Why these New York Sikhs are fundraising for a mosque in India

(RNS) — Darshan Singh... ...was visiting his family for two weeks last month, told him about how the village’s rapidly growing Muslim population had to pray in shifts in order to fit in the small room they had repurposed as a prayer space.

Now he and his son, who are both Sikh, are running a crowdfunding campaign to purchase land for minority Muslims in Nadala, a Sikh-majority village in the Indian state of Punjab, to build their first mosque.

Why? It’s an interfaith act of Punjabi solidarity across borders, explained his son, 28-year-old New York City community organizer Jagpreet Singh. It also serves as a way for him to live out the Sikh concept of sarbat da bhala, a Punjabi term used in Sikh prayer meaning “welfare of all mankind,” he said...

...More than 35 donors have contributed to his GoFundMe fundraiser, launched Nov. 15, so far raising more than $1,600 of the $10,000 necessary to purchase the land.

Locals estimate that 200 to 300 Muslim families now reside in the village in Indian Punjab, most of whom are working-class families, said Jagpreet Singh. The town has a church and several Sikh gurdwaras, but the village has no mosque or formal Islamic prayer space. Just a handful of Sufi shrines remain in the area.

Currently, Nadala’s Muslims hold daily congregational prayers in a small room in the back of a shop that fits about two dozen people. They pray in several rounds on Fridays when they hold congregational Jummah prayer services.

“People are excited about the prospect of donating to a cause that has an interfaith message, especially in a town that’s predominantly Sikhs in Punjab, building a masjid (mosque) for a minority community,” he said. “And they’re especially excited that we’re actually working with the community.”

After the property has been purchased, the father-son duo will return to Nadala to help construct the building alongside their family’s Muslim neighbors...

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...Before the partition, Nadala — located in the northwest Indian state of Punjab about halfway between major cities Amritsar and Hoshiarpur — had a large Muslim community, Jagpreet Singh explained. But anxiety over the threat of violence and becoming minorities in their own country caused a majority of Nadala’s Muslims to cross the new border and head west to Muslim-majority Pakistan.

More recently, though, as anti-Muslim attitudes intensify in India, Muslim families from around the country have begun settling in Punjab to escape rising violence in many other states and to find better work opportunities.

“Sacred spaces have an incredibly rich and vital legacy in South Asia,” said Sania Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim based in New York City who donated to the campaign. “Long before they became politicized, commodified, colonized sites of violence, sacred spaces were established as natural vehicles for transcendence and union with the Divine and for recognizing the Divine in others without borders.”

Ahmad, whose family comes from the Punjab region, works with many Punjabi and Sikh families in Queens as part of her work with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

The fundraising effort is a “simple yet profound ... testament to the Oneness that both Sikhi and Islam have sought to propagate,” she said. “This project calls upon a legacy of spiritual solidarity that is not unique to the region, but a legacy that has been lost in many ways in modern history.”

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