A Hindu temple in the capital Islamabad, even before it’s built, has been creating rifts between the people. Unfortunately, a place of worship, which should be above politics, seems to be the centre of it.
It’s a prime example of how politics is being played in the name of religion. Thousands of voices are speaking for or against the matter, all making convincing arguments. Yet, the tragedy is, there is no one listening. The views are antipodal.
Views against the temple: are they justified?
Some believe, that since Islam came as an anti-idol religion, with the struggle of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) against the idol-worshippers, an Islamic government, hence, cannot build a temple with public money. They quote renowned scholar Dr Zakir Naik, who said, “There is a consensus among all major Muslim scholars that a Muslim cannot donate his money for building a place of worship for non-Muslims.”
Speaking further on this matter, Dr Samia Raheel Qazi, the only woman (former) member of Islamic Ideology said: “All Muslim scholars hold the opinion that as a Muslim, we have to spend our money in the way of Allah and not on other gods.
No new place of worship should be made in an Islamic state where Allah is not worshipped.” From the statement, emerges the answer – what about the money donated or given in tax by the Hindu citizens of the state, who have been represented in the white part of the flag of Pakistan?
Pakistan’s ideology guarantees rights of minorities
The opposing school of thought says that since its conception, Islam progressed in time. As the epitome of a place conceived for the rights of “minority” Muslims in British India, it will be starkly in collision with the ideology of Pakistan, if we deprive the minorities of their demand, not to mention, quite ironical, to not allow other faiths a place for their worship.
Minorities pay taxes in Pakistan, and if their demand is a religious place, then that place should be provided to them. The believers of this school of thought, often quote, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s words, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in Pakistan.”
According to religious scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, “All Pakistanis pay taxes and the state build mosque using public money so the government should be able to use public funds to build places of worship for other religions as well.”
Dr Samia Raheel Qazi also gave a suggestion: “There are six temples that need renovation in Islamabad. It will be appropriate to start working from there first…there is no need to build another one.”
If temple isn’t the problem then what is?
The problem, it seems, is not the temple. It is an issue of lack of understanding, tolerance, inter-faith harmony and negation to listen to the other side of the story. The temple would have almost been built, had it not been the sudden awakening of some religious and political minds. The issue went almost un-noticed during the time of PML-N government.
Islam spreads around the world because of the upright character and tolerant and helpful nature of practicing Muslims. Suppression is not only dangerous; it does not suit our Muslim character
It all started when about three hundred resident Hindus in Islamabad started raising voice for their temple in the territorial city. Reports say there had been two other temples before this demand, but prayers had stopped in both these places since a few years back.
It was not meant to be just a place of worship, but it was going to work as a cremation place as well. Hindus cremate their dead, and in the absence of proper cremation places, according to those making the demand, Hindus in Islamabad had to travel to Sindh with the dead body for cremation.
In 2014 this request was formally lodged by Ashok Kumar, a member of the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat (IHP), and in 2017, the IHP finally got permission for constructing a temple. PML-N was the ruling party, which not only gave them permission to the construction of Hindu temple but also allocated Rs 10 crores for the project.
However, in 2020, when it was time for the temple to be built, extreme political pressure on the PTI government along with the fear of a backlash, stopped the construction of the temple. The matter is now with the Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan.
“We denounce the controversy over the construction of the temple. This [making it controversial] by extremist clerics is not correct. The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) will call a meeting and will also present its point of view to the Council of Islamic Ideology,” PUC chairman Hafiz Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said.
One can feel the resonance of political maneuverings in the story of the temple. Amidst the hue and cry of politics, passion and religious zealousness, what is missing actively is the human element.
All-inclusiveness is the only way forward
The majoritarian rule never succeeds, in today’s modern definition of a state, all-inclusiveness is the only way forward. That is if one wants to move forward. Contrary to certain elements trying their best to infuse strong religious extremism components, it is my firm belief that interfaith harmony progresses a society and answers are always there in the debate, not in narcissist practices.
Talking from my personal experience, life in a country where I was a minority made me empathize more with the rights of minorities in any other country. Pakistan is not even a century old, and it was made precisely because of the bigotry of Hindu nationalists that we are witnessing emerge again under Narendra Modi in our neighborhood today.
During my life in the UK, I enjoyed full freedom to act according to my religion and go to mosques and community centres. Once, I covered a story in the main mosque in Wolverhampton, which was built by the local community. Islamia School in London was an initiative of Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) and today gives Islamic education to many British Muslims.
Muslim Council of Britain in the UK is another channel of helping Muslims not just in the UK but in Europe. When I worked there, I found out there was a government-funded helpline to solve problems and questions of Muslims based on their religion.
For instance, once I got a call from a girl who wanted to give her grandmother a Muslim burial but did not know-how and the helpline assisted her by providing her active support and getting her in touch with the relevant people.
A state which we believe came as a gift of God – did we not make Pakistan in respect for minorities after the majority in British India eroded our rights?
At my university, during my class lectures in Ramadan, the teacher would take a special break for ten minutes so Muslims could break the fast. When I worked at a private firm, my Jewish colleagues used to bring me chocolates for iftar. This small gesture always made me pray for them and brought a smile to my face.
When I worked at Eastern Eye, an ethnic British newspaper, my office was opposite a mosque, and I used to go there to offer my prayers. At times, my non-Muslim colleagues will remind me regarding my prayer time if I was getting late.
They were even sensitive enough to bring me halal food when we had had lunches together. One of my birthday parties that I celebrated with my university friends became memorable as my non-Muslim friends decided not to drink that day to respect my faith. My best memories in the UK, are of course those when my father would visit me.
A staunch religious practitioner, he loved shopping with us in central London, as he could always take his prayer breaks at nearby mosques. Moreover, whenever I needed to research an Islamic issue, I could go to the library next to the central mosque.
Does suppression suit our character?
The reason I am sharing my personal experiences is that I have a question based on human behaviour. Social science stresses the importance of human interaction and inclusiveness. While we enjoyed religious freedom in other countries, could we deny this to others in our country? A state which we believe came as a gift of God – did we not make Pakistan in respect for minorities after the majority in British India eroded our rights?
Islam spreads around the world because of the upright character and tolerant and helpful nature of practicing Muslims. Suppression is not only dangerous; it does not suit our Muslim character. All hope lies now on the decision by the Council of Islamic Ideology