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Hope and Renewal at Ayodhya

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Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, August 17— One of India’s decades-old religious battles was the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya of Uttar Pradesh. Infamous as the ground zero of what came to be known worldwide as the “Hindu-Muslim dispute” that peaked with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the issue was finally put to rest in the landmark verdict in November 2019 by the Supreme Court which ordered the disputed land to be handed over to a Hindu trust to build the Ram Temple, along with a five-acre land given to Muslims to build the mosque at a separate place.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi consecrated a silver brick to mark the foundation ceremony of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on August 5, 2020. Just as the nationally televised ceremony came to an end, messages of peace and communal harmony reverberated from loudspeakers of mosques and temples alike in the ancient city, which has been traditionally known for its syncretic culture and religious harmony.

This documentary by Pluc TV/South Asia Monitor with support of Frank Islam Foundation highlights the syncretic culture and religious harmony in Ayodhya

Iqbal Ansari, son of Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant from the Muslim side supporting the Babri Masjid claim, says: “There has never been any dispute between Hindu and Muslim residents of Ayodhya. It was always a title dispute between Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (Hindu and Muslim litigants).”

He recounts his father’s close relations with Mahant Paramahans Ramchandra Das, who was the Hindu litigant.

“On one side there was Hashim Ansari, a Muslim, and on the other was Paramahans Ramchandra Das, a Hindu. What is not known is that they would travel together and they never fought on the way to a hearing,” says Iqbal Ansari.

Mahant Suresh Das of Digambar Akhara, echoes Ansari: “Hashim Ansari shared a special bond with Paramahans Ramchandra Das. They would travel in the same rickshaw together. The fight may have been related to the disputed land, but their personal friendship always remained intact.”

A prime example of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood in Ayodhya is Mohammad Azam, who makes the traditional khadau (wooden slippers) for the Hindu monks.

“The work of making khadau has been passed down generations. Once the temple is built, thousands will come to visit Ayodhya and that would lead to the development and a rise in our incomes,” says Azam.

There are eight mosques and two mausoleums located close to the 70-acre Ram Temple premises, where one can hear a blend of Azaan and Ramayana chants.

Sadiq Ali, an eyewitness of Babri Masjid demolition, says: “What is little known to the outside world is that the feeling of communal harmony is ingrained in Ayodhya between the Hindus and Muslims. They have lived together in peace. We have shared community spaces, broken Ramazan fasts during Iftaar, embraced each other during Eid Milans, conducted the recital of Hanuman Chalisa together and preached the message of brotherhood during our festivals.”

Munir Abdi, a local Muslim, says: “If this is the birthplace of Ram, it is also the home to Ganga-Jamuni Tahzeeb, a popular metaphor for India’s syncretic culture. The reason, why this place is a paragon of communal harmony, is because there never have been any communal violence in the town itself (implying that the violence associated with Ayodhya was the work of outsiders).”

The Supreme Court verdict was welcomed by both communities.

Sadiq Ali further says: “The Holy Ram Temple will be built. Lord Ram is a deity for everyone, not just the Hindus. Indian Muslims refer to Lord Ram Imam-e-Hind. If you walk on the path set by Lord Ram, then there won’t be any quarrel.”

Yogendra Pandey, a local resident, says: “We were delighted to witness the foundation stone laying of the temples by the Prime Minister. The foundation stone represents both the communities and there is no dispute in that. Ayodhya hasn’t seen any discord among locals, and will not see one in the future.”

The construction of the grand Ram Temple at Ayodhya is expected to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and harmony. This is the time for a new beginning.

“The bonds between Hindus and Muslims are stronger than the differences that sometimes drive them apart,” says renowned Indian-American entrepreneur and thought leader Frank Islam.

Reverend Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama had once said: “I believe that the only true religion consists of having a good heart.”