It was a unique occasion. The representatives and experts of different faiths as well as other scholars and social activists gathered on October 24-26, 2008 at New Delhi’s famous India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) in response to a call by Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), a well known think tank; IOS Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies; and Universal Peace Foundation (UPF) to interact and discuss seven issues under the central theme “Towards Human Understanding through Dialogue”. The three-day international conference attracted the attention of thinking persons because this was the first ever serious effort of its kind in the Indian context, providing an opportunity to understand each other through dialogue. IOS Chairman Dr M Manzoor Alam, who conceptualized the central theme, exhorted the participants, particularly the youth, to come out and play a pivotal role in the fight against all kinds of terrorism and the process of dialogue.
The participants included Shankaracharya Onkaranand Saraswati, Shri Shri Shri Shiva Murthy Sharanaru, Mahant Janamjey Sharan, Swami Tatgatananda Jee Maharaj, Swami Agnivesh, Dr M M Verma, and Prof Ratna Basu from Hinduism; Dr Gurtej Singh and Dr B S Siddhu from Sikhism; Rev Baddegama Samitha Thera, Prof H P Gangnegi, Prof G N Samten and Prof Sanghasen Singh from Buddhism; Swami Dharmanand, Sudeep Jain and Dr Veer Sagar Jain from Jainism; Father Dominique Emanuel and Dr M D Thomas from Christianity; Maulana Abdullah Mughaisi, Maulana Sultan Ahmed Islahi, Prof Mohsin Usmani, Prof Saud Alam Qasmi, Prof Hamid Nasim Rafiabadi, Tauqeer Alam, Mufti Zahid Ali Khan, Dr Ishtiyaque Danish, Sufi Jeelani and Prof Ali Mohammed Naqvi from Islam.
The star attraction was Prof Samir Qasim Fakhro, an internationally reputed ideologue and Vice Chancellor, Arab Open University, Bahrain. There were also representatives from Kuwait’s Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Ministry---Mohammed Umar Al Qinaie and Mohammed Al Umar.
Besides, a number of scholars and social activists were too present on the occasion. Islamic scholar and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Ameer Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umri attended the inaugural session while Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson K Rahman Khan was present in the inaugural and valedictory sessions. League of Arab States ambassador HE Dr Ahmed Salem Al Wahishi Ambassador, League of Arab States Mission too expressed his views in a session.
Inaugurating the three-day conference on October 24, Mahant Janamjey Sharanji, President, Shri Ram Janambhumi Mandir Nirman Nyas, Ayodhya, said “our blood is of one colour and we all are one. We should live peacefully together.” Warning those playing the mandir-masjid card, he said Ramjanambhumi was a national property and it was not an issue and the solution was that “we should respect each other’s feelings and sentiments.” He declared that humanity was the biggest religion.
Agreeing with him, Shankaracharya Onkaranand Sarswati, Onkar Dham, New Delhi said Islam stood for peace and harmony and those who tried to link it with terrorism, actually didn’t know it.
Swami Tatgatananda Jee Maharaj, Secretary, Ram Krishna Mission, Patna (Bihar) said that a human being had to be free of one’s biological sphere and come out for dialogue to reach towards the goal of harmony and peace. He further added that every human being was equal in the eyes of the Almighty.
Gurtej Singh, retired IAS official from Chandigarh (Punjab), who represented the Sikh community in the conference, emphasized the need of a dialogue for which Guru Nanak himself visited different parts of the world.
Rev Baddegama Samitha Thera, chief priest, Baddegama Budhist Temple, Columbo (Sri Lanka), said Buddhism was too for a dialogue among different faiths. He said that Gautam Buddha was of the view that there was no race other than a human race.
Swami Dharmanand, Sadhna Kendra, New Delhi, who represented the Jain community, averred such event really provided an opportunity for the followers of different religions to come closer.
