Farrukh Dhondy | Prayers, zakat for Ukrainians & all oppressed to show we care

Not all the Ehl-e-kitabists are united in condemning the slaughter and Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine

“So come with the Andhbhakts and leave the lot

Of Mahatmaji and Vallabhai forgot

Let injustice and prejudice prevail

And Krishna assert Dharma -- heed them not.”

From the Rubaiyat of Putana Tr, by Bachchoo

Because my first name is Persian, I am often mistaken for a Muslim. I am not. I was born a Zoroastrian and grew up with friends of different faiths -- Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and possibly others. In our teens we would follow the “taboots” or “tajias” which the Shia community would parade, to the insistent rhythm of drums, around town all night and immerse in the city’s river at dawn. Not from faith but for kicks.

Millions of Indians celebrate every festival -- Diwali, Christmas, Id and Baisakhi. The Zoroastrian New Year, or Navroz, isn’t widely publicised or celebrated. The day before is the day of penitence, called Peteti or Papeti, I don’t to this day know which is the authentic word. (So, look it up on Wikipedia, idiot! --Ed) As we trooped into the fire temple on the day there would, year after year, be the same old non-Zoroastrian individual seeking alms at the gate claiming the festival saying “Aamchi Popti! Aamchi Popti!”

Now through Ramzan culminating in Id-ul-Fitr, there are posters all over London urging Muslims to contribute one-fifth of their earnings as zakat to various charities. A good Muslim friend tells me that Id is the occasion when the faithful ask God to recognise their sacrifice through fasting all through the days of Ramzan, not praying for material gifts, but for peace on earth and goodwill to humanity.

This would include praying for the souls of slaughtered non-combatant Muslims of Aleppo and other Syrian cities wiped out by Russian arms in support of the Shia dictator. It would include a prayer for the Rohingya Muslims persecuted by the China-supported military dictatorship of Myanmar. It should certainly include a prayer for the Uyghur Muslims confined to concentration camps to “re-educate” them and induce them to abandon Islam and embrace Xi Jinping (vacancy of) thought. It may include a prayer for the souls of Muslims murdered by Vladimir Putin in Chechnya. And today it should certainly be more than just prayers in support of the innocent millions of Ukraine being slaughtered by the ex-KGB “freedom-to-live in-gulags-and-be-poisoned-by-Novochok” fighter, Vlad the indefensible Bad.

One doesn’t have to be a Muslim or be one of the “Ehl-e-kitab”, the people of the Book -- Jews, Christians and Muslims -- to offer such a prayer for the oppressed.

Several Islamic scholars now include Zoroastrians as the people of the fourth book. This is appropriate as Zarathustra was acknowledgedly the first monotheistic prophet. Whether we Zoroastrians are included or not doesn’t much concern me very much -- I have always regarded myself as Ehl-e-library.

Not all the Ehl-e-kitabists are united in condemning the slaughter and Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill of the Orthodox Russian Church is an enthusiastic supporter of the war. Pope Francis spoke to him and urged him to take a firm stand for peace. In the widely reported conversation, Pope Francis doesn’t venture to condemn the Russian mafia led by Vladimir Putin and his billionaire oligarchs and pronounces Christian sympathies for the victims of Ukraine and for the hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian soldiers killed in this war.

A British rabbi, Jonathan Romain, whose mother fled Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport during the Second World War, has initiated a “Ukrainetransport” for refugees fleeing the bombing and slaughter in the cities of Ukraine. He has been flooded with offers from British households prepared to offer rooms to refugees.

Explaining the initiative, Jonathan Romain says: “I have always wondered how I could repay the debt I owe to the Kindertransport, who saved my then 11-year-old mother. Now is the time….”

We Zoroastrians have no acknowledged popes though there are high priests here and there. They don’t, unlike Hollywood “celebrities”, pronounce on political matters though I am in favour of them regularly condemning assaults on the innocent and the helpless.

I crave your indulgence, gentle reader, to conclude this column by protesting that while I am not inclined to convert to Islam, I am genuinely moved by the Quranic parable of Verse 5:32 forbidding the killing of all innocents.

And adding to this conclusion, here’s my translation of a story from the celebrated Persian poet Rumi:

“Two friends, a Muslim and a Zarthushti

Had from childhood lived in close amity

The first turned to his friend, meaning no harm

Suggesting he should convert to Islam

The Zarthushti replied: “If God commands

I shall of course comply with his demands.”

The Muslim said: “Allah wishes you well

Converting to Islam saves you from hell.

So, say the words and give your soul relief

Though your ego persists in disbelief.”

The Zarthushti then replied to his friend:

“This thing called ego compels me to bend

To its wishes and if God controls all

The Universe, my ego’s in his thrall.

Nothing, we know, happens without his will

Then why if he ordains all am I still

A Zarthushti? He leaves us to decide

What’s true or false -- from Him no soul can hide

The dictates of free will is his bequest,

To humans to believe as they think best.”

The Muslim decided not to retort

They both sat sipping coffee in deep thought.”

Err... Jai Shambho!

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