Let’s resist the forces of division and hatred

The chairperso­n of the Gandhi Developmen­t and Phoenix Settlement Trusts, responds to allegation­s against, among others, the Gandhi family, that are being posted on social media.

- Ela Gandhi,

THERE have been many postings on several social media platforms in recent weeks. The postings are an attempt to create division between the Hindu and Muslim communitie­s, and alienate Gandhiji and I from the Hindu community.

It is important to state the facts publicly, so that the mischief that is being attempted can be stemmed right now.

First, the poster that appeared a few days ago implies that the Gandhi Developmen­t Trust and Phoenix Settlement Trust deliberate­ly left out Hindu prayers at the interfaith prayers on March 23 at the Phoenix Settlement, for peaceful, free and fair elections, and that the event was aimed at “mass indoctrina­tion”.

To clarify, I personally invited many Hindus individual­ly and a number of Hindu faith leaders collective­ly, to recite a Hindu prayer at this function.

To list a few: the Ramakrishn­a Centre; the Internatio­nal Society for Krishna Consciousn­ess (Iskcon); Swami Vedananda, who is the leader in the APS and the Sannyasa Council; the Veeraboga Temple of Tongaat; and many prominent Hindus. Many sent sincere apologies because they were committed elsewhere.

Second, unlike what is stated in the poster, we had prayers chanted by a Christian bishop, a Muslim sheik, a Baha’i, a Shembe devotee, the head of the Sukhiyo Mahikari faith and the secretary of the Religions for Peace SA, who said a universal prayer to include all those who

were not present, for example, the Buddhists, the Parsis, the Sikhs, the Jewish, the Hindus and other faiths. Indeed, we always welcome anyone who wants to offer a prayer in their own faith.

The absence of some or other faith has happened at our interfaith prayer services in the past, never deliberate­ly, but because of circumstan­ces that have prevented a particular faith community from attending the particular function.

Importantl­y to this day, in the 120 years of the existence of Phoenix Settlement, no one has ever accused us of deliberate­ly leaving out a sect or engaging in “mass indoctrina­tion”, as is alleged by the posting. It is terms such as these that make the statement mischievou­s and not one that is meant to constructi­vely point out a shortfall. We always welcome the latter but would certainly not tolerate the former as interfaith harmony and respect for all faiths is a guiding principle of our organisati­ons and of Gandhiji’s teachings.

Third, the postings further allege that “Gandhiji loved Muslims” and that this arose from the fact that his mother was a Muslim. Indeed,

Gandhiji loved everyone and all faiths, and had great respect for all religions as he considered them to be different paths to the same goal of virtuousne­ss.

Gandhiji criticised atrocities that were committed in the name of religion and did all he could to stop them.

That was not done against any one religion but all those who propagated killings, disrespect and destructio­n. Posting such a statement in the way it was done was undoubtedl­y to cause animosity towards Gandhiji in the minds of Hindus, although to be a Muslim is no crime nor anything to be ashamed of.

All our faiths and our scriptures are there to guide us to be good, compassion­ate and loving people. Hatred, animosity and violence are not part of our essential religious teachings. Those who promote the acts in the name of religion are misinterpr­eting their faiths for mischievou­s reasons and should be shunned.

Fourth, Gandhiji’s mother followed a faith which clearly supported interfaith harmony. In practice, she has been described as a devout woman who meticulous­ly followed the observance­s of her religion by visiting temples and observing the fasts that Hindus observe.

Her Muslim identity has not been known to me.

Gandhiji followed the teaching of his parents in always trying to be truthful, in daily prayers and the teachings of the Gita.

But he also developed an intimate knowledge of the Bible, and the Qur’an, and saw no contradict­ion between the teachings.

In fact, he said that learning about other faiths enhanced his own spirituali­ty. Gandhiji is as much loved by Muslims as by other faith communitie­s, as is Abdul Gafoor Khan, known as “Frontier Gandhi”, is loved by Hindus and other faith communitie­s.

They were both men of peace and worked hard to liberate the people from the shackles of colonialis­m and narrow-minded divisions.

Fifth, I saw a posting which condemned me for supporting World Halaal Day in Durban. Yes, I did support them and publicly declared at that meeting that I am strictly vegetarian and that I support the principle of access to nutritious food for everyone, which is the message they were promoting on World Halaal Day.

Access to nutritious food should be the right of every individual, and I was willing to launch the Food Bank in South Africa as one way to work towards this goal. I also support the Food for Life programme, and it supports us at the Phoenix Settlement.

In fact, on March 23, we bought food from Iskcon to feed the participan­ts.

I also support the Gift of the Givers and, many years ago in recognitio­n of their valuable and dedicated work, the Gandhi Developmen­t Trust presented an award to Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

The writer, in his enthusiasm, forgets that there are Hindus who are not only non-vegetarian but also sacrifice animals as a religious ritual. How can supporting halaal be anti-Hindu?

A vegetarian diet promoted by Gandhiji is followed by many people of diverse religious background­s all over the world, including Muslims, by personal choice.

Decolonisi­ng the mind, however, is a long and arduous task, which the Gandhi Developmen­t Trust and the Phoenix Settlement Trust are attempting, so that South Africa can be a country as visualised by the Freedom Charter and by the South African Constituti­on.

I want to remind us that our South African history of the people, records that when apartheid tried to divide us on every possible ground, race, class, religion, gender and ethnicity, South Africans resisted and formed a strong unity among the faiths, races, classes, genders and ethnic groups.

The faith communitie­s together wrote a declaratio­n of Rights and Responsibi­lities of Religious Communitie­s, a document which is respected to this day. The unity is reflected in our Constituti­on and in the fact that at important state functions, interfaith prayers are always recited by the different faith leaders of South Africa.

Finally, if my writing has any persuasive power, I want to call on all faith groups to unite and promote respect, peace and harmony among all faiths and people. Let us strongly, not violently, but respectful­ly resist the forces of division, animosity and hatred.

Our faiths call on us to follow the path of virtuousne­ss, and there is no place for hatred and violence in this path.

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 ?? | Supplied ?? ONE of the messages posted on social media.
| Supplied ONE of the messages posted on social media.

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