Kashmiri American Council
There is an interesting story in Islam about Abraham. Abraham, among Muslims as well as within Christianity and Judaism, is one of the most revered figures in ancient history, most respected because of his knowledge and understanding of God and his willingness to serve Him.
It so happened that Abraham had determined that he would not eat unless he had a guest to eat with him. He never ate unless there was someone to share his food with. Sadly, he went for a long time without a guest and became very hungry. He had not eaten for several days, whereupon he decided to go looking for someone to share a meal with.
One day he went into a forest. It was a very large forest, and he walked and walked, and for a long time he could find no one. Then, suddenly, he came upon an old man with a long beard sitting upon a large stone, and of course he did not hesitate.
"Sir," he said. "I have much food at my house. Why don’t you come and share a meal with me. We can sit down and share many things."
The old man no doubt thought that Abraham was a bit strange, and we must assume that, not having eaten in many days, he was probably somewhat delirious. There might be some risk in going anywhere with such a curious figure. People do sometimes carry with them some rather troublesome motives. Nevertheless, perhaps not having much to lose but a life that had mostly been spent, the old man agreed, and together they set out in the direction of Abraham’s home. Soon, Abraham, a devout man, began to discuss his feelings and beliefs about God. Little ever passed through his mind that he did not reflect through the prism of his religious beliefs and no doubt God’s will in such matters. So he asked the old man, "What is your religion?" "Religion?" the old man asked.
"What is religion?" "You have no religion?" Abraham probed, quizzically. "Religion is a belief in God. Where have you been?"
"And what is God?" asked the ancient. "I know nothing about this ‘God.’"
"God is the creator of everything," Abraham responded. "I walk and talk with him every day. He is my personal guide."
"I see," the old man said, frowning, worried now perhaps that he might have made a grave mistake in following someone who trembled and shook as he spoke and may even have appeared somewhat emaciated. "I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about," he said. "I have no such God. I am alone. I have been alone for many years. There is no one who talks to me." Certainly, by then, the fellow was beginning to believe that Abraham was not in his right mind.
Abraham, of course, was dumbfounded. He could not believe that anyone could say such a thing. A man who lives so completely in the company of God could hardly believe that anyone could not know at least something about the Almighty. In fact, it was so disturbing to him that he immediately stopped walking, and he turned to the old man and said, "I’m sorry, sir. I cannot take you home with me. I cannot take into my house a Godless man, a man who knows nothing about God." And Abraham and the old man parted company.
Immediately, Abraham felt a Presence, and he heard a familiar voice. "Abraham, my friend," God said. "Yes, my Lord."
"What have you just done?" God asked him.
"My Lord, I offered to take the gentleman home to share a meal, and I began to discuss my belief in you and my desire to honor you in all ways. But this man does not honor you. He does not acknowledge you. How can I take him into my house? I cannot do this."
God smiled upon Abraham and shook his head. "Abraham, my friend. I have had patience to put up with this man for 70 years. Why is it that you cannot put up with him for seven minutes?"
For a moment, Abraham thought to protest, but then he realized the irony in what God was saying. The truth was evident. Tolerance and forgiveness had always been fundamental to his way of thinking. One must tolerate those who do not share one’s beliefs, and treat them with the same respect as one gives to those who do. And Abraham turned back, and caught up with the old man and apologized, and together they made peace and went to Abraham’s abode and shared in the spirit of brotherhood and fellowship.
Islam has many stories like this, of course, and it speaks clearly to the misunderstanding that has persisted throughout the Western world that has stigmatized Muslims as a people ridden with extremism. People are being taught that Islam is a source of hate and intolerance. The story of Abraham emphasizes clearly the lies and untruths we find rampant about Kashmir, intentionally instigated by the enemies of peace and stability, where the belief has been fostered and encouraged quite falsely by certain factions that Hindus and Muslims are at war over religious differences. There is no war over religion. Muslims and Hindus have lived together for many centuries in harmony, sharing peacefully the same land and resources. To the extent that Muslims are themselves responsible for believing that religious differences underlie the problems between India and Kashmir or between India and Pakistan cannot be blamed upon Islam or any enmity over religious differences but upon an occupation by 700,000 Indian paramilitary troops in a state no bigger than Tennessee that has reduced life in Kashmir to mere subsistence as a consequence of a low intensity war that has gone on for 64 years by which Muslims and Hindus have been both afflicted. Policies and draconian laws instituted by India which enhance differences, heighten fear and create inordinate opportunities for widespread abuse of human rights are at fault.
War deprives all people of the ability to think rationally about their affairs. Every day is a day of suffering, of want, and of being without the proper necessities in life to be whole and to act and to think responsibly beyond survival itself. It is quite natural to feel anger when one wakes in the morning and realizes that he cannot even give his child bread and milk or safety from men who are willing, and have been given the complete discretion, to violate the very sanctity of life itself. Kashmir, more than most other countries in the world, has a deep and vibrant history in supporting tolerance and understanding. Any differences that might exist between the residents of Kashmir and the occupiers are exacerbated by such conditions which enflame passions that cannot help but seek, in this darkness of understanding, to find reasons why such practices have persisted for 64 years.
Such conditions cry out for a resolution. They demand that all parties in this conflict put aside such prejudices and narrow concerns and begin thinking about the needs of everyone involved and the desires of the people of Kashmir to live peacefully and meaningfully. Above all, those who hold the reins of power and have the prerogative to change these conditions simply by changing the language and narrative which describes such differences carry the primary responsibility for doing something to resolve such misunderstandings. Beyond the narrative, this war against human rights and justice must end. Those who seek to undermine stability in the region and create false differences and unnecessary conflict must be unmasked, and their true intentions revealed. The perpetual and insincere talk of dialogue must become productive and real solutions must be sought to end this conflict. At the very least, the will of the people of Kashmir must be honored, the integrity of their own culture and sovereignty must be acknowledged, and they must be given the right to determine their own future.
Paul Barrow is Director of Policy and Communications for United progressive.