On Thursday, all of Kashmir was engrossed in Eid-e-Milad-un Nabi, celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohammed.
Processions and nightlong prayer sessions were held across Srinagar city. But, one Muslim man was busy preparing for Christmas – the birthday of Jesus Christ.
“Today we Muslims have our own celebrations, but here I am cleaning the church and making it ready for tonight. My family – wife and sons – have taken part (in the celebrations) , but I could not,” said Abdul Rashid, gardener and caretaker at the Holy Family Catholic Church, Srinagar’s most prominent church.
The church was established in 1886 and serves as one of the two religious centres for the city’s Christian minority. Christmas celebrations in the valley take place primarily in Srinagar and most of the community members, apart from migrant workers or security personnel, are missionaries working in the healthcare and education sector.
The 40-year-old resident of Dalgate area bore a weary look as he vigorously swept the church premises, cleaning the remains of decoration materials from the floor. He lifted benches and brushed the carpet, removing remnants of sparkling ribbons and pieces of balloons that have been put up to decorate the church for Christmas.
“Work is worship, as they say. I have no complaints regarding working here. I work to earn a living and have to do what my job demands,” said Rashid, who has worked in the church for the last 24 years.
Rashid, who is married and has two sons - the younger one is in class 9 and the older one studies law at a private college, draws a monthly salary of Rs 8,000 and is not too happy with the amount. “I am a poor man. I have to eat and feed my family.”
Rashid is the only Muslim employee in the parish church, which houses 35 Christian families. Other workers in the church are Christians from Jammu or other states, and some from Nepal. He said that he has never faced any religious discrimination from his co-workers and no one in his family has raised any question regarding his job in a church.
Father Roy Mathews, the priest at the church, said that Rashid’s story is an example that showcases Kashmiri society – one replete with tolerance and without any communal agenda.
“That is the beauty of Kashmir, that is the culture. Nowhere in India will you see such hospitality,” said Father Mathews, who is a native of Jammu and has been with the church for the last 19 years.
The church does not hold a midnight service for Christmas, unlike the common practice elsewhere, due to the freezing winter temperature. Instead, it holds a service at 6pm on December 24 and another at 11am on the 25th.
“I won’t be there during the evening service. I will be tired after a hard day’s work. These days there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Rashid.
“But during tomorrow morning’s service I will be here – my duty timings.”