Tracing Islamic heritage in Assam

There are many sites in Assam where one finds masjids or dargahs built alongside Hindu temples and this northeastern state also witnesses participation of both communities in many religious activities. Giving a peek into this cultural harmony was a documentary Islamic Heritage in Assam that was recently screened at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Directed by noted filmmaker and theatre actor Abdul Majid, the 56-minute film captured various aspects of indelible Islamic presence in Assam. These ranged from the formation of the Muslim community in Assam since 1205-6 to invasions and post-invasion settlements; from migrations, including sponsored migration during the time of Ahom kings from Shuhungmung to Rudra Simha, and from tapping lives of Sufi saints to tracing creative heritage, folk songs and traditions of this community.

While the documentary traced these varied aspects of Islam, it also threw light on how Muslims and Hindus co-exist in this region and take part in each other’s religious activities. So we have an example of a Hindu carpenter carving Islamic calligraphy in a mosque and of a Muslim man contributing in building a Kali temple. As Abu Nasar Saied Ahmed, researcher of the project shares, “Assam is a classic case of interfaith healthy relationship which needs to be celebrated and promoted.”

“It might look odd in other parts of India but in Assam, many Hindus participate in performing Islamic devotional songs and similarly many Muslims take part in performing Hindu devotional songs and dances,” Ahmed tells Metrolife.

Not just participation, there are strong influences of Hindi religious practices in Muslims rituals. Explaining this Ahmed elucidates, “In the case of cultural life of the Muslims of present-day Bangladesh, the Muslim migrants, both invasion-related and sponsored migrants, married Hindu women.”

“The language, culture, folk tradition and actually everything of the life-cycle events of the Muslims from the second generation of the migrant settlers had been influenced by their mothers, who happened to be Hindus,” he adds, saying except for the religious practices of the Muslims, based on the five pillars of Islam, the social life of the Muslims even today is determined by the folk tradition.

This harmony of the two communities also comes in the forefront during the annual Monikut Utsab which takes place in Hajo, 35 km away from Guwahati, in mid-February on the eve of the full-moon, in which all communities, irrespective of religion, caste, language
and creed participate and join hands.

“This is a show of mutual respect and art of living in peace and harmony. This is a tradition which is being followed by the people for centuries. There is no artificiality. The common individual thinks that one earns punya by visiting a religious place, participating in any religious ceremony without making any distinction on religious lines,” he concludes.

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