Practicing Islam in India’s predominantly Hindu culture

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Varanasi is known as one the most sacred cities in India. The Ganges river, which rises from the Himalayas in northern India, is the foundation of this Indiana Jones-like city. Many sadhus, a form of Hindu priests, live along the river. Also located here are the so-called burning ghats, where Hindus bring the bodies of their loved ones to be burned and the ashes thrown into the Ganges in order to come closer to nirvana, the Hindu paradise. Varanasi, located in North India, attracts an enormous number of tourists. They come here to discover and practice Hindu rituals. In other words: Varanasi is both culturally and economically a Hindu stronghold.

Despite this, almost one third of the approximately one and a half million inhabitants in Varanasi are Muslims. There have been Muslims in Varanasi for hundreds of years, and they have built their own societies where they live and work with respect for their own rituals and religion.

Many wars have been fought between Hindus and Muslims in this holy city. Terror has shown its evil face in modern times as well; in 2006, 15 people were killed when a series of bomb attacks hit the city. A bomb exploded in the Hanuman Temple, one of the most sacred of Hindu temples. In 2010, another blast hit the city, this time near the Ganges. Both Indian and foreign tourists were wounded. Both sides blamed each other for the attack, but since then, Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully side-by-side.

Text  and photos by photographer Lasse Bak Meljvang, Tomorrow Management