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Religious tolerance and human identity

Published: 
Monday, August 27, 2018

Can you imagine a world where every single person had one religion, one belief, one culture, one set of traditions, and opinions? What a dull and boring world that would be! Trinidad and Tobago is surely recognised as having the most diverse set of people, and our culture and traditions are loved throughout the world. At companies where I’ve worked over the years, I’ve interacted with international visitors from far and wide who were all amazed by our diversity, and always requested a taste of roti and doubles before they left. Yet religious tolerance, especially for Hinduism, is elusive in this country.

About a week ago in a shopping area of Chaguanas, a small group of Afro-Trinidadian women were discussing how Hindus does pray to statues and idols (to put it kindly). They spoke louder as I grew closer with a friend and continued with their lack of knowledge in Hinduism.

My only response was: I’ve never heard a pundit condemn or criticise another religion during any discourses in a temple, or a Hindu try to persuade someone to convert, so if praying to statues and idols teaches us to be tolerant of others, respectful to our parents and elders, and make sacrifices so our children can have a good education, then we must be doing something right. They had no response unless it came behind our backs.

You see, while I’m no expert on the topic, Hinduism appears to be the most misunderstood religion. But we never doubt that there is only one God, even in different forms. Simply put, your mother is a mother to you, but she is also a sister, an aunt, a wife, a friend, an employee, a neighbour, and so much more. Does that change the fact that she’s just one person? The role she plays in your life differs from that of someone else.

In Hinduism, the different manifestations of one God represent different forms, not different Gods – just like a mother has different roles.

In fact, anything East Indian has always been degraded. I remember my first day of primary school when I had sada roti and pumpkin for lunch and I felt so ashamed to eat it, that I kept it hidden in my bag, sneaking a bite when no one was looking. Indian music was a joke because no one understands it, yet it’s okay to enjoy Latin music or music in any other foreign language. And it has become exhausting hearing about statues and idols, or the plethora of Gods we pray to, because of ignorance and intolerance.

My only hope and intention for writing this is to remind us all that Trinidad and Tobago is a beautiful place only because of who we are and how we’ve all evolved over the years. Today, people are lining up to buy roti and East Indian clothing has become fashionable and sought after. If we are to continue evolving as a nation, then we should respect each other’s religion, culture and beliefs; it’s not something to be toyed with.

A melting pot can only be claimed as such when several ingredients are added together, but if those individual ingredients disappear, then you can never taste it again. For instance, there would be no getting together at each other’s homes to celebrate Divali, Eid, or Christmas. There will be no doubles, roti, bake and shark or pelau. And there will be no Carnival, parang or river lime. Who or what will be the deciding factor in what prevails in lieu of it.

We should all be mature and sensitive enough to know that you do not degrade other people’s religion, culture and beliefs, even if you are blindly willing to proclaim yours as superior. It’s not one’s religion that creates problems, it’s the handful of people who choose to misinterpret or misrepresent it.

I’ll sum it up with a quote from the late great Muhammad Ali: “We all have the same God, we just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans all have different names, but they all contain water.

So do religions have different names, and they all contain truth, expressed in different ways forms and times. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.”

Vashti Bowlah
via email

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