Need for an interfaith dialogue

This Article was published in
The Frontier Post (January 01, 2011)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Owing to information explosion, the world has become a global village where happenings in one part of the world can have a considerable bearing on the rest of the world. The tools used for dissemination of information – such as the web and cell phones lead to a change in attitudes among followers of different religions and cultures, as well as performing educative and informative roles. Therefore, the need for efforts to foster positive understanding and interactions among all religions and civilizations has increased manifold in view of peculiar nature of threats posed to global order and peace.

Different efforts were made in the past to create reconciliation among religions but they could not bear positive outcomes. Mughal emperor Akbar, in 16th century India, tried to bring Muslims and Hindus together by contriving his own ‘Din-e-Elahi’ (Divine Religion), which he thought could be rendered into a state religion to establish a fundamental commonality among diverse peoples and a common identity. This was an unnatural way of integration, and ultimately a failure. Likewise, the philosophy of amalgamating ‘Ram’ (Hindu god) and ‘Raheem’ (Muslim God) espoused by the leaders of the Bakhti Movement could not succeed.

The basic reason behind the failure of these efforts was their unrealistic approach, which served to eliminate faith-based identity by imposing a uniform religion, foreign to all.

Islam offers a realistic philosophy of dialogue among different religions and faiths. It accepts the ideological diversity. Islamic history is replete with the examples of inter-faith harmony. Islam has been a strong proponent of dialogue and engagement among different religions and civilizations. The first Islamic state established by the founder of Islam, where followers of three religions lived together, was a perfect example of harmony and peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect. The British encyclopedia Britannica writes about this realistic approach of Islam, “Islam achieved stunning successes in the first phase because the followers of other religions lived their life with complete religious independence during the period of Islamic government.”

After all, it is important to understand contradictions and lack of uniformity among peoples in order to build a harmonious society for the establishment of a durable peace in the world. The respect for other religions and creed can only be created after one has thoroughly understood the differences and diversity. The acknowledgement of diversity and multiplicity tends to broaden our vision and create space for the establishment of an inclusive society where the citizens enjoy equality before law and have equal access to opportunities irrespective of their religion, colour and race. This forms the basis on which different sects and religions can be brought together for the pursuit of shared goals of human welfare.

The important principle Islam has worked out in this regard suggests the need for creation of harmony among people, not religions because differences between religions are natural and cannot be wished away. All divine religions also have shared values and commonalities, which can lay the foundation of a peaceful world. Peace and welfare of humanity constitute the essential message of every religion. The Madina Pact issued by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) is the written constitution that acknowledged the non-Muslims such as Jews and Christians living in the state of Madian as equal citizens and conferred all rights on them including the freedom to practice their religion.

The world needs to grasp and implement this principle as a way out of our present-day predicaments. The followers of every religion have their unique set of creed and beliefs and no one has the right to denounce them under any pretext. The commonalities among religions can be emphasized by understanding their differences. There are so many shared areas such as education, social and welfare services, climate change, social security, science and technology, multiculturalism and peace, which call for concerted efforts through global partnerships and alliances.

The followers of different religions and faiths need to join their forces and open the doors of dialogue and interactions to live peacefully and eliminate terrorism and extremism. The UN has a key role to play in instituting a permanent mechanism to make this happen. It can design an institutional response through broad-based participation of the international community. We need to understand that the threat to global peace comes from non-state actors who want to impose their highly bigoted and radicalized version of religions on others. They use the fair name of religions to justify their otherwise unjustifiable actions. We can only defeat these people if we launch interfaith dialogue as a structured movement at the global level with a view to building bridges among different civilizations. This process of interfaith presents us with the only road ahead on the path of abiding peace, harmony and development.