderstandings among different religious communities have been exploited by the sectarian interests to injure the cohesion of the communities. At times they deteriorate in riots and loss of innocent lives.
Press often unknowingly misconstrues the verbiage of religious leaders to mean what it does not. ‘Fatwa’ is one loaded word that evokes exaggerated sectarian passions. Unmitigated and ill-explained opinions even when right can sow unnecessary dissension.
As juvenile as the desire of the Chief Minister is to get into the Guinness book, it offers a teachable moment for our society particularly the youth. Some of the following is well known, but perhaps not fully understood in all its implications:
India is a Pluralistic Democratic Republic. It honors all creeds and their right to worship or not to worship. The government should not promote, impose or suppress any set of beliefs. Such a society works better when we as individuals also honor and respect the belief of others and try to understand them. And when religious scholars or jurists give their opinions on social issues they should be extremely careful in the nuances of their verbiage.
From my childhood my friends and I have worshiped in our own ways, but that did not stop us in participation in the religious festivals of others. It was that much more fun, it created deeper understanding of others and closer friendships.
I do not have Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Christian, Jewish, or friends with other prefixes, but have friends whom I value for who they are and for our unselfish bonds. They also happen to belong to many other religions and beliefs.
If he does hanker for a place in the Guinness book of world records, it would be a lot better if the Chief Minister Chauhan invites people of all religions to come together and offer prayers in their own traditions at the same place and the same time for the betterment and amity in the country and perhaps the world as Mike has suggested. What a grand spectacle and occasion of amity it would be. Guinness may even have to open another category for the Multi-religious congregation of worship.
IMO admin| January20‚2012
By Mike Ghouse
The Surya Namaskar is a Hindu religious tradition, a beautiful act of bowing to the Sun and welcoming the first rays of dawn as an expression of gratitude to the energy it breathes in to life and everything about life.
India is a pluralistic society, where we have come to respect every which way one worships one, none or many representations of God. Even among Hinduism we have an amazing diversity of people who express their gratitude from no to an iconic to an abstract manifestation of that elusive creator.
The Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan called on the schools and the public to join him in the Surya Namaskar to beat the Guinness world record set by the Kazakhs who currently hold the world record in mass prayers. The intent of performing this act with a million people was not for spiritual need, but to get on the Guinness Book of World Records; a crazy passion of Indians.
At least Shivraj Singh Chouhan did better than Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who invited the evangelist exclusively to pray for the nation’s well being in a certain way to exclude all other Americans including Christians of different denominations. Indeed he duped the evangelicals in buying their support for his bid to the Presidency.
The Times of India reported that the city’s Chief Muslim cleric Qazi Abul Kalam Qasmi said, "Parents should take a call on sending kids to school, if there is apprehension that the child may be forced." The newly appointed Qazi maintained that Suryanamaskar, which involved 'bowing before the sun', was against Islamic tenets. "If a Muslim performs the 'suryanamaskar' the child and his parents would both be accountable in the act of felony." Qasmi maintained.
Indeed, the Qazi is right; it is not an Islamic practice to bow to any manifestation of God, but the God himself the non-visible energy. Everyone should have the freedom to pray or not pray in certain way and no one should compel or look down for not participating. That is our pluralistic ethos for over 5000 years and we need to be loyal to that heritage.
An alternate way to look at the opinion of the Qazi would have been to participate in the group act, but do it in a way that works from an Islamic point of view. This would have meant that we are all in this together for a better India and better place to live cohesively. However, no one should expect everyone to jump and do what they do. It would have been a good example of working together without compromising our faith.
Prophet Muhammad had led mass Prayers for rain and famine and for other goodness of the society. Two years ago, I was planning on going to Florida and witness a pastor burn the Quraan, if he was indeed burning, I was going to pray my two Rakat (unit) Nafeel Muslim prayers next door to his Church in an open space with prior permission from the City. We all would have prayed for his well being along with several fellow Muslims. Burning Quraan was not an act of bravery but stupidity and countering it with anger would have been greater stupidity. Unfortunately he postponed his act and I had a 9/11 Unity Day event the next day in Dallas as well.
There are examples set by Prophet Muhammad for situations like this. While he was travelling to Taif, a few miscreants pelted rocks at him causing him to bleed, his associates wanted to go get the boys, but Prophet stopped them and instead asked them and the Angel Gabriel to join him in prayers and pray for their well being. This is what Jesus meant when he said, turn the other cheek.
Prophet Muhammad was the ultimate peace maker, every act of his is a model for us to learn from, and he was the consummate conflict mitigater and goodwill nurturer.
When we attend weddings, some of us are strictly vegetarian and some eat variations of meat products from fish and poultry to beef. We wear different clothing’s and drink a variety of sodas to coffee with cream or black and same goes with the tea. Do we have a problem with that? Then we should not have the problem with this either as long as the Chief Minister is not getting his wish at the cost of public funds.
The right wingers among us need to honor Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Hindus for their choices and each minority should not take this as an imposition in a free society. Nor any one should be negative if one does not participate.
May Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s dreams to solidify his political stand come true and those who are opposed to him politically can also hold a Chandra Namaskar to get what they want, but together, let Madhya Pradesh go on the Guinness book of world records. Bengal or any other state has a choice to out do it as well.
[Mike Ghouse is committed to building cohesive societies where no Indian has to live in anxieties, discomfort or fear of the other. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. His work is indexed at www.MikeGhouse.net and his current articles at www.TheGhousediary.com. Mike Ghouse is now associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Foreign Editor. He can be contacted at MikeGhouse@aol.com]