Religion in Varanasi, India

“Religions are different roads converging upon the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, as long as we reach the same goal?”- Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the main reasons I chose to go on this trip was because of the religious aspect of it. I wanted to discover different religions and learn about the stories/logic behind them. As a practicing Muslim, I have only known Islam in details my whole life and wanted to learn about other religions as well because I was always fond of religions. India is one of the best places for me to learn about religion because there are so many religions being practiced such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. The first week of this trip, I spent time at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) where we learned about Buddhism and how its philosophy. This was really interesting to me because technically its not a religion because there is no god and everyone is their own boss, but at the same time it is different than atheism because they have rituals to follow and prayers, nuns, books, etc. It was interesting to learn about the four noble truths in Buddhism and the role of Karma in our lives. One thing that I liked about Buddhism was the emphasis on impermanence. This explains that there are certain processes that no human being has control over certain things in their lives such as the process of growing old, dying, being sick etc. When learning about impermanence I was able to also find similarities within Islam and Christianity because they also believe that nothing in this life is permanent and that there is a hereafter. For example, in Islam when someone dies, its not the end for them, they would go to the hereafter which they are able to reunite with their loved ones again. And in Hinduism and Buddhism impermanence is very essential because they believe in reincarnations. Buddhists and Hindus live their lives well and stay away from evil/negativity in order to reduce their karma in the next life or have a better life in the future. We see the same concept with other religions. For example, Muslims and Christians live their lives well and try to stay away from sins in order to enter heaven. This brings me back to the quote that I mentioned above which talks about how we all want to be good in order to be rewarded in the future which is something common that I observed in many religions and practices here in India. Even though they might be very different from each other they are all working towards the same goal.

Something else that I observed was the different ways people practice the same religion. For example; in India the mosques are only for men and women are not allowed. In authentic Islam there are no distinguishment between men and women from worshiping god. And in many Muslim countries mosques always have a section for women which is why I was so surprised to hear that women in India were not allowed to inter mosques. Since this is being not justified by Islam by any means, I came to the conclusion that it had to do with cultural influences. Mixing culture and religion is something that is very common in many countries and it is not just with Islam but we also see it with Christianity and the American culture as well as in India with Hinduism. I had the option to visit a “secular university” that was public and was suppose to be non-religious but at the university (Banaras Hindu University) there were many Hindu Gods and Goddesses all over and when I asked about why there are religious affiliations at this public secular university I was told that its not by any means religion related and that its just a cultural thing to have Goddesses of learning and such. Here again is where we see another example of religion being mixed with cultural practices. We see this a lot in the world but in India I was able to spot it easily because of its rich culture and many religions.

Written By Rowaida Mohammed

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 Muslim Leader of the Weavers community in Varanasi. Photo By Rowaida Mohammed   
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Photo of a Hindu Pandit By Niko Sepanos 

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