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My father, a Hindu, was given a Fez with a quote from the Koran inscribed inside by the then King of Morocco Mohamed V, an honour bestowed on few. When a Muslim Ambassador voiced his displeasure, the wise King answered that whereas the said ambassador was a Muslim by birth, my father was a Muslim by deed. There is no difference between a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Christian, a good Jew or even a good atheist. I must have been 6 or 7 then and this was possibly my first lesson in religion which to a child’s mind signified that all religions were equal and to be respected equally. The operative word was ‘good’. My parents never stopped my forays into other religions when as a child I wanted to go to church, fast during Ramadan or partake of a Sabbath meal with my friends of different faiths with the caveat that it should always be acceptable to them. So I grew up respecting all religions and accepting the one I was born in, with great enthusiasm because it seemed encompassing and so tolerant. What made the Hinduism I embraced so fervently special was that it was inclusive.

I am a believer in some greater force that men along the way chose to represent and celebrate in different ways. And though the rituals we followed at home were Hindu, my faith never stopped me from praying in different houses of God. Never would I have believed that one day I would have to put all this in question again.

It all began with the demolition of a mosque by believers of the very faith I followed. Destroying a house of God was not part of the brand of religion I followed. As years would go by I would be confronted by extremism in all shades and hues, an extremism that went against the very fibre of what religion meant to me.

In the past days one has witnessed attacks on churches and violence between neighbours simply because they worshipped another God. How does one explain this. And then there are the rabid sermons delivered by supposedly holy men and women who have taken upon themselves to issue diktats on your personal life: what you should or should not wear; how many children you should have; who you should love and above all who you should hate. I will not and cannot give the right to interfere in my  life to anyone, let alone some self proclaimed zealot.

The sad thing is that this is a world wide phenomena where even killing another is done in the name of religion. I want to know which God allows, exhorts and even rewards murder. None that I can think of; or any should you which to hijack him or her.

The one thread that linked all religions in a child’s mind, the notion of good, seems to have vanished altogether. I still try to hold on to it and preach in my own way, but there are few who want to listen. The very survival of the Hinduism I accepted with fervour and still practise can only survive if it allows me to respect all religions. If that is lost, then the entire edifice collapses like a house of cards.
In my entire life which has now entered in its final stage, I have followed my faith and will never give it up. I will still pray in churches and mosques if I wish to. And the alter in my home has pictures of Gods of all faith.

Religion is such a powerful tool to divide human beings and has been used since time immemorial to divide people and install fear and hate. It is so easy to manipulate men in the name of God. For the power hungry, its is a “god” sent arsenal. The proliferation of self proclaimed fanatics the world over are ample proof to this. It is time we rejected all this nonsense and reclaimed our right to worship God as he or she should.

My land is replete with examples of how irreverent religion has become. In a land that worships Goddesses with so called devoutness, girls and women are treated as lesser beings and dismissed with contempt and impunity. In place of the all encompassing religion I grew up with, one witnesses a pathetic and small divisive religion that I refuse to acknowledge.

I still believe that the religion I was born in, is infused with values of tolerance and respect, where humanity is celebrated with every breath I take.

Religion is between me and my God and no one is allowed to intrude.

That is the lesson of the blessed Fez.

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To the manor born