SITAMARHI, Bihar - As media continues to focus on claimed tensions between both faiths, Indian Muslims in the northern Bihar's Sitamarhi district have been quietly helping Hindus in constructing a new temple to finish it before their coming Chhath festival in November.
"Muslims are not only donating money for temple construction, they are also actively involved in ensuring that it should come up soon," Rajkishore Raut, president of the Shiva Temple Construction Committee, told IANS.
Raut, a school teacher, said the construction of the temple was a fine example of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.
Mohammad Sadre Alam Khan, a villager, said that dozens of Muslims, including village head Akbari Khatoon, have contributed in one way or another for the construction of the temple.
"This is a positive development for the village as a whole," Khan said.
The temple's construction reflected a new episode in the life of Sitamarhi town, which had a history of communal conflict.
In the mid 1990s, the district witnessed rioting between the cities Muslim community, comprising around 16 percent of the 105 million people of Bihar, and Hindus.
Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
Muslims also complain of being discriminated against in jobs.
They account for less than seven percent of public service employees, only five percent of railways workers, around four percent of banking employees and there are only 29,000 Muslims in India's 1.3 million-strong military.
The recent Muslim initiatives, offering help to Hindus in building their temples, have strengthened a new harmony in Bihar.
"The construction of the temple will strengthen harmony between the two communities and pave the way for greater cooperation in future," Lalbabu Sah, a villager, told IANS.
The Sitamarhi town Shiva temple construction was not the first to witness Muslim help.
A few months earlier, Muslims observing Ramadan helped in the construction of a Jain temple in Bhagalpur town in the state.
Mohammad Janeshar Akhtar even demolished a portion of his house in Bhagalpur to enable the movement of a 70-foot truck laden with a granite stone block meant for an idol in the temple.
Other Muslims had helped widen the street so that the vehicle could reach the temple without difficulty.
Earlier this year, some Muslims had helped in building a Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Durga in Bihar's Gaya district.
Muslims there not only donated money but engaged in the actual construction of the temple.
Earlier, a Muslim had donated land for a temple dedicated to god Shiva in Begusarai district.
Another Muslim, Mohammad Fakhrool Islam also gave his land for the temple in the Muslim-dominated Bachwara village.
The Muslim endeavors come against strained relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country.
Deep-seated tensions between India's Muslims and Hindus flared when Hindu mobs demolished the 16th century Babri mosque in 1992.
More than 2,000 people were killed in ensuing ethnic violence between Hindus and Muslims over the mosque demolition.
In 2002, hundreds of Muslims were hacked and burned to death in communal violence that broke after a fire accidentally flared up at a train.