In Search of Minorities

Farwa Naqvi spent a day looking for Pakistan’s spiritual diversity around the capital

In Search of Minorities
The contemporary Mandir controversy in Islamabad and tensions around the place of minorities in society remind me of my interactions with the Hindu and Christian community around Independence Day, last year.

I was a trainee reporter for a news channel and had to curate a special cover-story for Independence Day. I thought of covering how the minorities of Pakistan celebrate Independence Day with other Pakistanis of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. For this, I had to shuttle about a lot, but could not seem to find a mandir in Islamabad where I could interact with the Hindu community. Little did I know that it was not allowed in the capital at that time. On contacting a Hindu colleague from Sindh to find the whereabouts of the Hindu community in the twin cities, I was sent to a mandir at the far end of Rawalpindi. The head Pandit of the mandir did not allow us to shoot there, as it was registered and would have been problematic for him.  Instead, he sent me off to a Hindu family, who had a mandir at their house. From there, we traveled some more and reached this modest-looking house with a flag of Pakistan on the outside and a mandir on the inside. I told the man of the house that so-and-so Pandit Ji had sent me but he treated me with respect and excitement – that runs through people on media interaction, regardless of the reference. He invited me inside the beautiful little mandir. It was then that I got to know that putting up huge statues of Hindu deities was not allowed, so they had instead put up picture frames, posters and small statues less than about the size of one hand.


Diwali in Lahore, 2018

I had to shuttle about a lot, but could not seem to find a mandir in Islamabad where I could interact with the Hindu community

What fascinated me the most about this interaction was that this man - who happened to be the brother of the head of All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat -  casually mentioned to me that he had just returned with his family from the town of Sehwan Sharif!

On my confusion, a smile played on his mouth and he asked his children to recite a Naat for me. Since he had an orchestra, the children were quick to perform a Naat for me. He told me how he loves to visit Muslim Sufi shrines with his family and celebrates Eid-Milad-Un-Nabi (PBUH) and other events of the Muslim community with zeal and vigour.

As I belong to a religious family whereby my family has an Imam Bargah and a Sufi shrine associated with them, as I named the shrine, he was quick to give me details of the place, telling me how he loves Imam Hussain (AS). In fact, he told me, part of his appreciation for me was due to my wearing silver ornament around my ankle that is associated with Hussainis. He asked me if I was a Hussaini and expressed his love and regard for the Prophet (PBUH) and his grandson. He also had a poster of a Sikh figure at his mandir whom he held in high regard.

These experiences touched me deeply and he made it to the list of favourite people that I had ever met. I felt ecstatic to know that this tolerance, acceptance and respect for other sects and religions experienced by this one man was not limited to him only - but he had very carefully planted and nurtured the seed of love in hearts and minds of his family and children as well.

I wonder how many Muslims in Pakistan are secure enough in their beliefs to allow their children to show interest in and celebrate religious events of another religion? At that time, my mind, that of a reporter, thought of this man as a great subject for another story but I am relieved that I did not curate one. One cannot really comprehend who will be offended in today’s Pakistan and what consequences one might expect.

I still recall how my Hindu interlocutor spoke about how he condemned the atrocities in Kashmir by the Indian Government and pleaded before international organizations to take notice. For Independence Day, his entire family sang Dil Dil Pakistan for us and reminded us how his ancestral women had sacrificed so much for this Independence. I also got the opportunity to witness a special pooja to pray for Pakistan.

Sweets on Christmas

This man and another Hindu friend, whenever they meet me or speak on a phone call, say “Asalamualaikum.” I told one just to say ‘hello’ and that he didn’t have to use a specific greeting. To which he replied, “No, I actually like it. I think it’s beautiful!”

Again I wonder how many Muslims can return such goodwill.

Next, I had to rush to a church. In Islamabad, there are many churches but anyone other than a Christian is not allowed there by the security. They said it was for security purposes on instructions of the Government. Panicked, I was trying to jot a reference when the office boy of that channel overheard me and offered to help. He happened to be a Christian, so he knew churches and people who could help. He called many pastors but no one wanted to be in the limelight. We went to many colonies and house churches with him where women and children were rehearsing for Independence Day performances but none of the pastors allowed them to interact with the media. I still remember how they wanted to be featured on TV but then they had concerns about their safety too.

I did not understand why there was an air of danger wherever I went to these communities with my mic. Now, I know better.

After a day full of hassle, we tiptoed into the streets of Christian Colony to be found by a pastor and his wife who were kind enough to arrange a meeting for us. They sang beautiful Christian songs for us while the children played instruments immaculately. The wife of the pastor spoke to the camera with enthusiasm and established that before being Muslim or Christian, we were Pakistani siblings first and everything else came second. Even this pastor asked me the same question: as to whether I was a Hussaini - and expressed deep love and respect for Imam Hussain (AS).

Both Hindus and Christians told me how they not only have Eid-Milaad-Un-Nabi (PBUH) festivities at their houses but also distribute Niaz on the tenth of Muharram and have majalis at their mandirs and churches.

Again I commence to wonder...

I looked for the Sikh community and could not find them for this report but on another day, while I was at my family shrine, I found a Sikh couple with their children: paying their regards in a Muslim shrine! What I could not find in the twin cities, I found at a place which was most unlikely and so close to me.

These experiences not only broadened my mental and emotional exposure but also contribute to my feelings of sadness at times when I hear about an adverse event that our minorities are subjected to. Hailing from a smaller sect of Islam, I have never felt so welcomed by my fellow Muslims as I have by these amazing people. In interaction with them, I truly felt that religion and sects do not have a lot to do with human interactions, it is always love and humanity that can be shared and expressed above everything else. Our faith is our personal matter but sadly, I am constantly reminded that South Asia operates on more antique rules.

The silver lining for me is after that report; I get invited to all the wonderful festivities being celebrated in the twin cities consistently, regardless of religion or sect. So now I have more occasions to celebrate and be happy than most others...