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Interfaith dialogue

At least three interfaith conferences have been held during the last
two years; and exhortations for harmony among religions by the world
leaders, intellectuals and scholars have not gone beyond noble
sentiments. In July, Saudi King Abdullah while opening an Interfaith
Conference in Madrid had said, “Most of the dialogue between religions
has ended in failure.” The fate of the interfaith meeting under the
aegis of the UN is also likely to meet the same fate. Again speeches
have been made at the UN interfaith meeting in New York but neither
anything came out concrete nor there is hope that the West would change
its policies. Anyhow, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was candid in
acknowledging the eidetic reality and described Islamophobia as new
term for an old and terrible form of prejudice and called for ensuring
human dignity for all.

But the world is in the throes of
violence and turmoil, therefore the need for interfaith harmony has
never been as urgent and great as it is today. With the US-led War On
Terror, none else but Muslim fraternity is targeted. There are
flashpoints like Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir where Muslims
have been subjected to oppression, repression and foreign occupation.
In all these cases, Muslims have been pushed against the wall with the
result that the world has become more violent, more radicalised and
more dangerous to live in. Against this backdrop, if a few hundred
misguided elements out of 1.5 billion Muslims in the world resort to
violence or suicide attacks, Islam is certainly not to blame.
Addressing the conference, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told world
leaders at a UN interfaith meeting on Wednesday that terrorism is the
enemy of all religions, calling for a united front to combat it and
promote tolerance.

On the face of it, conflict between the followers of different
religions looks like interfaith disharmony but in fact it is the
conflict between haves and haves-not countries. It is a continuation of
colonialism and its new visage is imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Today, imperialism is trying to control the resources of the world. One
does not need to go through the thesis elaborating the US objectives,
and only a few lines from Nixon’s book expose the real intentions and
motives of the US. Former US President Richard Nixon confessed in his
book The Real War when he said, “It is naïve to say that another world
war may take place to defend the free world, when in fact the war is
actually going on.” He added, “If the US were to abandon its allies or
strategic military areas around the world, or those areas which are
rich in mineral resources or lose control over the flow of oil and
sea-routes, then the free world not only have lost the war, but its
very existence would be at stake.”

In 2006, there was outrage
in the entire Muslim world over dastardly act of the Danish newspaper
and its motivated reproduction by others in France, Italy, Netherlands
and Norway. Such acts encourage those who speak of the Clash of
Civilisations. The West claims to be upholder of fundamental rights; it
preaches tolerance and respect for others’ faiths, but in practice they
do things that tend to inflame the sentiments of the Muslims. And when
the latter retaliate, they dub them as extremists and terrorists. The
western countries, their so-called intellectuals and liberals continue
demonising Islam for the acts of terrorism by a very small minority of
fanatics, extremists and terrorists. As a matter of fact, the tirade
against Muslims and Islam had started with Samuel P Huntington’s
article on inevitability of clash between civilisations. It appears
that after disintegration of the USSR, the West needed another myth to
keep the West united, and their intellectuals had been working on some
‘academic laboratory theory’ to achieve this objective.

The Clash of Civilisations was published in the journal Foreign Affairs
in the summer of 1993, which helped formation of a series of attitudes
opposing Islam. Given its intellectual and doctrinal nature, it had the
greatest negative impact on the governments and the people of the
western countries. He wrote, “The fundamental source of conflict in
this new world will not primarily be ideological or economic…The most
important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault
lines separating the civilisations from one another.” But the fact of
the matter is that the cultural or religious differences
notwithstanding, majority of the people are inclined to promote a
better understanding and mutual respect among followers of different
civilisations. Others, belonging to the clan of the author, may use it
to engender the most pernicious kind of racist and discriminatory
views.

Pope Benedict’s efforts to promote harmony between the
great religions are commendable. Two years ago, he had made an
uncalled-for comment on Jihad and Islam that had hurt the feelings of
Muslims, and which triggered protests throughout the world. However,
later in a statement from the Vatican had said, “The Holy Father
sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have
sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim believers and were
interpreted in a way that does not correspond in any way to his
intentions.” Pope Benedict XVI was reported to have quoted criticism of
the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by a 14th century Byzantine Christian
Emperor Manuel II who among other things misinterpreted Jihad and
misquoted the command to prove his point that Islam was spread by
sword.

In the past, some Muslim rulers and some religious
elements could also have committed certain acts that are not allowed in
Islam. However, we should leave the past behind, forget about the
excesses by either side and try to highlight common points of love and
tolerance. The fact remains that Islam gave the message of peace,
justice, human dignity, reason and light, which is enough evidence that
Islam is an active and progressive religion. It heralded the end of
ancient world of oppression, inequality and injustice, and of pride and
privileges based on distinction of race, colour and creed. Those who
misinterpret Islam as a dogmatic, conservative, upholder of
obscurantism in fact deviate from the simple, rational and humane
spirit of Islam, and are, indeed, enemies of Islam. If anybody had
transgressed Allah’s commands in the past, then Islam should not be
blamed. As a matter of fact all religions gave the message of peace and
love. And all the Prophets were assigned with the task of making human
beings humane and reasonable with a view to establishing a society
where people could live in an atmosphere of peace and amity so that
they could achieve intellectual, spiritual and material welfare.

The writer is a freelance columnist

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Columns/19-Nov-2008/Interfaith-dialogue/

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