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Meet this 18-year old Hindu girl who teaches Quran to Muslim children in Agra
India is a land of miracles. We are truly an exemplary country where people of multiple faiths and ethnic diversities co-exist in complete harmony. Yes, there are cases here and there of communal clashes, but still, for ages we have remained tolerant towards each other. After all, we cannot afford to become a country based on a particular religion.

The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh keeps making headlines for the wrong reasons. Often, we hear about violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims and cases of rioting emerging from the state. But recently, a fine example of communal harmony from the city of Agra has asserted the fact that our country can never be divided on religious lines, no matter how hard the fringe elements might try to polarise both the communities.

18-year old Pooja Kushwaha, a student of class XII during the day, turns into a teacher at dusk. In her open-air classroom in the temple premises in Agra's Sanjay Nagar colony, she gives lessons in Quran to 35 Muslim kids.

With her impeccable accent in pronouncing difficult Arabic phonology, young Pooja looks every inch of the teacher the parents of these kids ever would have wanted.

Reshma Begum, the mother of 5-year old Alisha, who is one of Pooja's students says, "It is a marvel to see her achieve this rare distinction at so young age. I am very pleased to have her as my kid's teacher. Her religion is the last thing on my mind or any other parents' that I know."

But, how did this happen? How did this Hindu girl learn Arabic?

Well, her inspiration is another woman of mixed faith of her locality. Pooja said, "Many years ago, there was another woman of mixed faith in our locality. Born to a Muslim father and a Hindu mother, Sangeeta Begum used to hold Quran classes for the kids. I got interested in the holy book and started attending her classes. I made steady progress and was ahead of all others in her class soon."

Due to some personal reasons Sangeeta was forced to discontinue her classes and requested Pooja to keep her legacy alive.

"She taught me an important tenant of Islam, that there is no point in gaining knowledge if you don't share it," Pooja says with maturity that belies her age.

Pooja provides her services mostly for free as majority of her students are from poor families. As her students increased her house became smaller to accommodate all of them. Elders of the locality readily offered her space in the local temple to conduct her classes.

Her elder sister Nandini, who is a graduate, also teaches lessons in Hindi and Bhagwat Gita to local kids. Their mother Rani Kushwaha says, "These children are from underprivileged backgrounds and giving education to them is a great work. I am proud of my daughters."

How has the local Muslim population reacted to Pooja's efforts?

70-year old Haji Jamiluddin Qureshi, who is one of the city's most prominent Muslim leaders and chairs many social forums and runs a school of his own, says, "It's heartening to know that such rare examples of communal harmony exist in our city. A teacher is a teacher and her religion doesn't matter as long as she knows the holy scripture well. Moreover, Islam doesn't object to anybody learning Arabic or reading Quran."

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