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How to achieve communal harmony
By Jagjit Singh Jabewal

Due to mobility men of different religions find themselves living side by side in villages, towns and cities. With this development it has become impossible not to take cognizance of the existence of faiths other than one’s own. The situation has brought about a new phase in the intersection among the believers of different faiths. Attitude of remaining unconcerned or hostility that resulted from prejudices often results in misunderstandings and ignorance are generally replaced among the growing number of people with mutual understanding and respect. Although inter-religious encounters were held in the past, the present requires it to take place on a broader basis. Theologians, scholars and people from all walks of life join in this holy campaign. People are aware that interactions between different faiths are a matter of mutual concern. Only on this basis it is possible to establish a relationship which is conducive for fruitful exchange. Suspicion, clinging to clichés, failure to adjust one’s openions, and to accept others as they are in their religiosity are the attitudes that are diametrically opposite to the spirit of dialogue.

Channels of approach
There are two channels of approach to achieve the goal: Inter faith studies and inter-faith dialogue, which have attracted considerable attention in recent year. On account of being need of time, day to day contact between the people belonging to different faiths has generated a temptation to know each other, which till recently had remained unfelt. As a result of this, various groups interested in religious studies have founded inter-faith societies to meet the demand. In fact inter-faith studies is the prerequisite of inter-faith dialogue. What is an interfaith study? Inter-faith studies or comparative study of religions means nothing but to become acquainted with the basic concepts, traditions, beliefs and history of other religions.

In the academic world the purpose of interfaith is severed by reading books and other literature published under the caption, ‘History of Religions’. That satisfies the personal urge of knowledge seeker. Origin of ‘Comparative Religion’ is dated to 19th century A.D. The research and serious study into the various religions based on the principle of neutrality as being carried out by growing number of students, preachers and scholars has lead to finding out an increased familiarities between various religions which in fact were little known. The results of scholarly work carried out by various categories of persons as mentioned earlier had reached the common people through books, newspapers, periodicals and radio and TV etc. In addition to that study of religions is introduced in schools and colleges as a subject in addition to those schools in which our religions are taught. Thus a desire and genuine urge to study even about one’s neighbor’s faith and also increased availability material in turn had generated more interest in common people for ‘comparative religion’.

This is one of the sources that a comparative religionist avails to gain more knowledge about a particular religion. Even impartial study of religion for one’s own sake leaves many dissatisfied. A large number of persons see no justification in such an undertaking amongst the members of different religions. They feel that improvement in mutual understanding, which is the only worthwhile and legitimate objective of comparative religion, is not achieved. They want that members should actively engage themselves in encounters in order to promote tolerance and cooperation among themselves. A clear deliberation of the two areas is necessary in the interest of positive results. It is not necessary for a comparative religionist to work only on his own religion, but there is an open choice for him to select any one. His aim should be to understand thoroughly the religion of his choice, so that he is capable to take part in discussions on different faiths.

Inter faith dialogue
Today it is commonly accepted that inter-faith dialogue is the need of of the hour and therefore should be furthered as much as possible. But it is generally observed that monologues are arranged under the name of dialogue. Dialogues between Semitic religions has been carried on in a more sustained and systematic manner than dialogue between Semitic and non-Semitic religions. There are of course incidents of encounters on battlefield between three religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But still interfaith dialogue between the three is commonly observed. On the contrary there have been very few occasions of inter-faith dialogues between Semitic religions and India born religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. It is also observed that on such occasions Hindu spokesman has always indulged in an attempt to show superiority of his religions. It is due to the absence of such dialogue that there exists mistrust in Hindus for Muslims, misunderstandings in Sikhs about Muslims and ignorance in Muslims about Sikhs. What to talk of Muslims in general even majority of Muslim scholars hardly know that Sikhism is the only India born religion which is purely mono theistic in character. What a tragedy for both?

The object of interfaith dialogue to have meaningful exchange of views and to be protected from being mislead by one’s co-religionist. He would be fully aware about the differences of traditions even in one religion. For instance Catholicism is not all Christianity just as Advaita Vedanta is not all Hinduism.

A sympathetic attitude towards other religions is indispensable if a true understanding is to be achieved. In practice, however, a conscious effort is necessary to overcome deep seated emotional barriers that generally prevent interpretors from seeing with the eyes of others. Failure to offer reasonable opportunities to each partner to express his views would turn the so-called dialogue to monologue. Unfortunately this is what happens all too frequently. In order to enter into other’s world one must adopt as much as possible to adopt to the views of the partners.

It is understandable that the aim of interfaith dialogue is to eradicate misunderstandings and baseless views which are generally causes of enmity. New insights into one’s theological thinking should result when one presents one’s own faith in terms of other people’s experience and language. Despite closeness between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the common theological thinking so far has remained limited and has failed to produce any mentionable results. Even Jews and Christians rarely meet on religious footing and seldom engage in theological discussions.

Common responsibility
It is the responsibility of everyone of us to forget the bitter historical memories of the past to work as a team to bring about a radical change in the approach of people to create a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere on which the bright future of this country depends.
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