Muslim masons carve shrines for Hindu dead in Bangladesh | Religious News

A Muslim craftsman dedicated his talents to the dead among the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, and followed a peaceful journey to the afterlife.

Taher Ali Khan built thousands of shrines for his departed relatives around the tranquil grounds of Barisal Mahashashan, the country’s largest Hindu crematorium.

The devout stonemason prayed five times a day and obeyed all the precepts of the Islamic faith, but often found himself resisting criticism from those who questioned his mission.

“My prophet said that we should get bread through honest work. He advised us not to steal, hurt others or commit crimes,” Khan, 60, told AFP.

“My work here is to build tombs,” he added. “I didn’t see anything that would endanger my religious beliefs.”

Tahr Ali Khan poses for a photo at Barisal Mahasa Hill Hindu crematorium [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Among the 169 million population of this predominantly Muslim country, Hindus account for about 10%, and they are well represented in politics, business and civil servants.

But their number has decreased from about a quarter of the population in 1947, when the subcontinent was divided into two independent countries according to their religious beliefs, and millions of Hindus and Muslims fled to India and Pakistan respectively.

Another large-scale exodus coincided with the nine-month war of independence in Bangladesh in 1971.

news Recent religious violenceAt least 6 people, including two Hindus, were killed, which made Khan feel uneasy. In the next few days, he called on Hindus friends to inquire about their safety.

“I think Hindus are my brothers and sisters,” he said.

“They love me because of my work. I build the tomb with all my heart, because everyone wants to build something beautiful for the dead.”

Taher Ali Khan, right, working on a tomb in the Barisal Mahashashan Hindu crematorium [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

Khan spends most of his time in the crematorium, working in the ornate samādhi shrines crisscrossing the funeral pyre.

The simpler monument is a small, unobtrusive concrete slab, similar in style to Western tombstones, with the ashes of the dead buried underneath.

The largest is an elaborate multi-storey building with colorful spires towering over a small man-made pond that welcomes visitors at the entrance of the cemetery, which sells for up to 250,000 taka ($3,000).

“If I build a beautiful samadhi for the dead, I will feel very satisfied,” he said. “I think I did something to help them feel good and mourn their dead.”

Khan learned his craft 35 years ago, and according to his estimation, he has built more than 10,000 samadhi since then-most of the surrounding Barisal crematorium are his handicrafts.

“Look at this beautiful place,” he said, pointing to one of the temples while visiting the cemetery.

“This family wants to give them something beautiful for their little boy who died suddenly. I did it with all my love and care.”

Khan spends most of his time in the crematorium, working in the gorgeous Samadhi shrine [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

The Hindus living in Barisal and the remote agricultural communities around the southern river port are in high demand for his work.

“Regardless of whether he is a Muslim or not, he has done a good job,” said Goranga Das, who came to the scene to cremate his mother and sought Khan’s service again.

“He built a tomb for my grandfather, which is very good.”

Every year during the Bhoot Chaturdashi Festival, when Hindu devotees decorate samadhi with candles to commemorate the dead, he will receive dozens of invitations to commemorate his loved ones.

After Barisal Mahashashan spent most of his life, his owners also regarded him as family, although he was still nominally a freelancer.

“People come to him to build tombstones for their relatives because he is the best,” said Tamalmaraka, secretary general of the crematorium.

“We love him and his work.”

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