By Phurpa Sherpa, KATHMANDU: Nepal is literally a mosaic of different cultures and religions, as people from different backgrounds are living side by side peacefully and harmoniously for centuries, without fighting in the name of religion. There are rarely any riot in Nepal based on a religious background, unlike what we saw in the past in India or Pakistan in terms of Hindu-Muslim riots.
According to 2011 census of Nepal, 93.3 percent of the people were the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Kirat religions combined, followed by 4.4 percent Islam, 1.3 percent Christianity and 1 percent some other faiths. Among the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Kirat, 81.3 percent were Hindus, while 9 percent were Buddhists and 3 percent were Kirats.
As per the 1991 census, the Muslim population in Nepal was 591,340 or 3.3 percent, which increased to 1.164 million or 4.4 percent in 2011. Most of the Muslim population of Nepal live in the Terai plains. The largest Muslim population are in the districts of Rautahat (19.7%), Banke (19.0%), Kapilvastu (18.2%), Parsa (14.5%), Mahottari (13.3%), Bara (13.0) and Sunsari (11.5%).
Among them, 21,866 or 1.25 percent of the Muslims live in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
Muslims in Nepal have generally four roots or clans: Indian, Tibetan, Kashmiri and Nepalese.
According to Er. Ali Akhtar Mikrani, a reputed Muslim citizen of Nepal, and who rose to become an adviser to former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from May 2009 to February 2011, the Muslim community of Nepal are feeling more comfortable and happier after the promulgation of the new constitution.
“We Muslim community follow and abide by the national laws of Nepal, where religious rights of the minority communities like Muslims have been clearly spelled out. We are happier and more comfortable,” Er. Mikrani said.
Likewise, Hasan Giri (Ali Khan) is the owner of the Hussain Momo Center (restaurant) and has been running his business for the past 3-4 years. He has no problem running his business owing to his religious background.
“Life is going well from this business, which I started after my retirement from a bank job,” Khan said.
“Sometimes, a shortage of employees creates some difficulties in running this business. Otherwise, there are no problems,” Khan said, adding that “he has been living his life happily and safely with his family and relatives.”
Similarly, Ibrahim Naik has a handicraft business in Thamel and lives with his family. He has no problem practising his faith regularly.
“I was born in Tibet and then went to India. After that I came to Nepal and settled here with my wife and children some 30 years ago,” Naik said.
Every Friday, Naik goes to Nepali Jame Masjid (NJM) in Kathmandu to worship the God during the Friday prayers.
The Jame Masjid has a very old history, as it was built during the rule of King Ratna Malla (1641-1674 A.D). The king allowed the Muslim community to build a mosque and carry out their worships. The old Jame Masjid was replaced with a new mosque in 1990-91 A.D. The new mosque is four storied and has the capacity to accommodate over 5,000 worshipper at once.
Abdul Shamim is the Chairperson of the Nepali Jame Masjid, which is looked after by various managing communities of the Nepalese Muslims.
“The Nepali Jame Masjid managing communities look after this and other religious sites and their properties, too,” said Shamim.
“There are basically 11 managing communities. The community members are serving this religious site voluntarily. We have separate praying places for ladies on the ground floor of the Masjid situated at the right side of entrance of the mosque.”
The Jame Masjid also runs a charitable school called Madrasa.
“We have a charitable school called Madrasa Islamiyah in the backyard of the mosque. It provides modern education with basic religious subjects. This school was established in 1937 A.D. by late Maulana Syed Hayat Hussain Nadwi. He was the recipient of Gurkha Dakshin Baahu, the highest civilian honor granted by the government of Nepal in 1994 A.D,” Shamim said.
“Maulana Nadwi spent more than 50 years of selfless service to the Masjid, Madrasa and Muslim community,” he said. “Fifty percent students of the school are girls. Most of them are from the poor families of the Muslim society. The school provides education from Nursery up to Grade 8 (basic lower secondary education). The students then enroll in other schools for other higher education.”
The expenses for running the school comes from donations raised during every Friday prayers and also from the Jame market rent. On the day of the two greatest Muslim festivals, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the number of worshipper exceeds over 7,000.
There are, however, a number of Madrasas, which are not registered with the government of Nepal. They need to be registered and monitored, as per the rules and regulations of Nepal. As of today, there are around 200 mosques in Nepal, according to an estimate.
As for the business of Muslim community in Nepal, many of the Nepali Muslims used to own cashmere and glass bids business in Kathmandu. The business is still good but sometimes they have to come across difficulties as well.
“Cashmere business is not as good as before. But bids business is still good,” said Khalil Uddin, the owner of A-one bids store. “I have been running this store for the past 2-3 years. We import the bids from Czech republic, Japan, China and India.”
The Muslim community in Nepal also enjoy their social life and music without fear, as Khalil Uddin concedes going to Thamel clubs with friends for fun and entertainment.
“I myself used to do live music shows in Thamel clubs with friends. We will continue that soon again,” Uddin said.
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