World Religion Day: MM look at the Jainism community thriving in Manchester

With the start of 2020 filled with conflict around the globe, to mark World Religion Day MM chatted to a member of one of the city’s lesser known religious communities – one where non-violence is their central message.

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion and one of the oldest in the world. They have three main pillars of belief. The first is Ahimsa, which enshrines non-violence to all life in thought, word or deed.

The second is Aparigraha, which requires minimising attachment to wealth and materiality. The third, Anekantavada, promotes tolerance through the acceptance of a multi-sided view of reality.

Asha Mehta, member of Jain Samaj Manchester, sees her religion as an ‘art of living’ which teaches the way to ‘eternal happiness’.

She told MM: “I share my religion as love all people, love all beings whether it is human beings, animals any type of living creature. Join hands and bring communities together as God is one. That is my message.”

The earliest Jains arrived in Manchester after the Second World War with the main influx in the 1970s following political changes in Kenya and Uganda, with around 175 families now living in the area.

“The Jain community in Manchester is a very small knit community and to be part of it really really makes me proud,” continued Asha.

She added: “Even though we are small in number, or we can say a minority, we do not have any sort of class, creed or religion discrimination, we welcome everybody. They either come as our guest, or they become members.”

Manchester’s Jains’ organise a range of activities and Asha is particularly proud of their role during the 2012 Olympics where members held the torch and later celebrated with a party where ‘everybody was invited’.

She explained: “Sometimes I feel that if this was a bigger community we would not be able to do everything we wanted, so the small things we do makes me very proud of my community.”

They have made huge contributions to charity in recent years by donating to a variety of causes in the UK and overseas, and are also passionate about promoting organ donation to increase the number of donors across the Asian community.

Asha said: “When we celebrated our tenth year of the temple we had a very big celebration and decided that we would support two big charities, one would be local and one would be national.

“We managed to collect £15,000 which was distributed between two charities. One was St. Ann’s Hospice, Little Hulton and the second one was the Kidney Foundation.”

They have also shown their solidarity against terrorism and following the arena bomb attack were the first group to hold a memorial service attended by the Lord Mayor of Manchester, local MPs and other dignitaries.

“We were the first ones to invite our neighbours and have a get together,” Asha recalled.

“We believe in Ahimsa, our teaching that ‘we are part of them’ and we invite the leader of Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur every year to our community and along with them we had a Mahatma Gandhi statue put up near the cathedral.

“We believe in peace and harmony and we need that after the arena bombing. The main thing is non violence – that is the principle which our religion is based on.”

Asha believes Jainism, with its extreme reverence for all life forms, is a religion that can ‘champion ecological issues’.

She explained: “We are 100 percent vegetarians but we have started to become more concerned about veganism as well.

“Quite a few people have decided not to have dairy products, we believe that cows and the way the milk is produced is not healthy for the environment.”

To find out more about Manchester’s Jain community and their activities follow their Facebook page @JainSamajManchester.

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