In Salman Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown, a Muslim boy and a Hindu (Pandit) girl are in love. When the matter is brought to the attention of their parents as well as the panchayat, nobody finds anything seriously wrong. Abdullah, the boy’s father, mentions Kashmiriyat, “the belief that at the heart of Kashmiri culture there was a common bond that transcended all other differences.” Pyarelal Kaul, the girl’s father added, “There is no Hindu-Muslim issue. Two Kashmiri (…) youngsters wish to marry, that’s all.”
This is the Kashmir of the early 1960s as presented by Rushdie. Half a century later, we know how far Kashmir is from such a broadminded understanding of religion and life.
It’s not a problem confined to Kashmir or a few places. The more the world advances towards the utopian global village, the more the people’s minds seem to shrink. A recent New York Times report lays bare the bigotry of a Lutheran pastor in America. The pastor had to apologise for participating in an interfaith service. His explanation highlights the bigotry that plagues the Lutheran church. He explained that he had spent hours with his congregation educating them about the differences between Lutheran teaching “and the teachings of false religions such as Islam or Baha’i,” both of which had clergy members at the interfaith service. (emphasis added)
What can an interfaith service mean if the participants come with such prejudices? It will only be a mere sham meant to hoodwink people into accepting a pseudo tolerance of other religions. Such hypocrisy will not achieve any noble goal. It’s better to live in the small circle of one’s own religion than pretend to make friends with believers from other religions. Pretensions are more lethal than open bigotry.
The bigots should not stretch out hands of pretended friendship. As one of Rushdie’s characters says in the novel quoted above, “Why not stand still and draw a circle round your feet and name that Selfistan?” Bigots should be confined to their own Selfistans.