for mid-day.com on June 16, 2011
Dr. Narendra Desai, who took part in the dialogue on ISKCON`s behalf
Recently, Mumbai witnessed a unique event, where religious scholars came together and discussed the purpose of having inter-religious talks.
Can people of different faiths co-exist peacefully? What needs to be done to promote interfaith dialogues? To answer these questions, last Friday eminent writers and religious scholars came together at the Homi Talyarkhan Hall, Red Cross Society at Fort, to discuss initiatives required to promote a better understanding of various religions in our society and dispel stereotypes.
In another event held last Saturday, prominent members of the Sikh community gathered at the Yashwant Natya Mandir at Matunga (W) and emphasised the importance of youth centric programmes at various religious institutions.
The event at Fort, which was organised by Wisdom Foundation, had religious scholars like Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, Professor Ram Puniyani, Dr Homi B.Dhalla, Dr Narendra Desai and Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali as panelists.
The panel members emphasised, "peaceful engagement between different communities through various activities and empowering people through knowledge is necessary," to develop a better understanding of all the religions in our society.
Dhalla, President of the Foundation for Unity of Religions and Enlightenment of Citizenship (FUREC) said, "Dialogue is not only desirable but necessary as it will help to clear up misconceptions about another person's religion."
Talking about various types of dialogues, Dhalla said that there are four different types of dialogues. The first set of dialogues should involve interaction between different members of various religious groups. The second type of dialogue is 'dialogue for action'.
Quoting from history, Dhalla said, "This type of dialogue helped Christians and Muslims in Philippines to come together and form Muslim-Christian Agency for Rural Development (MuCARD)."
The third type of dialogue is for religious experience. For example, "there have been instances where Buddhist monks from Japan would stay at Christian monasteries in Europe and learn more about Christianity," said Dhalla.
And the last type of dialogue is for theological experience, "which include scholarly discussions on various issues," he added. Drawing similarity between the Bhagavad Gita, Koran and the Bible, Dr Narendra Desai, a trustee of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), said that problems between different religions are, "largely based on misunderstandings and lack of knowledge."
When an audience member asked how can one start the process of dialogue, Dhalla, one of the panel member said that, discussions and dialogues have to begin at the grassroot level . "Lack of religious education in school is a problem in our country. In England and in Russia, at least basic values of all religions are taught in schools," he said Professor Puniyani, another panel member however added a word of caution, "At the same time it is import to project the correct picture."
Calling communalism as a "political phenomenon", Islamic scholar, Asghar Ali Engineer said, "If we truly follow our respective religions then there cannot be any conflict. Our differences are infact more cultural. Ignorance causes prejudice. Two religions never clash. It is our interest, which clash."
Giving the example of famous publisher Munshi Naval Kishore, Engineer said, "Kishore took special care while publishing the Holy Quran. Inspite of being a Hindu, he would ensure that his workers performed the holy ablutions before beginning their work."
Condemning the 'clash of civilizations' concept, Puniyani said that the whole concept was driven by vested interests. "Different values of religion do not contradict but supplement each other," said Puniyani.
Cooperation and Positive interaction
The term interfaith dialogue refers to cooperation and positive interaction among people of different religious traditions and spiritual beliefs at both the institutional and individual levels with the aim of gathering common ground in understanding, concentration of similarities in terms of values and commitment to the world.
It is distinct from syncretism, or alternative religion in the sense that dialogue helps in understanding others rather than synthesizing new beliefs.
Throughout the world there are local, regional and international dialogue initiatives; many are formally or informally linked and constitute larger networks or federations. The often quoted "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.
There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions" was formulated by Dr Hans Kung, a professor of Ecunemical Theology & President of The foundation for a global ethic. Dialogue between religions is not new to India. Dialogue and interaction has taken place for many centuries. Emperor Akbar, encouraged religious tolerance among the people.
Muslim Spain is another example of great religious pluralism. Another example of historical coexistence between different faiths has been in the Balaks under the administration of the Ottoman Turks from the 15th to the 19th century. Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Sufis have dwelled in harmony for hundreds of years in this region. Today the region is very sensitive.
Especially following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, ethnic and religious wars have been waged, massacres and other horrors have been recorded in the last few decades.
The UN peacekeeping forces are in the region today to ensure safety of the general population against attacks. Early 20th century, dialogue started to take place between Abrahamic faiths Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In another event which was organised by Young Sikh Leaders (YSL) in Matunga, the focus was on , "how religious organisations should focus on career oriented programmes for the youth." The event, which was open to all religious groups, however saw participation primarily from member of the Sikh community itself.
Said Harjinder Singh, Chairman, Software Export Promotion Council, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, said, "Every Gurudwara should have incubators. An incubator is a place youngsters can be moulded and guided properly.
It will be a place where they can make mistakes and learn from them. At the same time I suggest that 5 per cent of collections at various Gurudwaras should be used for this purpose only."
The event also saw young Sikh entrepreneurs sharing their experiences with the audience. Teena Kaur, a filmmaker expressed her desire to make a movie on the 1984 anti Sikh riots.
"There was no mass suicide following the riots. But I want to make this movie to bring out the dark side. Nobody wants to talk about the riots. Nevertheless it is part of our history and we should know what happened exactly," said Kaur.
Asneet Kaur (18) already has her own company called 'Ashu's creations', which is into traditional and contemporary crafts. Another entrepreneur Sukhwinder Singh, who is credited to have made the first animated movie on Sikh history called "Sahibzadey" discussed about the various challenges involved in entrepreneurship.
Manek Singh, Executive Director of TIE, the global network of entrepreneurs said, "We as a community should contribute for the whole society and not only our community."
Another speaker Gurinder Pal Singh said first and foremost, an initiative is required to turn your dream into reality. "Initiative, innovation, inspiration, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, confidence and integrity will help you achieve your dream," said Gurinder.
Talking about the Sikh community which is scattered all across the world, Harjinder Singh said that many people do not know much about the Sikh community and this issue needs to be addressed, "In many schools in Afghanistan, history of Punjab is taught. In our country too, we should have chapters which gives right information about Punjab and its history."