Dr M D Thomas, National Director, Commission for Religious Harmony, CBCI, New Delhi stated that dialogue was the core value of human life. It was a two-way process and we should see each other as our reflection, he added. “Everybody has got an individual identity, but we also have to share multiple identities. The individual is not confined to a temple or a mosque or any other place of worship and he is everywhere,” Thomas said.
Maulana Abdullah Mughaisi, President, All India Milli Council, opined that the need of the hour was to come out on the streets for a united fight against terrorism.
Sirajuddin Quraishi, President, India Islamic Cultural Centre, said the Treaty of Hudaibiya was before the humanity as a milestone in the world of dialogue. According to him, the dialogue has, however, assumed importance particularly after 9/11.
K Rahman Khan, Deputy Chairperson, Rajya Sabha, said IOS deserved compliments for bringing leaders of different faiths at a common platform.
Earlier, Dr M Manzoor Alam, in his welcome address, said in the present situation there was no alternative other than a dialogue among different faiths.
In his presidential address, former Supreme Court Chief Justice A M Ahmadi said the process of a dialogue was the only way-out to extricate the Indian society which was pluralistic in nature from the pervading chaos perpetuated by the virus of communalism. He averred India was an umbrella of multi-religious faiths where “we should live in peace and tranquility without transgressing and hurting the rights and beliefs of other religions”.
He said: “The principle of fraternity as enunciated in the Preamble of Indian Constitution, which has not received attention as it needed, should be adhered to resolve disputes through dialogue and honouring the dignity of an individual and communities at large leading to unity and diversity.” Earlier, IOS Secretary General Prof Z M Khan introduced the theme along with IOS.
Presiding over on October 25 the first business session under the sub-theme “Relevance and Dynamics of Dialogue in the 21st Century”, Dr Samir Qasim Fakhro said: “Our dialogue should have a common agenda while allowing every body or group sticking to its own identity and respect each other’s faith. For this we need able leaders with grass-root connection, not leaders who have remote control followers.”
He said the leaders’ role was very important but the problem was that the present leaders didn’t have ability to understand the issues and reach people with a common agenda. A faith needed culture and tolerance, he added.
He also said that culture could unite people, not break them. According to him, when a good culture would come, marginalization and injustice would itself go and there would be equal opportunities for new generation everywhere.
Dr Fakhro averred good and able leaders could emerge only when good culture would be allowed to flourish. “You can contribute to your nation as a follower of your religion from your own way,” asserted the internationally known scholar and educationist.
However, Gurtej Singh, IAS (retd) from Chandigarh (Punjab), opined that the scenario for a dialogue in the 21st century India was grim but there was no alternative and prospects of it must be relentlessly promoted. In his view, this also called for a united effort by other nations and minorities, at least at the academic level, to pursue the aim of establishing a meaningful dialogue.
Prof M H Qureshi, former Professor of Geography, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, said there were three kinds of power---power of intellect, power of economy and power of polity. According to him, the power of intellect had a superior role to play, but the problem was that today it had disappeared and power of economy was dominating the scene with power of polity taking a back seat.
Dr A K Pasha was of the view that a dialogue should be done between two equal partners but in today’s world it didn’t happen. He also said there was no match between hegemony and dialogue. He said in each and every case whether it was of Afghanistan or Palestine, “we would have to ponder over the root cause”.
The second business session on “Dialogue among Faith Communities for Peace and Justice (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Budhism and Jainism)” under the chairmanship of Prof M H Quraishi, former Professor of Geography, JNU, New Delhi, was lively. Prof Ratna Basu, chairperson, Department of Sanskrit, Kolkata University, representing Hinduism, opined that according to the Hindu scriptures, there was no religion like Hinduism.
Father Dominique Emanuel, Director-spokesperson, Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, representing Christianity, said his religion itself stood for love, peace and brotherhood and was always in favour of a dialogue among different communities.
While referring to the sayings of Muslim Sufi Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar, Dr B S Siddhu, former Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Punjab University, Chandigarh (Punjab), representing Sikhism, averred Guru Granth
Sahib’s contents itself showed Sikhism’s accommodation to other faiths.
