Pakistan's deputy attorney general works off Taliban's sins at gurdwaras and shrines
By Rakhi Chakrabarty
A man in a maroon kurta sits hunched on the floor on Sunday afternoon,polishing the shoes of devotees at a room in Delhi's Gurdwara Rakabganj.
It's a common sight in gurdwaras, except that this man is Pakistan's deputy attorney general, Muhammad Khurshid Khan, who had requested he be allowed to perform seva (community service) at the shrine.
Khan, 62, is an eminent lawyer and a devout Muslim from Pakistan's Peshawar province. He was recently in Delhi for a judicial conference. "I have been very keen to visit various places of worship here to promote harmony between India and Pakistan," says Khan.
Khan's tryst with temples and gurdwaras began in 2010 to "heal the wounds of minorities in Pakistan by becoming their sevadar (performer of service)".
For him, it was a "penance" for crimes committed by the Taliban.
In February that year, the Taliban had kidnapped three Sikhs from Peshawar and demanded a $235,000 ransom. Pakistan army rescued two of them, but the third, Jaspal Singh, was beheaded by the captors. It was after the killing, that Khan first performed service at a gurdwara in Peshawar.
"I seek harmony among all religions," says Khan, citing Pakistan's pluralistic heritage.
"I am a Muslim, not a terrorist; I am a Khan, not a terrorist; I am from Pakistan, but not a terrorist." This is Pakistani deputy attorney general Muhammad Khurshid Khan's humble submission as he visits gurdwaras across New Delhi and performs seva (community service).
The Taliban, he says, has plundered Pakistan's pluralistic heritage. "But I want to tell the world it's unfair to tarnish a whole community for the sins of a few," says the Pakhtoon who ran for Pakistan's National Assembly twice.
In Delhi for a conference (along with some 200 members of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan), Khan, accompanied by Surinder Singh, a Delhi-based businessman whose father was a comrade of Subhas Chandra Bose, polished shoes at Gurdwara Sisganj and visited Birla Temple and Hanuman Mandir.
Khan told TOI that he turned to other faiths after the Taliban beheaded Jaspal Singh in Peshawar in February 2010. "When I visited the house of Jaspal, I was filled with remorse." The killing weighed on his conscience.
He was perturbed that violence in the name of Islam brought a bad name not only to Muslims and Pakistan but also to his people, the Pakhtoons.
The next day, he went to Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh in Peshawar and sat on the steps. He could hear the chants wafting out of the shrine. "I felt peace," he says.The lawyer started reading about Guru Nanak and approached a member of the gurdwara management committee to allow him the opportunity for seva. After discussions, the gurdwara management committee allowed to perform seva.
"For two months, I went to the gurdwara daily before the maghrib azaan (call to prayer at sunset) and polished shoes of devotees. Sevadari is ibaadat (worship)," he says.In Delhi, Khan also went to Jantar Mantar in the hope of meeting Anna. He sent his visiting card and waited for close to an hour but could not meet Anna. But he left the place "charmed". "It is amazing. This is democracy," he said.
On his way back to Pakistan, he will visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar for the 'Jora Ghar Seva (polishing shoes of devotees). He had written to PM Manmohan Singh last year to allow him a chance to perform seva at Amritsar.
"I am yet to get a reply," he said.He has performed similar service at Hindu temples and joins church prayers every Sunday in Pakistan. "I live in a rigid society. But the ulema have never criticised me. The Hadees says anything good must be spread all around," said Khan.
His gesture has been appreciated by Muslims and as well as religious minorities in Pakistan.
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