Friday, 7 February 2014

Temple & Mosque

Md. Aminul Islam and Ratan Chakraborty can't recall any discord between Muslims and Hindus in Rajapur.

“Dhan, nodi, khal – e tine Barisal.”

In the calm alleyway mix beyond the centre of Rajapur in Jhalokati; where the shady homestead yard may be ditch-and-mound ribbed – the mounds for trees in rows to gather contemplating while in each ditch water reclines for longer days; in that wooded zone yet to shed its rural heritage in its newer semi-suburban age; on an afternoon when rickshaws politely and without bell squeeze to pass on that forgotten arch of a bridge over whichever canal – the paddy might be some way off but it’s easy to sit back and think, easy to recall the old rhyme of that Division. “Paddy, river, canal: these three are Barisal.”

Yet in that area beside the not-so-busy bitumen road, beyond the yawn of the motorcycle repair shop to the right, beyond the shack of a tea shop too, where locals seem to loiter even when the kettle is off-the-boil and the tea is seemingly on its way from Sylhet, prior to the uninteresting junction where the road to the back of the college leads off between the trees, there’s something that’s a little more Jhalokati perhaps and less broader Barisal – and it starts with the mosque.

At the Baitul Aman Jamia mosque in Rajapur.
To say there’s any remarkable feature to the Baitul Aman Jamia mosque building would be a lie. It’s clean and functional, tiled in white with Arabic inscriptions across the doorway. The adhan call is in every sense usual. It’s the image of a mosque of the ordinary type to be found across the country.

Diagonally opposite, over the road and entered through a colourfully signposted green gate off a side lane, the Sri Sri Hari temple likewise cannot claim extraordinariness in either grandeur or historical merit. It’s peaceful and has a banyan tree in the midst of a largish yard that no doubt devotees take enjoyment from – but even that hardly makes it outstanding.

It’s a fifty-fifty world in Rajapur – Muslim and Hindu. Temple and mosque share fellowship as possibly their greatest reward; and that’s a phenomenon as natural to Rajapur as the shady blessing of the canopy.

“We go and sit in the temple sometimes,” says a Muslim man at the tea shop, “Nobody disturbs us there.”

Now let’s speak of two men – locally important and pious. It didn’t start with them but there they are: madrassa assistant professor Md. Aminul Islam has been the mosque’s Imam for the past three years while primary school teacher Ratan Chakraborty has filled the temple’s post of Prohith for the last five.
“Islam always wants freedom for everybody,” says our Imam, “It gives the chance to everybody to enjoy their religion. Islam does not like any violence, clashes or anarchy. Islam wants peace.”

A Durga motif at the Sri Sri Hari Temple.
“In the Gita it states that we should honour all religions,” says our Prohith, “All religions are one.”

“Communalism is a great crime for a man. A Muslim cannot do it. Those who have committed such things are not real Muslims,” are our Imam’s words.

“Communalism decreases relations between the communities. People should not be doing it,” is our Prohith’s speech.

There’s a natural beauty to Rajapur: of rain tree, chambol, mahogany, jackfruit, banyan, Hinduism and Islam. Drastic change is nowhere in the forecast.

“We have our weekly service on Tuesdays,” says our Prohith, “We celebrate many pujas – Kali, Durga, Lokenath, Shiv... Muslims are always invited to join our pujas and funeral processions – and they do. There’s never been a quarrel.”

“When they perform namaz prayer the temple stops to show honour,” he continues, “Hindus and Muslims are like brothers here.”

“We don’t disturb Hindu functions,” says our Imam, “Some Muslim youths help with their pujas. I never saw any problems between Muslims and Hindus in Rajapur.”

News? What news? There’s no news here...

One of the protimas at the temple.
At the time of Eid ul Adha there are many invitations – Hindu families will be busy visiting Muslim homes to sample shemai, noodles and fruit. At the time of Durga Puja, Muslims too dig into their pockets to help fund the festivities. The temple sends jackfruit to the mosque each year. Each Thursday after namaz and recitation of hadiths and Quranic verses at the nearby meeting hall there’s the kichuri rice dish to be savoured – and shared – to comers of either faith.

And so on and so forth it goes... the chambol stretches out another branch, new roots of the banyan find their earth, the mahongany trunk ever so slowly thickens – it’s all show for the first one hundred years. The tea meanwhile is still on its way from Sylhet – an entirely natural phenomenon – and the one community of two faiths continues to share and to respect each other beneath Rajapur’s canopy.

At the time of the Babri Mosque’s demolition in India in 1992, when also in Bangladesh communal relations reached a particularly low point, Rajapur Muslims came out onto the road to assist the police in defending the temple and Hindu homes. Some troublemakers came from further afield but sure as the trees closed in on the open sky as they approached Rajapur, they found no scope for harassment or havoc.

For about a week the temple was continuously protected. And a beautiful nothing happened.

“All Hindus and Muslims are citizens in Bangladesh,” says our Imam, “People here are educated and religious. They do not make anarchy or harm others.”

“Hindus don’t leave this area for India,” says our Prohith – and five years ago he recalls, “My kitchen accidentally caught fire. My Muslim neighbours saw it and quickly put the fire out.” Now that’s a beautiful something to consider!

“Muslims have to apologise and compensate Hindus for losing their houses,” says our Imam about the recent troubles elsewhere, “Either the Muslim community or the government should compensate them. They should try to develop their brotherhood with Hindus.”

But wait... finally there is something remarkable – something has happened in the one-canopy one-community backblocks of Rajapur... at last there’s news, quite literally, brewing: the kettle is boiled and from somewhere far in hilly Sylhet the tea seems to have arrived...

And that is, for Rajapur surely, a worthy leading story.

Our Imam and our Prohith at the temple gate.

This article is published in Star Magazine, here: Temple & Mosque

1 comment:

  1. If only this example was taken as a microcosm of how relations should be between people of different faiths world over; Protestant and Catholic, (technically the same faith), Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist etc.
    This is what we all should aspire to instead of resorting to fear of the other.