Fasting with Friends

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In a striking demonstration of communal harmony and friendship, people from different communities in India joined their Muslim friends to fast this Ramadan.
By Akhtar Ali

Kabir Choudhury, a Hindu stationery shop owner in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, has been observing rozas for 13 years. For nine years now, Sudha Agarwal has been observing the annual month-long fast. A resident of the northern Hindu holy town of Ayodhya, she said she began observing the Ramadan fasts after getting close to Muslim neighbours and religious leaders. “After my Muslim friends introduced me to some religious leaders at some Muslim shrines in this region, I used to visit them regularly to listen to their religious discourses and was impressed by the teachings of Islam. I wanted to follow some of the Muslim rituals and I chose roza,” Sudha told Khabar South Asia. Agarwal’s story is echoed by other Hindus who have taken up the practice. Like her, they say they were drawn to the ritual because of their closeness to Muslims. In West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, Kabir Choudhury said he has benefitted from performing the ritual for 13 years even though he is a devout Hindu.
“My Muslim employee used to fast during Ramadan. He was very religious and a very nice human being. I was so strongly influenced by him that I began fasting during Ramadan. Soon, I got rid of some of my chronic ailments and I know that this ritual is very good for health and mind,” the stationary shop owner told Khabar South Asia. “It made me feel the pain of the people who often go for days without a square meal. It awakened my heart to the sufferings of my fellow human beings. Roza has made me a good human being,” Choudhury said. Meanwhile, in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, a group of inmates reflected interfaith harmony Forty-five Hindu prisoners observed the Ramadan fasts since the first day, in solidarity with around 1,800 Muslim inmates. There are 13,000 prisoners in India’s largest prison, including around 3,500 Muslims. Every year, the prison authority makes special arrangements for those Muslims who observe the fast. “Authorities happily allowed Hindu prisoners to observe rozas to help promote strong bonds among prisoners”, said Tihar Jail spokesman Sunil Kumar Gupta.
“For all Muslims and Hindus who are observing the fast, we made special arrangements. Sehri and iftar traditional food items like special fruits, snacks, sherbet, etc. also were arranged along with regular dishes,” Gupta told Khabar. Nand Kishore, a Hindu prisoner in Tihar, said roza brought him closer to his Muslim friends.
“When my Muslim friends were fasting before me during the month of Ramadan, I felt very bad to take my meal during the day. So, I chose to fast the way they did. I strongly felt that my bond with those friends became stronger after I began observing roza,” Kishore, a convicted murderer serving a life term, told Khabar, through Gupta because he cannot speak to the media directly.