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