In 1978, fate would take me to what we Muslims believe is the House of God or Allah, the black cube in Mecca built by the patriarch Abraham and his son Ishmael on the instructions of the divine.
Countless times I circumambulated the holiest structure of Islam; twice as a Haji, simply fascinated by the millions moving in the vast open space; murmurs of their prayers in hundreds of accents of Arabic, as if they were the hands of a clock.
As a Muslim of Indian ancestry, I decided I would begin 2020 with a visit to the closest place I could get to the God of the Hindus, or the site that represents the avatar who represents the trinity of Gods among the millions of deities that my Hindu sisters and brothers embrace as individual choices with no sword of blasphemy hanging over their heads or a hangman’s rope of apostate killers.
The question was this: How could one visit and pay homage to a Hindu God? As a Muslim, I was used to seeing God in abstract, but my Hindu ancestors knew the divine through deities, statues and carvings on majestic temples.
So last week I headed to the historic city of Ayodhya, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where the most beloved and worshipped god of Hindustan, Lord Rama, was born thousands of years ago as the reincarnation of Vishnu (the preserver) who along with Shiva (the destroyer) and Brahma (the creator) form the Hindu Trinity.
Unlike the Kaaba that has rarely seen conflict, notwithstanding its destruction by the Umayyad Arab Caliphs of Damascus in the 8th century, the birthplace of Lord Rama known as ‘RaamJanamBhoomi’ was, unfortunately, one of the earliest victims of the barbaric invasions of India that began in 711 AD and continued well into the 19th century when Sikhs took the fight to the enemy and took over parts of Afghanistan itself.
The founder of the Mogul Empire, Zahiruddin Babar, a petty warlord born in Uzbekistan, invaded India in the 16th century and to leave his mark of contempt towards the Hindus demolished the grand temple that marked Raam’s birthplace in the year 1527 and had a mosque bearing his name over the ruins.
Since that time, the Hindus of India have never gotten over this humiliation of their favourite and beloved Ram, his wife Sita, that are central characters of the Indian classic Ramayana.
After a lethal, legal and religious battle that dragged through the centuries, it came down to the Indian Supreme Court in November 2019 to make it clear in no uncertain words:
The Babri Mosque was constructed over a demolished temple. Evidence to support this claim came from excavations by a Muslim archaeologist K.K. Muhammad. This cleared the way for the reconstructing of a new Temple where Lord Ram, his wife Sita, his brother Laxman and Ram’s devotee Hanuman will appear again in public so Hindus can shower their respect and love to the creator and the symbol of the ideal human.
But what I saw on my visit to Ayodhya and Lord Raam’s birthplace was miles of barbed wire, thousands of troops, and when I reached the historic place guarded by a peacock, I was deeply saddened by the sight.
The fear of armed attacks by my co-religionists stung by the Supreme Court decision had forced Ram and Sita to be hidden in protective custody, where one could barely see them.
It reminded me of my days in a Pakistani prison. No God should ever be held in captivity for his own protection.
For those who yell ‘Islamophobia’ at the slightest sign of unintended insult, remember: If horses can fly, so can monkeys.
If you don’t like people who worship stone idols, stop worshipping stone structures yourself.
Note: This article was originally published on Toronto Sun.