Submitted by Murari Dasa
We had come to attend the Nairobi Ratha Yatra in East Africa and after that thought of doing some book distribution in neighbouring Dar es salaam and Zanzibar by Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy. In Dar es salaam there are some devotees and there is some preaching going on. In Zanzibar, however the population is at least about ninety five percent muslims and, they are practicing muslims. Therefore there hasn’t really been much done there. It is actually the birth place of the Swahili language and culture which is now quite widespread in Africa. Zanzibar island just off the Tanzania mainland is an autonomous province of Tanzania and also formerly part of Oman. In fact it was at one time the capital of Oman and the Sultans would reside there. Therefore there was a heavy Arab and Islamic influence.
So we planned to spend a day there distributing the Swahili SSR and Swahili BG. We took the 2 hour speed boat from Dar es salaam and crossed into the island and arrived at around 9am with a member of the local Hindu community greeting us on arrival after having been informed by a well-wisher in Dar about our plans for the day. He guided us to the local Hindu temple which was about a 7 minute walk from the harbour. Where we took some prasadam which we had carried with us.
Just after finishing our packed prasadam the person who guided us to the temple came to meet us along with the temple pujari and another person who was a prominent member of the small Hindu community. To our surprise they started telling us that it would be dangerous to distribute books here since the people, muslims, don’t like it. They explained how once a Swaminarayan had come and they followed him all around the town asking him why he had come here to spread his religion in their land. They suggested that they guide us to the book shops where we can ask them to take some books and also meet some prominent Hindus who could take some books to hand out to their muslim friends.
I was really against this idea as I was wondering how many books would really go out like that. Besides that I had been meditating on serving Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission by distributing books in Zanzibar for quite some time and thought if I didn’t do it now then I would feel I had failed in my service to the Gurus and Sri Gauranga.
So I told them that there is no problem and that we had done this many times and we will be careful and not pushy. They remained fixed in their determination to convince us not to go out on sankirtan telling us that in the past there were problems and even attacks on Hindus and that if we go out it may create a problem for all the Hindus on the island (we were in full vaishnava dress with Tilak). Finally I told them that we will go out without their help and find our way around and make it clear to everyone that we were not part of the Hindu community (which of course we are not anyway). They then still looked a little nervous and upset but then reluctantly agreed as they couldn’t really stop us from going to preach.
I exited the temple and started softly singing Nrsimha prayers. I left out a few shops and then started entering the shops. Almost all shops had pictures of Quranic verses on display and taped recitations from the Quran playing. Most people were serious though respectful, and asked some questions but found the philosophy new and seemed to be confused where to ‘place it’. Surprisingly there were a few people who had heard of the Bhagavad-gita and a
few having visited Dar es salaam had heard of the Hare Krishna movement. As I was going from shop to shop people looked at me curiously, but no one stopped me or bothered me. I presented the books as the Science of the Soul and universal knowledge applicable to everyone.
The only tense situation I encountered was when I entered a pharmacy where I saw an Arab person looking at me with a frown on his face. I avoided him and spoke to the other two who were there and he interrupted that these books are from a background different from what they were and so they don’t want the books. I just turned to him and said politely that the goal of these books is to simply add-on to the knowledge they already gained about God and not to challenge them. He was still getting quite emotional about why I came in the shop to present these books and so I just left politely. In all, over 4 hours (We had to catch the last return boat to Dar and so had 4 hours only) I managed to distribute 4 SSR’s by the mercy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as follows:
1) One small shop I entered had many books on shelves in Arabic and Swahili. The shop owner looked elderly but quite effulgent. He wore glasses and had a beard and a muslim cap and said he was a writer and these books for sale were his. He looked scholarly and knew about the Bhagavad-gita though opted to take the SSR instead. He gave me his contact and said I should visit him when I next come as he would then take a Bhagavad-gita.
2) The next fortunate soul was a woman who looked like a manager in a travel company. She was from the minority Christian community and she took the book and even wanted a BG but didn’t have enough money. I took down her contact and she was looking at the contents and the comments at the back of the SSR intently. She thanked me and asked me to visit when I returned next to Zanzibar so she could take a BG.
3) I entered a shop where another person owned a shop selling electronics and kitchen items. He looked quite young and when I presented the books he began to question me thoroughly and animatedly about the short introduction I gave about the books. He asked me why we are not happy in this world, what is the goal of life? Where are these teachings from? What is the position of the prophet Mohamed in these teachings? In between customers kept coming and his mobile kept ringing. Finally he took an SSR. Hari bol!!
4) The last recipient of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy was in a shop where I entered and saw two people speaking to each other. One was an Indian expatriate and looked surprised to see a person in dhoti, kurta and tilak. He started talking to me but I politely tried to instead engage the muslim Zanzibari person behind the desk who looked like the owner of the computer shop. As I was presenting the books the other person kept trying to ask about where ISKCON is here and is there a centre. I still tried to focus on the person behind the desk thinking to speak to the other person after I try to distribute a book to the one behind the desk. In the end they both refused to take a book. I then asked the man if there was anyone in the workshop behind who would perhaps take a book. He called out loudly in Swahili addressing someone in the workshop behind that someone’s coming there who is selling books in case he wants one. I entered the workshop and saw a youngish looking person working on assembling a computer. He was smiling at me and as I started trying to explain the philosophy he interrupted me and said he will take a book. Apparently he had been hearing the conversation of his boss and me and was felt inclined to take a book.
All Glories to the Sri Krishna Sankirtan Movement ! All Glories to Srila Prabhupada ! All Glories to the Translator of the Swahili edition of the Science of Self-Realization !