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Sikh Grocer Seeks Ramadan Blessings Over Profit

Gurmeet Singh, a grocery store owner, says he is upholding a family tradition by offering discounts to Muslim customers.
Gurmeet Singh, a grocery store owner, says he is upholding a family tradition by offering discounts to Muslim customers.

JAMRUD, Pakistan -- Instead of profiting from the increased demand for food and drinks among his predominantly Muslim clientele during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, one Sikh shopkeeper in northwestern Pakistan is offering discounts to earn their goodwill.

Gurmeet Singh, a grocery store owner in Jamrud, a dusty town at the gateway to the historic Khyber Pass, says he is upholding a family tradition.

“My father used to say that we can make profits for ourselves for 11 months but we must provide some relief to our Muslim brothers during this one month,” he told Radio Mashaal as he filled a customer’s order for sugar and rice.

Singh’s family has offered the discounts since establishing their shop in 1991.

“We are offering discounts on everything that is needed during Ramadan such as rice, pulses, edible oils, cold drinks, and other things,” he said. “We strongly feel that while they respect our religion, we must show our regard for their beliefs.”

The rapid decline of the Pakistani rupee this year has substantially increased the prices of essential food items and beverages. The increased demand during Ramadan typically leads to price hikes at shops.

Many Pakistani businesses and shopkeepers reap windfall profits during Ramadan, when all adults in the predominately Muslim country of 207 million people are expected to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.

Singh is offering up to 20 percent off Ramadan essentials. Local resident Asghar Afridi says that most Jamrud residents are impressed by the gesture.

“They are showing their true sympathy for Muslims by offering discounts when even most Muslim shopkeepers have hiked prices,” he told Radio Mashaal. “I think it will also help in increasing his clientele after the end of Ramadan.”

More than 20,000 Sikhs live in the tribal district of Khyber amid the Muslim Pashtun communities of the Afridi, Mallagori, and Shiwari tribes. Like their Muslim neighbors, many Sikhs were displaced when Islamist militants overran parts of the region since 2005. Home to the Khyber Pass, the region is a key commercial hub connecting Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, to the border with Afghanistan.

The Singhs were among the hundreds of Sikh families forced to abandon their Khyber home by hard-line Islamic militants. But longing for their homeland ultimately prompted some Sikhs to return to Jamrud and other towns and villages in Khyber.

Singh hopes his gesture will encourage tolerance and inter-faith harmony in Khyber.

“The people of this region have never harmed us,” he said. “We would like to share in their sorrows and happiness just as they have always done for us.”

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Farhad Shinwari’s reporting from Jamrud, Pakistan.