Kolkata: During the month of Ramazan, Iftar parties hosted by politicians and Muslims for people of other faiths are pretty common. But in Kolkata, Om Prakash Shah, a chartered accountant by profession and peace activist by passion, has been hosting iftar at his house for his Muslim and non-Muslim friends to break ‘fast (roza)’ and discuss Islam for almost three decades now.
But, at a time when hate against the largest minority community of India has been institutionalized for political gains, coming across posts, WhatsApp forwards against Muslims and their beliefs is no longer a rarity. Thus, at a time when hatred against Muslims is at its peak, the small annual get-together organised by the peace activist keeps alive the hope of a plural Indian society.
On Saturday, some well-known people from the Muslim community as well as non-Muslims were present at Octogenarian OP Shah’s central Kolkata residence for the Gandhian’s interfaith iftar party. Among those invited were professors, social activists, journalists and chartered accountants.
“India is a country of several languages, cultures and religions. I always used to think how to bring people of different religions closer. I believe that when different communities celebrate each other’s festivals, they understand each other better. So three decades back I started hosting Iftar,” Shah informed eNewsroom.
The Gandhian, who has also worked as an editor and has been a member of the Press Council said, “Some common and some new faces are included in my guest list. In the last thirty years, it has been attended by diplomats, ministers, army persons, retired judges, bureaucrats, MPs and MLA.”
He added, “We call the guests one-and-half-hour ahead of the iftar timing, so that we can have a good discussion on Islam. These talks have helped clear many misconceptions about the religion.”
Like all other iftars hosted by Shah, this year’s iftar party too had people asking questions related to Islam. Saturday’s discussion began with the host and his guest Bimal Sharma, a senior management consultant broaching the topic of Jihad.
Professor and activist Nousheen Baba Khan tried to explain in detail.
“I feel that Jihad is not exclusive, but rather a progression towards the ultimate goal of self-mastery and devotion to Allah. There are three forms of Jihad. They are;
Jihad-e-Asghar, the lowest form of Jihad, is about defending oneself and others against physical harm or injustice. ‘Self-control’ is essential in determining when and how to respond to threats, and the use of force should always be a last resort.”
“Jihad-e-Akbar, the higher form of Jihad, is about the struggle against one’s own inner demons and weaknesses. This form of Jihad requires a deep understanding of oneself and the ability to control one’s thoughts, desires, and impulses. ‘Self-control’ is crucial in this type of Jihad, as it involves resisting temptation, overcoming harmful habits or addictions, and striving towards spiritual purity and enlightenment.”
“Finally, Jihad-e-Kabir, the highest form of Jihad, is about seeking and upholding truth in all aspects of life. This form of Jihad involves standing up for justice, speaking out against oppression and falsehood, and seeking knowledge and wisdom to live a life that is aligned with the teachings of Islam.
‘Self-control’ again is essential in this type of Jihad too, as it requires resisting the temptations of power, wealth, and influence to stay true to one’s principles and values,” she added.
Irfan Sher, who is raising awareness about Waqf property related issues in Kolkata and outside, talked about how different religious books give a similar message – there is one God.
Mahesh Shah, a CA agreed with Sher. He explained that just like separte sections are created to accomodate large number of students, several religions came into existence to accommodate and cater to the beliefs of the world’s large population. Mahesh had participated with his wife, Renuka Shah, a women’s rights activist.
Rabiul Islam, Professor of Mathematics at St. Xavier College mentioned the issues that Indian Muslims face while fasting during the month of Ramazan.
Senior journalist Abdul Aziz pointed out that there is also a misconception that Islam came to this world along with Prophet Muhammad, “But it came with the first man in the universe, Prophet Adam. Islam completes with Prophet Muhammad and there Allah through Quran said that now no prophet will be sent to mankind. The Quran also says about one lakh 24 thousand prophets and we have to believe in all.”
Biswajit Matilal, ex VP Communication remained a patient listener throughout the conversation and joined the iftar.
Journalist Afaque Haider and tax consultant Md Hussain Rizwi were the other guests.
Nurullah Jawaid, a journalist, expressed his gratitude to OP Shah for organizing such a get-together to save Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, which is on the decline.
Since Shah is a vegetarian, he serves veg-iftar and it has been appreciated by the guests.
Shah is also Chairman of Center for Peace and Progress. The iftar gets hosted under the center.