Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I was surprised to learn that Islam came to India long before the Muslim invasions. It was a balmy day in Kuwait and our guests were discussing the similarities between South Indians and Kuwaiti’s. Another new fact came into light; it was the trading of spices that led Arabs to the Malabar Coast in South India. Back in the 7th century it was merely an Islamic influence that could be felt; the invasions of course reinforced the faith firmly on Indian soil. This inclusion added further to India’s colorful culture and people. It was the trader families of Kerala and other parts of the Malabar Coasts that were the closest to their Arab business associates, and this closeness led to a slow conversion into Islam. In Malabar the Mappilas may have been the first community to convert to Islam.
Today, 16.4% of India is Muslim. They have contributed considerably to the fields of performing arts, crafts, politics, education and business ventures. Some of India’s leading literary giants, artists, film stars and leaders are Muslim and this alone makes Indian society a diverse and enriched structure. India’s most famous landmark the Taj Mahal is a classic example of Islamic architecture and construction prowess.
The union of so many faiths is felt most during festival season. Diwali follows Eid and Christmas follows Diwali. For almost 3 months, India is in a blanket of faith, celebration and thanksgiving. Eid is a Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a strict fast, they do not eat from sunrise to sunset, and some don’t even have water. They donate generously, participate in charitable activities and promote a sense of peace and unity. It is a time of spiritual renewal for those who observe it. At the end of the month, Muslims throughout the world observe an exciting three day celebration called Eid ul Fitr. A common practice is for people to stay up and watch the full moon rise on the night on Eid. The day of the festival, a typical Muslim family wakes up early and does the first prayer of the day. They then attend prayers in mosques, parks, stadiums and arenas. The crowd greets and embraces each other as a gesture of love and celebration. The festivities continue at people’s homes after the congressional prayer. Special sweets and foods are prepared for friends and family. The finest clothes and jewelry are the highlights of the day. This is an occasion with great religious significance; the celebration is jubilant and hearty. It is a day of forgiveness, peace, brotherhood and unity. Muslims also mark this day with thanks to God for his guidance and blessings bestowed upon them.
Ultimately we all seek the same things from our faith – security, a sense of belonging, peace of mind, the love of God and a prevalence of brotherhood.