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Beauty of secularism

Beauty of secularism

Author: The Colonel
Publication: The Week
Dated: January 31, 2007

Introduction: As officers, we always respected the religions of the troops we commanded

When I was working with a pub­lication group, I visited the famous Sabarimala temple in con­nection with the release of a book on this temple. The chief priest of the temple was very courteous and allowed me to go as far as a Christian like me was permitted.

I took up a vantage position and stood respectfully watching the pil­grims go past to pay their respect to the deity. The queue was beyond five miles. The devout and intense faces of the pilgrims as they were almost pushed past the deity will always remain deeply etched in my memory for all times to come.

As the deity was located in a niche in depth, the pilgrims could see the deity only when one is right in front for a split second. Few who missed sighting the deity in the melee attributed their disappointment to their improper fast, and resolved to come back the next year.

A fanatical Christian friend remarked to me that I had broken the First Commandment by being reverential to the deity. I told him that as an ex-Army officer, I am exempted from this sin!

As officers, we always respected the religions of the troops we commanded and often went to their temples, mosques and gurdwaras. Prior to this Sabarimala trip, I was a casual Christian who often attended church services, standing outside or at best occupying the last pews. But seeing the deep faith of my Hindu brethren as seen by their body language of folded hands and intense looks, I too became a changed man, a better Christian. I made a decision then and there that henceforth I would attend church with proper respect.

The very next week there was a wedding in the family. My relations expected me to be outside the church as usual regaling them with bawdy army humour free of cost. Instead I was kneeling inside the church with folded hands and closed eyes in a pose of deep meditation. I had taken the first hesitant step to be a good Christian.

At the wedding reception, my young niece Sangeeta who had watched my unusual exercise in piety questioned me on my metamorphosis. I related my Sabarimala experience to her at my anecdotal best in the presence of her mother and her grandmother. My witnessing had a dramatic effect; Sangeeta was almost in tears and her grandmother remarked that Sangeeta would never forget this incident in her life.

The recent trip of Pope Benedict to Turkey stands for all that is best in secularism. The Pope agreed to an unscheduled visit to the famed Blue Mosque at Istanbul at the invitation of the maulvi. The Blue Mosque had always been a bone of contention between Christians and Muslims as it was earlier a Christian Church, Hagia Sophia, one of world's marvels of engineering. At the mosque the maulvi prayed. The Pope stood by reverently and also prayed. After the visit he remarked. "After all, we wor­ship the same God". It was indeed a most beautiful statement.

Had his predecessor realized the beauty of secularism 1224, the Fourth Crusade would not have tak­en off. And Constantinople would not have been sacked with the massacre of hundreds of Muslims and fel1ow Christians aggravating the East-West schism of 1054 in Christianity.

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