I am a Muslim. He is a Hindu. Nearly 25 years ago, when our society was more conservative than it is today, our grandmothers tied the knot of life-long friendship, referred to as miteri saino in Nepal, between us.
At that time, neither I nor he knew the difference between Islam and Hinduism. It was not my choice to be a Muslim, nor was it his choice to be a Hindu. We grew up together, and we still celebrate our friendship free of any religious prejudices. But when I read or hear about sectarian violence, I wonder why people following separate religions cannot be friends like us.
I and my friend, Ram Narayan Gupta, looked somewhat similar when we were children. That was why our grandmothers made us friends. We always valued our friendship beyond religion.
I came to Kathmandu for higher education, but I still visit my friend in the village at least twice a year to celebrate Eid and Holi. Some Hindus do not drink water touched by their Muslim neighbours. Some Muslims do not drink water in Hindu households. But Ram Narayan and me eat together, without fearing religious consequences. My Eid is joyless without my Hindu friend. His Holi is joyless without me, a Muslim. He always cooks halal meat whenever I visit him.
A few months ago, my friend invited me to his marriage ceremony. I took leave from my office to attend his wedding in Bisrampur of Parsa district. I reached home, dropped my bags, and went to my friend’s house. He had bought me a sherwani, his relatives wanted to apply henna on my hand. I felt shy, but they insisted. And I had to comply.
The next day, I accompanied my friend to bring home his bride. I sat next to him right through all the Hindu rituals. The priest chanted Hindu mantras for hours, which was different to my culture. In Muslim society, the Maulana needs no more than a few minutes to complete the ritual of marriage.
It is not just marriage that sets us apart from Hindus. We bury our dead, they cremate theirs. We need to take bath before participating in last rites, they take bath only after taking part in funeral. Allah is the only god to us, the Hindus have countless gods. In spite of these differences, we have been friends over the last two decades. Our inter-religious friendship flourished because we always respected each other’s faith. The azan’s call blaring out of the loud speaker of our mosque never disturbed him. The ringing bells at their temples never irritated me.
We have learnt to value our interfaith friendship and religious harmony from our parents. Even now, when the Hindus in our village organise a religious yagya, we Muslims always contribute. When we build a mosque, they are ready to help us. But I feel Nepali society’s traditional harmony is now being divided by caste, ethnicity and religious groups. If we cannot nip it in the bud, we will regret losing our historical religious coexistence.