MALEGAON – Hastimal Vardera, a Hindu, is busy preparing iftar for fasting Muslims in the northwestern Indian city of Malegaon, setting an example of communal harmony in the Hindu-majority Asian country.
“I arrange Iftar party for our Muslim brethren once every Ramadan with the help of my Hindu friends and some members of Malegaon Lions club,” Vardera, a businessman, told IslamOnline.net.
Every year, the Hindu trader leads a team of 50 colleagues to host the iftar in the communally sensitive city.
At least 600 Muslim weavers attend the iftar every year.
“The basic purpose of organizing such an Iftar party is to strengthen our business relations so the society can live amicably,” said Vardera.
Muslim weavers dominate the grey cloth production in Malegaon while Hindu traders act as intermediaries who sell the finished product outside the city.
The idea of hosting iftar for his Muslim neighbors first came to the Hindu trader in 1992.
“Earlier, it used to be a close affair with Muslim weaver friends. Only a handful of people used to attend it,” he said.
It was only in 2002 that Vedera decided to expand the iftar.
“Initially the idea of inviting hundreds of Muslim for Iftar was difficult but slowly I picked it up.”
Malegaon, in the northern state of Maharashtra, has a long history of Muslim-Hindu tension.
The city was rocked by two deadly blasts in 2006 and 2008, leaving many Muslims dead.
Eleven Hindus, including a serving army colonel and a retired general, were accused of masterminding the attacks.
“Ramadan provides an opportunity for Iftar and this exercise helps to improve business relations as there is a lively inter-community dialogue which rarely takes place in a town like Malegaon,” Vadera said.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.
“We earn from our Muslim brother so it is our duty to give them back even if it is in the form of an Iftar party,” said Vedera.
“This Iftar is very special,” Sanjay Patil, additional superintendent of police, told IOL.
“It improves Hindu-Muslim relations between weavers and traders and both act as the lifeline of this town.”
Outbreaks of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims are not uncommon in India.
Last year, hundreds of Muslim homes and shops were burnt to ashes by Hindu mobs in different areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
The unrest was triggered by the local government's decision to donate local land to a Hindu pilgrimage trust, a decision opposed by Muslims.
In 2002, at least 2,000 Muslims were hacked or burned to death by Hindu mobs in Gujarat after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on Muslims but which a later inquiry concluded was accidental.
“The fate of Hindus and Muslims is linked to each other,” said Patil.
“The inter-dependency factor is like two wheels of the same cart.”
Aziz-ur-Rahman, a businessman, shares the same view.
“Iftar acts as a meeting point for the two communities,” he said, adding that the iftar also helps local authorities to deal with sensitive Hindu-Muslim relationship.
“People to people interaction in any form must be welcomed.”
IslamOnline.net September 18 2009