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People always think that India, the second most-populous nation on this planet, is full of Hindus. But that’s not true. Hindus constitute 80.5 percent of India’s total population of 1.21 billion people. The rest comprise Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs. Many people outside India do not know much about India’s Muslims.
Several Indonesian eyebrows were raised when for the first time, Indonesians were invited to a breaking the fast event from Indian Ambassador to Indonesia Gurjit Singh.
“India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia,” Ambassador Singh said at the event, which was held recently at his residence.
Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and 200 other public figures, senior journalists, officials and intellectuals attended the event.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2011 report on the global Muslim population, India had 177.28 million Muslims in 2010, more than the populations of Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates combined. Yet, Muslims are a minority group in India, constituting 14.6 percent of the country’s population.
As a secular country, Singh added, India had a composite culture with freedom of religion and equal opportunities. As clear proof of this claim, the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ambassador Singh himself are Sikhs, a minority religion in India. As far as Muslims are concerned, four of them — Zakir Hussain (1967-1969), Muhammad Hidayatullah (July 20, 1969-Aug. 24, 1969), Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (1974-1977) and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (2002-2007) — have been presidents of India. India’s current Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari is a Muslim who was reelected earlier this month.
The government’s commitment to supporting the Muslim minority is shown every year by providing more than US$100 million to subsidize the cost of haj pilgrimages. In 2009, the government spent $156.52 million on pilgrimages by 120,131 Muslims. Last year, the government spent an average of $1,270 per pilgrim. Last year, 125,051 Indian Muslims performed the haj.
But, in a recent ruling, India’s Supreme Court announced that the haj subsidy should be abolished by 2022.
When asked how Indian Muslims celebrate Idul Fitri in India, Singh said the celebration was the same as in Indonesia but differed from area to area in terms of delicacies.
“India is a vast country and people have different food preferences. In the north, people make Idul Fitri dishes using wheat and other items. In the south, it is different. The common Idul Fitri dish is semia, a dish made of vermicelli, milk, sugar and spices,” Singh said.
Frequent communal clashes, the latest occurring in Assam province, project India in a bad light. Religious hatred is rarely behind the inter-religious clashes in which minorities often become victims, but local politics. India has a very long history of communal harmony. Now, that is under threat.
“What is at stake is the unity of our country. What is at the stake is communal harmony”, Prime Minister Singh said before parliament in New Delhi.