We attended different schools, lived in our own group areas, were admitted to hospitals designated for Indians and buried our fallen loved ones alongside others of the same race group.
Yet, as I recall, while race divided us so clinically, religion did not. We always enjoyed healthy relationships with friends of other faiths. It was accepted practice for me to invite my Hindu and Muslim mates to join us over Christmas and they reciprocated during Diwali and Eid. The festival of Muharram, with its colourful mixture of song, dance, drumming and procession through the streets, held a special fascination for all of us, as did the singing of solemn hymns during midnight mass on Christmas Eve and the spellbinding rituals of Kavady and fire-walking.
Sadly, much of the religious camaraderie that existed in those days appears to have dissipated over time, largely through Westernisation and changing social and political dynamics.
We hardly ever embrace each other on an inter-faith level any more. We tend to worship in our separate silos. This separation, even though not enforced by any law or policy, tends to artificially divide people. It also promotes ignorance and spawns unnecessary fears, suspicions, misconceptions and stereotypes about people outside our faith. In some cases it could even trigger instances of religious intolerance.
Perhaps we should take a cue from what the Denis Hurley Centre did last week on the eve of the Muslim celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr.
They hosted their “neighbours”, the Islamic Propagation Centre International, to share in the breaking of the fast (iftar). The public was invited to a talk on the meaning of Ramadaan and to join with their Muslim brothers and sisters as they broke their fast in the traditional way and, after prayers, share a meal together.
Non-Muslims attending were encouraged to refrain from all food and drink throughout that day as a way of showing deeper solidarity.
Now that's what I call real inter-faith cohesion.
The Sunday Independent