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By S. Timoshenko

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One young woman and her mother took me to a part of the village where Hindus had lived before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Then they were chased out. The mother told me she had had friends there, but had joined in harrying and expelling them. She told me: ‘Those were difficult times. Why did we do what we did, in the name of God and religion? qxd 14/03/01 24 13:32 Page 24 religion: a beginner’s guide Usually, however, in that village, religion had not been totalitarian. The unusual circumstances of independence, when Pakistani politicians made religion the focal and unifying point of the new country’s identity (though the reasons for partition were many and various, not the least of them being economic), momentarily caused engulfing chaos, wide-scale movements of religious populations, violence and death.

This is not so elsewhere. I can illustrate this in a personal way. Some years ago, I went to a small village in Pakistan for three weeks in order to improve my knowledge of Urdu, that country’s national language. ) The village was wholly Muslim. Some Hindus and a few Sikhs had lived there before partition in 1947, but they had left for India at that time. People were curious why I, a Christian and not a Muslim, should want to be there. When they learned that I was a committed Christian and not anti-religious as many assumed that I, a Westerner, must be, they confided to me many of their own convictions.

Qxd 14/03/01 13:32 Page 25 what is religion? 25 Indeed, if religion is most often a dimension within different societies and cultures rather than a displaced phenomenon, then it should be expected that the social norms and practices of each context will affect the form each religion takes; just as the religion will influence other dimensions of that culture. So Islam has a very different ‘feel’ about it in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco and Indonesia. Sometimes, the dimension of religion in society is not the most important one, even when religious enthusiasts would wish and claim otherwise.

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