11/11/2020, 17.08
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Interfaith activist arrested for praying in Hindu temple

by p. Anand Mathew

Faizal Khan, president of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) organisation, offered a namāz (Muslim ritual prayer) in a Hindu temple in Mathura after he was given permission by temple officials. He was later charged with violating India’s penal code.

Mathura (AsiaNews) – Gandhian social activist Faisal Khan was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police for praying in a Hindu temple.

Faizal Khan, the national president of the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) organisation, was on the last day of a long trip to various religious places. In Mathura, he offered a namāz, a Muslim ritual prayer, in a Hindu temple (pictured) after he was granted permission.

The event was taped and the video given to electronic media, eventually appearing on Hindu nationalist TV channels, sparking outrage among Hindu extremists.

Khudai Khidmatgar spokesman Pawan Yadav said that Khan and three colleagues, including two Hindus, were touring holy sites. On 29 October, they reached the Nand Baba temple in Mathura.

After lunch at the temple, Faisal Khan expressed a desire to go out of the temple precinct to offer the Islamic midday prayer. Instead, the temple priests encouraged him to pray in the its courtyard.

Surprisingly, Krishna Goswami (aka Kanha), the same priest who well treated his Muslim guests, filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the police, noting that temple authorities came under pressure to file the complaint.

According to the FIR, temple authorities did not grant Khan permission to offer the namāz.  As a result, he was charged under sections 153 A, 295 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code.

Some of these sections do not provide for bail and can lead to a prison sentence of two to six years with a fine for denigrating or attacking a religion or a place of worship.

The head priest of the Ayodhya temple said the incident is not a political issue but a religious one. Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party said the incident was an attempt to provoke tensions between communities.

The Khudai Khidmatgar spokesman dismissed the charges against Faizal Khan and his colleagues as false. He says that the media are trying to manipulate the situation for political reasons.

Many Hindu religious leaders have praised Faizal Khan's interfaith and humanitarian activities. His organisation has apologised for the incident noting that there was no intent to offend.

The author of this piece, Fr Anand Mathew of the Indian Missionary Society, a Catholic priest who works in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, backs Faisal Khan whom he has known for 15 years.

They travelled together to Pakistan on a journey of interfaith and international friendship, and spoke together at many meetings.

Faisal is continuing the legacy and good work of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, a freedom fighter and close associate of Mahatma Gandhi who founded Khudai Khidmatgar, an organisation dedicated to provide humanitarian service to people of all religions.

Father Mathew notes that Faisal is familiar with Hindu scriptures and has spread the message of love from the Sufi saints of both religions.

Faisal has been active in bringing relief to the victims of natural disasters and riots. Renowned Hindu sages, priests and preachers have honoured him for his good deeds.

The famous Hindu preacher Murari Bapu gave him a cash prize with which Faisal bought a bus he called "Sadbhavana Rath" or Harmony Chariot; he and his group of volunteers use it to spread a message of peace, harmony, forgiveness and love.

For Fr Mathew, it is a pity that this true patriot is branded as a cause disharmony and conflict in the community,

On 4 November, the court turned down Faisal Khan's request for bail. In the meantime, he was taken to a private hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.

Social activists, human rights advocates and religious leaders have called on the Uttar Pradesh government to immediately release Faisal Khan as the allegations against him are false.

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