Religions fascinate me, although I was an Agnostic-Atheist for nearly 30 years of my life, I was respectful of religions and attended religious rituals of almost all religions.
In the last sixties and early seventies, I was a big fan of Dr. Abraham Kovoor, the father of modern Atheism, and also followed the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Swami Vivekananda, Allama Iqbal, Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Rumi, Dale Carnegie, and a German Scholar who wrote the book Man and Religion.
Some day, I will elaborate on this, but for now, here is the summary.
I am grateful to my father for opening the windows of knowledge to me. He was always kind and respectful to me. Except once, he never hit me or belittled me. I hope my kids can say the same about me.
On the day of Ramadan Eid celebrations, the Muslims in my town (Yelahanka) gather near the mosque, and walk a mile to the outdoor Mosque by the cemetery to pray and pay respects to the buried ones; a beautiful Muslim tradition that I have come to respect even when I was an atheist.
On that particular Eid, I refused to go to prayers as I did not believe in God or the prayers. My father looked me over, I had dared him. He gave me a short lecture and explained – "One day, I will be dead and gone, and you will be living in this town and have to live with others. No one will trust or do business with you, including my Hindu friends if you do not follow a system. Religion is a part of the society and it is up to you what you do with your life… God doesn't need your prayers, but you have to live with others"…. of course, I went to the Mosque, had he pushed me, I would not have gone and would probably have hated religion. I wish all parents treat their kids in that fashion, particularly the rebellious ones.
Thanks to my parents, they had friends from many religious traditions and have carried on conversations with them in the most civil manner I can imagine. My mother had weekly conversations with the only Zoroastrian lady in town, whom we called ‘Parsiamma” Behramji and chatted with our neighbor Sugalchand, a Jain family.
My 5th or 6th grade social studies book has never left me, it created a positive life time impression about religions. There was a page dedicated to each one of the great religious teachers including Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, Moses, Prophet Muhammad, Zoroaster and Nanak, and the there was a two page summary of each one of the faiths. Top it up with my parents consistent reminders from Quran - that each faith is beautiful to its believer and that we must acknowledge it. Faith is like a mother to the believer.
Most of my friends that I knew and grew up with have a similar respectful attitude towards religions, including every member of my family. I will have to find that dream book, and see if it is still there, and if not why not?
I am concerned about the future of India, I wish Prime Minister Modi was taught in a similar school as I did. I went to a public Urdu Medium school, and he went to RSS Madrasa where exclusivity is taught, and no mention of other faiths and traditions, had he gone to a school like mine, his language would have been inclusive and he would have wished festival greetings to Muslims, Christians and others.
Of course, the leaders in Pakistan, Malaysia and other Muslim nations do not greet their Hindu, Christian and other minorities either. Do we want to be like them? Or do we want to set a new standard of inclusion for them to emulate us? Are we leaders?
As a young man I attended the Mahabodhi (Buddhist) Society every Wednesday in Bangalore and went to Friday prayers in a nearby Mosque (I went to different Mosques) and joined the Bhajan Mandir across my home on Saturday evenings to chant the Hindu Kirtans. I enjoyed my lengthy conversations with Sikhs who came from the Air force base to our Flour Mill on Sundays, and like wise, I learned a lot about the Adivasis (native Indian tribals) and Banjaray who made it to our mill on Sundays.
I listened to hours of conversation between my father Abdul Rahman, maternal grandfather Shaikh Hussain and a Shia scholar Hussain Sahib. My English Teacher Rama Chandra was a big Sai Baba devotee and my friend Fakhru Bhai was a Muslim Sufi, the three of us would spend Saturdays discussing religion. I grew up with our Christian neighbors Robert and Swaran Latha since I was three or four years old. The last time I met them was upon my mothers’ death in 2001.
We did not have any Jews and Baha’is’ in our town; if not more than likely we would have attended their festivities as we did with others. However, I made it up with Jews, here is that part of my story; Holocaust and the Muslim guy. and also with Bahai's as I am closest to being a Bahai and perfectly align with Unitarian Universalist. My father was a Mayor of the town and his friends were mainly Hindus, and Bellur Muniyappa was the closest of them. They discussed politics every day, yes every day in the evenings.
While I was in Saudi Arabia, I had the greatest exposure to people from 40 different cultures and nationalities. I was the Chief Cashier with Fluor corporation, and every one of the group leaders came to me with bills for reimbursement in Shedgum, Saudi Arabia. I learned about each one of them, and additionally, I developed my abilities to understand English in just about every accent.
Coming back to Dallas, I published a paper called Asian News (1993-2001) and the information about all religions and festivals became a major item. In 1996, I started the first commercial radio for the Asian community called Asian news Radio, and again religion was a major part of it.
Between 2004 and 2005, I did 520 hours of Radio show, an hour a day, 5 days a week and it was called “Wisdom of religion, all the beautiful religions of the world” and did 100 hours each of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and 50 hours on all other religions including Atheism. We completed Torah, Bible, Quran, Bhagvad Gita and other books on the show.
In 2005 and 2006 two sets of three hour workshops were done for 13 traditions from Atheist to Zoroastrians and everyone in between.
In 2009 I camped out for a whole 9 days at the Parliament of World’s religions in Melbourne and attended every possible religious event I can. I moderated a few Panels and presented a few papers. I danced with the Pagans, animists, and spent time with the Native Australians and their Museum.
Here in Dallas, I have been to most places of worship, and took my children to them as well.
Thanks to Huffington Post and other news papers I continue to write the essence of festivals, all the major festivals of the world and God willing I will continue the work. The work is also logged at www.FoundationforPluralism.blogspot.com and www.TheGhousediary.com
The Foundation for Pluralism came into being, when my application to be a member of Thanksgiving Square was rejected in mid Nineties, because I did not fit into a pigeon hole, at that time, I was a Humanist (another name for Atheist) and was told to belong to some religion. I said to myself, we need an organization that includes all humanity, thus the Foundation for Pluralism was officially born, even though it was in practice since 1993.
Ironically, I my application was rejected in an Atheist group in 2006, when I wanted to become a member and include them in our Unity Day program.
Presently, I am a member in most of the religious groups. Do you know God is a life member of every religious group I belong to? LOL!
I regret not completing my PhD in religion, but pleased with the amount of work I have done on religions, all the beautiful religions.
(214) 325-1916 text/talk
Mike Ghouse is a public speaker, thinker, writer and a commentator on Pluralism at work place, politics, religion, society, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, food and foreign policy. He is a staunch defender of human rights and his book standing up for others will be out soon, and a movie "Americans together" is in the making. He is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News and syndicated Talk Radio shows and a writer at major news papers including Dallas Morning News and Huffington Post. All about him is listed in 63 links atwww.MikeGhouse.net and his writings are at www.TheGhousediary.com and 10 other blogs. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.