There is no doubt that during Modi's first legislative period there was a significant rise in anti-Muslim violence in India. The most disturbing sign of the prevailing mood are the forty or so lynchings of Muslims, primarily in connection with the alleged consumption of beef. These acts attest to a cultural climate sustained by a Hindu sense of superiority, one in which it has at least become easier to attack minorities. Many of the incidents went unpunished.

And then there is the systematic structural discrimination against Muslims that does not make the headlines, whether in education, the housing market or health care. This inequality has always existed, but it has been cemented further under BJP leadership. All of this has strengthened the impression among Muslims in many regions in recent years that they are no longer wanted in their country and at best only tolerated. Particularly in northern India, Muslims often no longer feel safe in their ancestral homelands.

After a strongly polarising election campaign focussing on the issue of security, with Pakistan as the arch-enemy, critics see Modi's party as being on a more or less open mission to slowly but surely expunge from the constitution the secularism that was once enshrined there by India's first statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru and to establish a Hindutva state.

A centuries-long spirit of fruitful co-existence

At the shrine in Ajmer little can be felt of such fears and oppression. Just like every evening, a large crowd of spectators gathers around the Qawwali musicians who clap as they ecstatically recite the hymns of the great Sufi poets against a night sky filled with the scent of incense. Men and women mingle in the audience. It's hard to tell how many non-Muslims have come here this evening. The shrine of Moinuddin Chishti is in fact one of the places in India that symbolise the centuries-long spirit of fruitful co-existence among the religions on the Indian subcontinent.

Indian worshippers at the shrine in Ajmer (photo: Marian Brehmer)
Just like every evening, a large crowd of spectators gathers around the Qawwali musicians who clap as they ecstatically recite the hymns of the great Sufi poets against a night sky filled with the scent of incense. Men and women mingle in the audience. It's hard to tell how many non-Muslims have come here this evening. The shrine of Moinuddin Chishti is in fact one of the places in India that symbolise the centuries-long spirit of fruitful co-existence among the religions on the Indian subcontinent

This spirit can be felt particularly keenly at the numerous Sufi shrines in India and Pakistan, highlighting the confluence of religious and spiritual traditions so typical of South Asia. Muslims often adopted Hindu customs and festivals after migrating to South Asia and a very special Indian brand of popular Islam developed. Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer based his teaching on maxims advocating tolerance and peaceful co-existence, such as "Love for everyone, hatred for none".

Leaving the shrine complex through one of the back exits, the visitor soon loses himself in a labyrinth of narrow, congested alleys. Here there are traders hawking devotional items, soup chefs cooking meals for the pilgrims and cliques of beggars counting on the Muslim tourists' sense of duty to give to those less fortunate.

The Chishty Foundation has its headquarters in one of these alleys, founded by descendants of Moinuddin Chishti and dedicated to interfaith dialogue and promoting peace. In the basement of a non-descript apartment house, the foundation's chairman, Seyyed Salman Chishty, runs a library that also serves as a centre for dialogue and events.

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