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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Brahmin Who Sent a Muslim for Haj

ARAFAT, 30 December 2006 — The truth is indeed stranger than fiction. You hear this cliché and it remains a cliché till you run into a story that indeed gives you a pleasant jolt.

Mahboob Hasan’s true story may seem to be an exception for those unfamiliar with the inter-faith traditions of India. To others who are acutely aware of the horrific communal riots of Gujarat in western India, in which Muslims were burned alive by Hindus, it will certainly come as a surprise.

Hasan from Aurangabad in India’s Maharashtra state is one of the millions of pilgrims standing shoulder-to-shoulder as Muslims here on the plains of Arafat where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last sermon. The standing of the pilgrims in Arafat is the climax of Haj.

Hasan was able to stand here yesterday thanks to the sponsorship of a caring family back home — a family of Brahmins.

Hasan’s relationship with the Jagtap family began in the 1960s when he held a lowly position at Maharashtra government’s Department of Cooperatives. His boss was Harishchandra Jagtap. Eventually the Jagtaps had a son by the name of Surendra and they offered Hasan a job as a nanny. It was Hasan who would take Surendra to the only English school in the city. In his late 30s, Surendra now works as an engineer in Dubai.

The Jagtaps never forgot Hasan’s loyalty after he retired. Mrs. Jagtap decided to send Hasan to Haj at her expense. She explained her decision to her son and reminded him of what Hasan did for him when he was a school-going boy. Surendra said he would bear all the expenses of Hasan’s pilgrimage, but Mrs. Jagtap insisted she will pay and in the end she had her way.

“Hearing such a story is heartening,” said one journalist covering the Haj. “There are some in our society who disapprove of Muslims associating with non-Muslims in any way. In reality, we live in a global community and if the intention of one human being to another is good, then we should thank God for such a blessing.”

It is normal for many Indians to spend their life’s savings to perform Haj, but Hasan, who was never highly paid and had barely the savings to support himself after retirement, decided at some point he simply would have to forgo his pilgrimage.

However, thanks to Mrs. Jagtap’s gesture, Hasan was able to perform Haj without spending money that he would need for his waning days.

“How can I forget their token of affection,” he was quoted as saying to his friends yesterday. “They are very nice people. Mr. Jagtap was a very nice man. He died years ago. He shared my happiness and my pain in those difficult days. They treated me as one of their own. They are my extended family and I am part of their extended family.”

Ten days before Hasan departed for Haj, Mrs. Jagtap died. One of the Hindu woman’s last gestures was giving Hasan 300,000 rupees (about SR26,000) to pay for the trip of his lifetime.

Hasan says the Jagtap family is in his prayers here in Arafat.

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