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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Building communities across faith boundaries

TONS of books have been printed; time, talent and trust have been
invested on inter-faith dialogues and understanding during the last
century in almost all parts of the world. Today, not a single day
passes when there is no inter-faith dialogue held somewhere in the
world. However, suspicion, misunderstanding and hatred continue among
peoples of different religious persuasions. Religious intolerance,
extremism and militancy have escalated in many parts of the world in
recent years. Someone once said: “We have more religions to hate than
to love.”

Purely from a human point of view, it is not easy to
have authentic inter-faith leading to diapraxical solidarity. But,
however challenging that might be, it is not impossible. We need the
mentality and pro-life interpretation of religious teachings in
day-to-day life. In this, we need to prioritise the ethico-moral urging
of, and the spiritual strength from, our respective faiths. Humility to
learn from others is basic to meaningful dialogue, and for effecting a
culture of solidarity to live and let others live.

We need also
to guard against any danger of limiting our religious beliefs within
some particular culture or cultural pattern. Otherwise, we may fall
into a kind of idolatry. Let me quote here Paul Tillich to explain how
it would lead to idolatry, which Tillich defines as “the elevation of a
preliminary concern to ultimacy. Something essentially conditioned is
taken as unconditional, something essentially partial is boosted into
universality, and something essentially finite is given infinite

On October 13, 2007, one hundred and thirty-eight
Muslim leaders addressed a letter to Christian leaders all over the
world. They said: “Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians
is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected
religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second
largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims
reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity
respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s
population, making the relationship between these two religious
communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful
peace in the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the
world cannot be at peace.”

The spirit in which the above excerpt
from that historic letter was written can better be imagined than
described. The invitation signed by the 135 Muslim leaders to Christian
leaders all over the world has served as a clarion call to set in
motion a dialogical relationship between Muslims and Christians.

late Indonesian president, Sukarno, said at the Afro-Asian Conference
in Bandung on April 18, 1954: “Religion is of dominating importance,
particularly in this part of the world. There are perhaps more
religions here than in other region on this globe. But our countries
were the birthplaces of religions. Must we be divided by the
multiformity of our religious life? It is true each religion has its
own history, its own individuality, its own raison de etre, its own
special pride, its own beliefs, its own mission and its special truths,
which it desires to propagate. But unless we all realise that all-great
religions are one in their message of tolerance and in their insistence
on the observance of the principle of ‘live and let live,’ unless every
state does its duty to ensure that the same rights are given to the
followers of all faiths, unless these things are done, religion is
debased, and its true purpose perverted.” (From Building Spirituality
and Culture of Peace: Revitalising the Spirit of Bandung in the Context
of Globalised World — Towards A Spirituality of Common Future; Ed.
Josef P.Widyatmadja). Sukarno echoed the mind of the majority of the
people living in the religiously and ethnically pluralistic contexts of
the post-colonial Afro-Asian nations.

There is no alternative to
giving priority to the ethical and moral values and demands above
legalism, external rites and the extra-mundane doctrines. We need to
understand more the spirit behind, and not the letters of, our
Scriptures. In major faiths of the world Man is the crown of creation,
and has the sacred stewardship mandate to act as faithful
steward/khalif or representative of God he is to love and care for.
They teach both theocentric and anthropocentric values of love,
morality, holiness, piety and service to the needy. However, there
appears to be something wrong in us. We hear sermons but we scarcely
implement them. Religion becomes dysfunctional in terms of values and
objectives if it is manipulated for parochial and communal interests.

to the Bible righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin.
Without justice there cannot be peace. There is injustice in almost
every areas of social life. The poor continue to remain poor. As in the
Bible, a great concern for the poor and the weak is also expressed in
the Qur’an from the perspective of justice. “He is not righteous who
turns his face to the East or the West, but righteous is he who
believes in Allah and the Day of Judgement and the Angels and the
Scriptures and the Prophets: and gives his wealth, for the love of Him,
to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those
who ask, and to set slaves free; and observes proper worship and pays
the poor due” (Sura-2 Baqara: Ayat 177).

Religions teach
adherents to work for a better world order, a more equitable society
for all. Their basic tenets are essentially concern for human dignity
and the fulfillment of people’s aspirations. But as we see, the
religions being practiced and used in their institutional, structural
and ideological manifestations have become instruments of subjugation
and alienation. It is of great importance that we discover essential
human values and portray them to people in a realistic manner in order
to liberate them from indoctrination and domination of the weak by the

People must be, first of all, treated as people:
people created as imago Dei. This fosters inter-faith diapraxis. It is
not easy to have inter-religious dialogue or diapraxis in a place where
the gap in number among peoples of various faiths is large, especially
where the percentage of enlightened people is quite low. One key
theological reason why should we nurse this attitude is that all human
beings have the same origin.

This themes run through the Bible
right from Genesis 1:1-2:4 to Revelation. Paul declared in Athens two
thousand years ago: “The God who made the world and everything in it is
the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples build by
hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything,
because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
From one man he made nations of men, that they should inhabit the whole
earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places
where they should live” (Acts 17:24-25). God is the Creator, Owner,
Redeemer and the Judge of all Mankind.

We need to promote
inter-religious dialogues for finding common grounds on socio-economic
justice and equity, eco-justice, overpopulation, globalisation, bad
forces of market economy, and women’s place in society to create a
vision for a new humanity. The most important step in the journey is to
be able to identify the matters of common concern. This is possible
when we can respect each other’s traditions and values that have
contributed and can contribute to civilisation and culture.

should recognise things that are praiseworthy in the life and conduct
of people of other faiths. Paul exhorted the Christians in Philippians
thus: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever
is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things”
(Philippians 4:8).

The following can be recommended towards the achievement of this goal:

establishing diapraxical relationship with people of faiths we need to
have realistic intra-faith dialogue. A broader sense of ecumenism among
the various Church denominations and confessional groups will help;

teachers and preachers of every religion should first practice what
they teach or preach to others. There is no alternative to an
enlightened clergy in any faith;

-Scriptures of every religion
should be interpreted with life-oriented focus. People of different
religions should try to identify the real life-issues and human needs
faced by humanity; issues like poverty, socio-economic disparity,
injustice, ecological imbalance, adverse effects of globalisation,
corruption in high places, over-population, violation of the rights of
women, children, people with disabilities, and minorities from
religious, ideological and ethnic perspectives;

-Religious education and value formation should be in place up to college level in academic institutions;

and commercialisation of religions should be guarded against. It is
unfortunate that politicians and business use religions to suite their
vested agenda;

-People of any religion should be encouraged to
decry any injustice to, or attack on, the followers of any religion
anywhere in the world;

-Value or faith based NGOs, groups and
agencies can play a vitally important role in inter-faith dialogue and
diapraxical movement, and interfaith seminars and interfaith dialogues
on various concerns of common interests should be organised. These will
help sustain the impact of developmental activities for the poor and
weak people;

-The media should be used to spread news of
stories on interfaith harmony and tolerance among peoples so that other
people are also encouraged to love people of faiths other than their

-Writers and artists should use their talents in their writing and arts on interfaith harmony;

-State and government must protect the genuine rights of the people of all faiths and ethnic groups.

we claim that we believe in something divine, noble, peaceful and
life-giving we will do well to share that with others in real life. We
need to change ourselves first if we wish to change the world. We need
to have the sincere will and courage to face the realities of the world
in the light of the anthropocentric values that our faiths enshrine. We
cannot love God, whom we do not see if we do not love the people we

Reverend Martin Adhikary is a Christian Theology teacher and a Social Worker.