Interfaith Movement : A Muslim Initiative

Interfaith Movement : A Muslim Initiative

Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu

What happened on the 24th of March, 2001 in Arraria in North Bihar, helps shape a lot of things to come. On that day, leaders and thinkers representing Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism -including the present authors- came together to address a mammoth gathering convened by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and chaired by its National President Maulana Mohammed Sirajul Hasan. People who came from all over Bihar and Jharkhand listened in rapt attention to the messages, heralding a new paradigm in inter-religious cooperation for social transformation. We presume it is worthwhile to share with our readers the sense and sensibility of what transpired at this unique event.

Every speaker agreed that inter-religious perceptions have been corrupted by the policy of 'divide and rule'. Jagatguru Shakaracharya Madhavanand of Prayag Peeth regretted that five decades since the departure of the British, we still have not liberated ourselves from their strategies. Instead, we have simply stepped into their shoes and continued with their power games. According to Singh Saheb Prof. Manjit Singh, Jatthedar of Gurudwara Kesh garh, Anandapur Saheb, the mutual alienation of religious communities has worked to the advantage of the agents of corruption and injustice, as religious communities cannot fight these mighty forces in isolation from each other. It is therefore time for all of us to work together towards harnessing the full weight of religious authority towards the task of containing and eradicating corruption and injustice from our society.

Anger is one of the familiar strategies that vested interests use in order to control and manipulate their victims and adversaries. Not knowing this we tend to easily play according to them. Burning the Quran in Delhi and two other places in the Punjab is a good illustration of this. The mischief-mongers, who desperately needed to create a situation of communal tension, knew very well that all that they had to do was to burn copies of the Quran here and there to get the Muslim community worked up. And they were readily obliged. In this equation, the agent provocateurs were assured of easy success. What is overlooked in this process is that by so obliging these con-men of communal disharmony, we do not honour the Quran but only aid and abet its blasphemers. If any scripture gets into the hands of those who care neither for God nor for

human beings, shouldn't we expect that it would be burned or trampled under foot? It does not matter which scripture or which religion it is. What matters is the shameless pursuit of one's own vested interests at the cost of all that we hold dear and sacred in this world. Those who burn the scriptures of other religions and desecrate their places of worship will not hesitate to do the same to their own religion, if and when they think that doing so would help them in their mercenary pursuits.

The spiritually wholesome way to frustrate the sinister intentions of these misguided elements is on the one hand to refuse to be provoked and, on the other, to live according to the best and noblest values taught by one's scriptures. No religion has perished in history on account of external hostilities. Instead, religions have become stronger, deeper and purer in their spirituality on account of opposition and persecution. However, religions can be weakened and destroyed from within. When we ignore the nobler values of a religious tradition and get obsessed with its externalities, we allow its strength to be weakened and its relevance to be compromised. The diverse spiritual traditions of spirituality are not the inventions of human beings. They are the voice of the Eternal Spirit (Paramathma), speaking to people in various situations and places according to truths that never fail and over which no human being or group has ultimate authority.

Globalization, the speakers argued was not only an economic paradigm but also a cultural project. It is the Trojan horse though which the western materialistic culture is enabled to infiltrate into our living rooms and mindsets. This needs to be fought at three levels. At the level of the individual at which it is a matter of life styles. As long as we buy ourselves into the consumerist way of life, we aid and abet the MNCs to rob our country. The best rebuff to the seductiveness of globalization is the Gandhian way of life that limits needs and refines desires.

Secondly, the culture of globalization is a serious threat to the viability of family and the durability of relationships, as is already evident. Family is a spiritual institution and it cannot be nourished by the merchandize of materialism. The tragic consequences of the wasting of family are knocking at our gates in the form of AIDS, drug abuse and alcoholism to name a few.

Thirdly, globalization has to be fought at the social level. Corruption, to take just one example is integral to globalization. Even before globalization as a dominant ideology arrived on our shores, it was already at work in the area of defense deals. War-making has been the most globalized industry in modern history. The so-called clean societies of the world gave a free hand to their arms agents to resort to rabid corruption to brighten their trade prospects. The most gigantic instances of corruption in our country have all been in this sector. Because of the stakes and the power of the players in this field, it is impossible for anything less than the combined moral strength of our religious authority to counterbalance their stratagems. Keeping the people disunited and fighting among themselves in the name of religion has been the basic strategy of the corrupt, especially in our country. It is high time we saw through this game and fought together to contain corruption and to create a healthy, equitable and peaceful society.

A pre-requisite for the empowerment of the people is to enable them to be rational in the understanding and practice of their religion. Unfortunately, people have been conditioned not to think and to function at the sub-rational level, so that they can be easily manipulated. One of the ironies of human nature is that when we act as individuals we try to maximize our personal advantages, but in group behaviour we go quite against our own interests. What did those who participate in the destruction of the Babri masjid gain by it? Yet, consider the enormous inconveniences they put up with and the risk they braved in this context. This anomaly in human nature needs to be recognized for what it is, and the immorality of exploiting it at will needs to be exposed as an insult to true religiosity and human dignity alike.

Unfortunately, the practice of religion has acquired a predominantly escapist tendency in the Indian context. Religious leaders turn a blind eye to the burning issues of the day. The responsibility to work tirelessly for the health and dynamism of our society is wholly shirked.

Religion is turned into a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, rather than a call to battle against the forces of corruption, exploitation and injustice. This suits the interest of those in power but is inimical to the well-being of the people. Religion and politics must unite in the pursuit of human welfare. But that cannot happen, unless religions themselves unite within a shared vision of what our society and nation should be. The old trick of 'divide-and-rule' must, therefore, no longer be allowed to rob us of our right to love each other and to be united, lest the unity and integrity of this great nation is eroded from within, especially by those who don the mantle of patriotism. Religion is an invitation to love and to care, not a call to hate and fight. Those who spread hate and violence are the enemies of all. They are the true enemies of our country, and they need to be isolated and their stratagems frustrated at all costs.