Prof H P Gangnegi, Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi, representing Buddhism, discussed the teachings of Gautam Buddha and dwelt in detail its attitude towards the followers of other faiths.
Dr Veer Sagar Jain, Reader, Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Delhi, representing Jainism, said the basic teaching of this religion was nothing but to “live and let live other creatures”. According to him, this philosophy showed much scope for dialogue different faiths.
Sufi Jeelani said dialogue among faith communities was the need of the hour and it was possible because all religions had some common points.
Prof Hameed Nasim Rafiabadi, S H Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, representing Islam, said the Holy Quran didn’t condemn other faiths anywhere. According to him, there was a famous verse in this regard”.
Agreeing with Prof Rafiabadi, Prof Mohsin Usmani, Islamic scholar and Dean, School of Foreign Languages, University of Hyderabad, said different faith communities in India had now no alternative now other than to start dialogue for peace and justice, and in this process, the institutions like IOS could play an important and decisive role.
The third session revolved around “Information and Communication Technologies as Instruments of Dialogue”. The keynote speaker Dr Samir Q Fakhro, known as father of IT in his own country Bahrain, said this was the age of information technology, therefore, the in the process of dialogue the information and communication technologies could play a decisive role. According to him, unlike past in this era it was easy to interact with each other through these instruments. However, he advised to remain connected to the roots and realize ground realities while sticking to values.
Dr Abdul Mateen, Reader, Department of Sociology and Social Work, AMU, Aligarh, dwelt in detail on the topic.
Concluding the session, Dr Ausaf Ahmad, former Head, Special Assignment, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Editor, Urdu quarterly “Mutalleat”, New Delhi, said: “We must not exaggerate the role of the Western technology. We all rely on the West which is the producer of technologies and developing countries are the users or consumers of technologies. Some times economists have advocated for developing countries the use of intermediate technologies or appropriate technologies, but such technologies, even if they existed at the time of industrialization of the West have been discarded. So long, as developing countries acquire necessary technical capability to invent the technologies they require, they have to rely on Western technologies. In this connection the Arabic principle “khud ma safa wa da' ma kadar” (Take what is pure and discard what is impure) can be our guide.
Meanwhile, a parallel session on “Wastia---Middle Path of Peace” was also held. It was presided over by Prof Saud Alam Qasmi, Dean, Faculty of Theology, AMU, Aligarh. In his keynote address, Mohammed Umar Al Qinaie from the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Kuwait, said middle path of peace was the only alternative in the present situation to save the world of conflicts and clashes. Agreeing with him, his colleague Mohammed Al Umar said Islam had emphasized upon it.
Prof Mohsin Usmani, Dean, School of Foreign Languages, University of Hyderabad, said it was Islam that always asked its followers to adopt wastia.
Tauqeer Alam, Reader, Department of Sunni Theology, AMU, Aligarh, opined that the world was in grip of several problems only due to leaving wastia.
Agreeing with him, Prof Ali Mohammed Naqvi, Department of Shia Theology, AMU, said extremism arrived when wastia was said good bye.
Mufti Zahid Ali Khan, Nazim-e-Deeniyat, AMU, said the wastia was essential everywhere whether it was the case of individual, group, nation or world.
Maulana Sultan Ahmad Islahi, Islamic scholar from Aligarh, discussed the principles of a dialogue and threw light upon its misuse sometimes. Intervening in the discussion, Dr Manzoor Alam said dialogue was not a new phenomenon. Quoting the dialogue between the Creator and Master of the universe, the Almighty Allah and the angels, from the Holy Quran, he said it occurred even at the time of the creation of the human being.
The fourth business session on “Dialogue among NGOs” was presided over by Swami Agnivesh, eminent social activist and founder of Arya Sabha.
Prof Z M Khan, former Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Secretary General of IOS, in his keynote address, said this was the age of NGOs and their role had become very important in the existing situation everywhere. Sometimes they did what was beyond the reach of the government in many cases of calamities---natural or man-made. Keeping their growing influence, it seemed necessary now to have interaction among themselves. And this was possible only by dialogue, he emphasized.
