The Day When Mohini Giri and I Broke Ramzan Fast Together
This year Ramadan has fallen during during the hottest and most humid time of year. Two thirds of the month is over; there are ten days to go. These ten are the most difficult days. Difficult for two reasons. One because energies are running at the lowest ebb. Second because these mark the shahadat of the fourth Khalifa Hazrat Ali and therefore three days of deep mourning for Shias of the world.
Ali was the Prophet's cousin and the first convert to Islam. It is recorded that after the first lines of the Quran were revealed at the Cave of Hira, the Prophet stood before the hostile crowd of Mecca and gave them glad tidings of a new faith that enjoins belief in one Allah instead of a multitude of gods they had been worshipping from times long gone. The name of Mohammad's God was Allah, which was not new. It was the name one of hundreds of pre Islamic gods they worshipped. Allah is singled out as the one and only who has no 'shareek' (sharer) who is begotten by none and who begets none. All other gods are thereby rejected and Mohammad is His messenger. 'Will anyone in this crowd come with me on this path of enlightenment?' the Prophet asked. There was not a murmur in the crowd. No one came forward. Then a small voice of a thirteen year old boy was heard. 'I take the pledge with you O Mohammad'. This was Ali Ibn e Abu Talib who rose to take the pledge. Then repeat it again and again while the crowd seethed with anger and disbelief. Ali along with the Prophet's beloved wife Hazrat Khadijah and his faithful companion Hazrat Abu Bakr became the first Muslims.
As long as the Prophet lived, Ali never left his side. In the battles of Badr, Uhud and Khandaq he stood as a shield for his beloved brother and master. When the Meccans stood with naked swords to assassinate the Prophet under cover of the night, it was Ali who slept in his bed while the Prophet, as ordained, performed the Hijrat from Mecca to Medina. The words that Ali spoke about that night became immortal as the man himself. 'Never have I had a sweeter sleep than that night when I smelt his fragrance in the sheets under which I lay'.
This is the aura that imbues these days of Ramadan. And Ali towering person fills the imagination. This results from the three attributes in which he excelled. Adl, meaning Justice, Aql, meaning understanding and Amal, meaning action. Each one of them are essential for one who will lead the growing tribe of the Ummah. It is also for this reason that all Sufis in the world claim to draw their lineage from the one 'fount of wisdom' Ali.
These was my state of mind when I went to break my fast with my friend Mohini Giri who has great reverence for my faith. For me she is the symbol of our eclectic culture our Ganga Jamni Tehzeeb. As chair of National Commission for Women she took me with her all over this vast country to intervene in issues of gender injustice. As member NCW I was her most ardent student but what created our everlasting bond was the parallel practice of our respective faiths. Each morning when I got up for my namaz, she was reciting her shlokas in her beautiful voice. We prayed together and apart. For me that mirrored Quranic Ayat about the beauty of mutual respect. 'Lakum Dinakum Walia din' meaning To you your faith, to me mine. Two women, on Hindu one Muslim on a mission for half India, were exemplifying Quran's way.
Our Iftar with Mohini began with khajoor and cooling buttermilk. What followed was a Tamil and Andhra cuisine, all ideal for breaking the fast. Around her table were women Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee. Apart from Delhi, they came from Andhra, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, UP. Between eight of us we covered many parts and religions. No one could hear the Azaan but at the appointed time prayer mats were spread for those who wanted to pray. In the room hung pictures of Hindu deities. Mohini made sure that our direction was the blank wall, Islam does not believe in praying before images or pictures. Her care for every detail of my worship is what I consider the core of true faith.
I recalled then the lines of the 19 Century reformist poet Maulana Altaf Husain Hali which express the significance of Mohini's Iftar for our present state of existence in this country, where forces counter to harmony are tearing us apart.
Tum agar chahte ho mulk ki khair
Na kisi hamwatan ko smajho ghair
Sabko meethi nigaah se dekho
Smajho aankhon ki putliyan sabko
Mulk hai ittefaq se Azad
Quom hai ittefaq se Abaad
Mulk mein ittefaq hota agar
Khaatey auron ki thokrein kyunkar?
In simple words which need no translation, the poet has echoed the sentiments of that day when we all broke fast together.