Salim Mirza is not a celebrity. He is not an actor. He is not a politician. Mirza, like you and me, is a layman. He is a bus driver. Terrorists struck his bus at Anantnag, when he was plying Amarnath pilgrims from Baltal to Jammu, in Jammu and Kashmir. The Gujarat-based bus driver saved the lives of over 50 people during the attack.
Naturally, Mirza was applauded for his courage and presence of mind. In the face of the currently prevalent religious disharmony, the civilian hero was hailed for saving the lives of his fellowmen. The thought of his religion or the religion of the pilgrims had not occurred to him. Mirza himself conveyed as much to the media. Clearly, in the face of death, religion had not mattered.
Mirza’s story is a beacon of hope in an increasingly intolerant society. Such a deed certainly kindles goodwill amongst people. Head priest of the Fire Temple in Bangalore, Fardoon Karkaria says, “No religion is inherently violent. Some people misinterpret the teachings and pollute the world with their immoral thoughts. By practising the principle of live and let live, we can truly make the world a better place.”
“What matters is whether a particular expression of faith inspires and guides us in our evolution toward unconditional love of God. Sadly, the Supreme Being, whom most faiths exalt as the greatest, is often imagined to be petty and partial to one group to the exclusion of all others. This misunderstanding of God’s nature can manifest in every spiritual tradition, including my own.”
However, one cannot discount the fact that religions have frequently formed the basis for intolerance and violence. It is hard to place where such hatred stems from. After all, spiritual beliefs or religious texts do not endorse contempt for differences in belief systems.
In an attempt to explain the roots of religious intolerance, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ (ISKCON) H H Radhanath Swami writes in his book Journey Within: “What matters is whether a particular expression of faith inspires and guides us in our evolution toward unconditional love of God. Sadly, the Supreme Being, whom most faiths exalt as the greatest, is often imagined to be petty and partial to one group to the exclusion of all others. This misunderstanding of God’s nature can manifest in every spiritual tradition, including my own.”
The truth is not all of us understand religion. Sometimes, religious beliefs can stem from doctrines that are often considered sacrosanct. Whereas, spiritual aspects of religions are rooted in values, ethics, and goodness. Not long ago, Sri Vishwesha Theertha Swami of Pejawar Mutt had invited the Muslim community to break their Ramadan fast at a harmony meeting inside the Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt complex. The seer had sought to foster communal harmony. Unfortunately, his good intention did not go well with religious fundamentalists. His stand on religion and culture was questioned, as he was blamed for “creating disharmony” in society. It was probably a case of spirituality facing the wrath of religiosity.
Such intolerance could arise from irrational prejudices and misconceptions about religions. Media professional Prem Paul Ninan says, “All religions have the same intent–to instil values and honour the fundamental right to life. Those who are intolerant are probably those who don’t know their religion well enough.”
It is a pity that this intolerance has led to strife and hatred. Questioning people’s food habits, way of life and views on religion isn’t doing any good to humankind. For instance, lynching people for their food habits, beating up individuals for their choices in life and sacrificing lives in the name of religion all point to our failures as human beings. However, it’s heartening to see that the reality is not all grim. Recently, a medley of Indian and Pakistani national anthems sung by singers from both countries went viral on social media. In Malappuram district of Kerala, Shree Lakshmi Narasimha Murthy Vishnu Temple hosted iftar for the Muslim community on the temple premises. Just like Salim Mirza, Sri Vishwesha Theertha Swami, and the artistes, trustees of the temple transcended religious barriers to uphold humanity above all else. The rest of us would do well to emulate them.