Sudeep Jain, Reader in Prakrit, Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Delhi, too felt it necessary to have a rapport with each other.
In his presidential remarks, Swami Agnivesh exhorted the NGOs to come to a platform and have a dialogue. He said in the West the NGOs set the directions of the policy in most of the issues and played a key role in the building of the society.
On the concluding day, October 26, the fifth business session began with a discussion on “Inter-Cultural Dialogue in the Indian Context” under the chairmanship of Prof Qamar Ahsan, Vice Chancellor, Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic and Persian University, Patna.
Prof Sanghasen Singh, former Professor of Buddhism, University of Delhi, in his keynote address, said at a time when the world was talking of inter-faith or inter-civilization dialogue at international level, there was a dire need for an inter-cultural dialogue in the Indian context.
Prof Vinaysheel Gautam, Chairman, D K International Foundation, Gurgaon, India was a country of different cultures, therefore, inter-cultural dialogue here was a must.
Dr Phool Chand Jain, retired Professor, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and Prof Shameem Ansari, Professor of Psychology, AMU, Aligarh, endorsed the views and suggested how to move.
Concluding the session, Prof Qamar Ahsan said India was a multi-cultural country. So, a dialogue was imminent to remove misunderstandings about each other and help create a congenial atmosphere.
In the sixth session, the participants pondered over “Creation of a Humane Society through Dialogue: Challenges and Opportunities”. Dr Ausaf Ahmad presented his keynote paper and pointed out a number of challenges and opportunities.
HE Dr Ahmed Salem Al Wahishi Ambassador, League of Arab States Mission said there were, no doubt, challenges but opportunities are also a lot. While dealing with the practical difficulties, “we would have to march towards creating a humane society through dialogue,” he asserted.
Dr M M Verma, senior adviser, India-Russia Chamber of Commerce, New Delhi, said a realistic approach to the creation of a humane society could overcome the challenges.
Maulana Sultan Ahmad Islahi, also a former associate of Idara Tahqeeq-o-Tasneef Islami, Aligarh, was of the view that there were many challenges in the creation of a humane society through dialogue.
An interactive session was addressed by Prof Z M Khan, Dr Ishteyaque Danish, and Dr Ausaf Ahmad, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General and Finance Secretary of IOS, respectively.
The three-day international conference came to an end with the valedictory session under the chairmanship of Dr Manzoor Alam.
Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson K Rahman Khan, in his valedictory address hoped there would be harnessed creative potentials and energies of various religions to foster culture of peace, co-existence and justice among different sections at all levels.
Prof G N Samten, Director, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Varanasi, said dialogue was necessary for a peaceful co-existence.
Shri Shri Shri Shiva Murthy Sharanaru, Pontiff of Sri Murugha Muth Chitra Durga, Karnataka, averred that a humane society was needed and it was only possible when the leaders of all religions would gather at a common platform and decide a common strategy through dialogue.
Dr Manzoor Alam, in the concluding address, emotionally urged the participants in general and youth in particular to come ahead and march towards a human understanding through dialogue.
Mushtaque Ahmad, advocate and convener, IOS Committee on Law, proposed a vote of thanks. Earlier, IOS Secretary General Prof Z M Khan presented an eight-point resolution that was passed unanimously (See the Full Text).
This occasion also saw the release of four books and IOS Calendar 2009, based on facts and data, being brought out for the last over 20 years. The books included “Profile Jews in the Light of Glorious Quran” by Dr Zakir Azmi, “Harmony of Faith and Civilization” edited by Dr M M Verma, “Aapattiyan Ewam Wastawiktaen” by Abdur Rab Karimi, and “Nabi-e-Rahmat Ka Payam-e-Rahmat” by Maulana Abdullah Tariq.
---A U Asif, Editor, www.fanawatch.com, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior journalist Pervez Bari’s Reports in “Prativad”, News Channel/ TV Online and “TwoCirces.net”