Throughout the world and throughout history religion above all things has been the biggest killer, with each religion fighting for secular and spiritual supremacy. However, in a small corner of India a few days ago five people showed the world what they should be doing. All five of us came from varying backgrounds; two New York Jews, one Muslim from Kashmir, a German Islamic convert and me, yet we all sat down together to celebrate the end of Yom Kippur. We shared the Latkes (made by Sahera, the German Muslim) and whilst covering our heads with makeshift skullcaps (including a piece of paper and a wallet) we all said a Yiddish prayer. As we said the prayer I looked around with utter amazement as my brain tried to process what my eyes were seeing. I can say with strong confidence that such an undertaking would not happen in many other places in the world, mutual respect is a rare creature in a world full of violent beasts.
Since arriving in India I have been awash with different religious celebrations, all of which have been heart-warmingly welcoming. I recently attended His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s teachings, sat amongst monks that I taught a few years ago we listened to the holiest man in Buddhism teaching in English about religious co-existence. You could see the preaching already in action with suited men sat besides penniless nuns, Hindus next to Christians, Jews sat shoulder to shoulder with Muslims, all sat smiling and talking to one another. We all sat on the floor sharing Tibetan bread and ‘trying’ to drink Tibetan tea (made with butter instead of milk), no one higher than the other, everyone as equals, such a sight would make anyone pinch themselves to check if they were dreaming. I also celebrated the Islamic festival of Eid ul-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, which involved the consuming of colossal amounts of food. The Islamic people throughout town hugged each other warmly wishing them a happy Eid, calling their families back in war-torn Kashmir and sharing delicious Indian sweets with everyone in town irrespective of colour or creed. As we sat down all together that evening to eat astoundingly good chicken and mutton curries I truly felt a part of the Muslim celebrations.
Religious ignorance is a disease that has infected all corners of society, with people hating an entire religious movement based on a speck of knowledge of it. Since the horrific day of 9/11 people across the world but especially America havebeen suffering a hatred of all Muslims. Hate crimes soared after that day and have yet to dissipated, simply because they think that a few people on a plane citing the name of Allah represent the beliefs of all Muslims. In McLeod religious ignorance is none existent with the vast mixture of religions living peacefully, after 9/11 there weren’t fights or fires in the town because everyone already understood what Islam actually means. Without a shadow of a doubt if the rest of the world could emulate the perfect example of religious respect and harmonious co-existence that McLeod Ganj is setting the entire world would be a far more peaceful place.