I have listening to a series of programmes on BBC’s radio 4, where Neil McGregor has been talking about the similarities among religions and how the world ‘s major / minor religions have similar beliefs in various guises.
Today’s episode opened with the description of a city where a Church, a Mosque , a Hindu Temple and a Gurdawara, and the temple of the Zoroastrians stood within walking distance of each other, and the worshippers respected each others faith and lived side by side.
The city ,he said was Mumbai,or Bombay, the most cosmopolitan and secular city ,perhaps in the world, where people live with not only their faith but all the Gods of other faiths they find themselves surrounded by.
I grew up in India , I have similar memories. At school . there was no catering or food provided, so our lunches were bought to school by a servant ,packed in a steel “tiffin” case. Our class consisted of Hindu, Muslim ,Christians and Parsees. I have memories of all of us sitting in a large group and passing our food around, everyone tasted/shared food. We laughed a lot and it made the hardship of getting up and coming to school worthwhile, it was not just fun, it was a lesson in learning about each other and sharing.
I also remember that my father’s best friends were one Bhola Ram and a Dr Saxena, both Hindus, we shared everything , it never felt that we had different beliefs or Gods. It was an important lesson that we as humans were equal, no matter which God we worshipped.
We shared Diwali and other festivals, and they came to us when we celebrated Eid.
This all feels like a fairy tale now, since India and Pakistan were created, the rivalry between the two major religions ,Islam and Hinduism has taken a new dimension.
The radio 4 programme which was made with the collaboration of British Museum ,where all the historical evidence of the past is kept.
It talked about the Mogul emperor Akbar, who had refused to forcibly convert non-Muslims to his own faith, and so did the Hindu King Ashoka who allowed his subjects to follow their own faith, and later Queen Victoria ,in her reign it was decreed that individuals should be free to follow any faith of their choosing or none. No one was to be forced to follow Christianity.
I find it really sad now, when I hear of the divisions and the intolerance of each others religion, today listening to India being described as the worlds most secular country and then the news coming out of that country made me wonder.
Though the Gods are similar ,but can we humans live with them in peace?
The signs are not good.