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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Finding Pathway To Peace In Barcelona
Report on Parliament of World's Religions meeting
By Iqbal A. Ansari

Being in Barcelona (Spain) from 7to 13 July for the third Parliament of World's Religions was a rewarding experience. Organised by the Council for a Parliament of World's Religions, in partnership with Universal Forum of Cultures-Barcelona 2004 and in association with UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, the major theme of wide ranging programmes was Pathways to Peace: the Wisdom of Listening, the Power of Commitment which were aimed at helping participants:
1. Seek peace, justice and sustainability, and commit to work for a better world
2. Acknowledge the humanity of the other, and broaden the sense of community;
3. Foster mutual understanding and respect and learn to live in harmony in the midst of diversity; and, 
4. Deepen spirituality and experience personal transformation.
The programmes were divided into three primary sections: Intrareligious, Interreligious and Engagement.
Revived after a hundred years, the first Parliament was held in Chicago in 1993focusing on celebration of diversity and harmony and exploring religious responses to critical issues facing the global community; the second Parliament held in Cape Town in 1999 called the world's attention to the struggle to overcome apartheid and build a new South Africa. Held post 9/11 the third Parliament's focus was on peace through dialogue and understanding.
I had the opportunity of making the following five presentations:
(i) "Believing" and "Belonging" in a Plural Society.
(ii) Dialogue of Civilizations: Islam and the West in Quest of a Just and Peaceful World 
(iii) Living Together in the Midst of Conflict.
(iv) Peace Initiatives to Bridge the Hindu-Muslim Divide.
(v) Islamic Pluralism: Between Ideals and Challenges (with reference to Covenant of Medina).
The first and the fourth presentations were specific to the Indian situation, which gave me the opportunity to present a conceptual framework of minority-majority relations and its conflictual dimension in India that owed itself to the Hindutva view of history and nationhood. My thesis regarding the twofold process of strengthening of rule of law and inter-community conciliation was well received. While speaking on the topic 

*Visiting Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi: 20, Jaswant Apartments, Okhla, New Delhi-110025 Tel.: 26324452 E-mail: Mob. 33331392

'Living Together in the Midst of Conflict in the light of Islamic teachings,' I pointed out how the Prophet and his companions suffered prolonged persecution which they bore with patience and that war was imposed upon them, and how use of force was humanized by the Prophet and no vengeance was sought after the final victory in Makkah. I made use of the events of Taiph, Sha'b Abi Talib and Treaty of Hudaibiya to illustrate my point.

Dealing with the Covenant of Medina under the theme of pluralism I had the opportunity to stress how Jews and other non-Muslim tribes enjoyed full religious-cultural autonomy, even though they together constituted a single political community for the purposes of defence against external aggression and maintenance of internal order and peace.

My emphasis on guarantee of freedom of profession and practice of religion under the covenant made a member of the audience put the question to me: What about a Muslim changing his/her religion? My reply was an emphatic 'yes' as the holy Quran proclaimed there was no coercion in religion. We discussed this issue outside the session among our fellow Muslim participants and found agreement on this position. It was very much appreciated when at the end of the session I said that we Muslims must admint that religious pluralism and protection of minorities that we find sanctioned in the Quran, and which thrived in the period of glory of Islam is not visibly present in the present day Muslim countries and societies.

I had had some interaction with Jewish friends who were obviously committed to peaceful coexistence. I asked them if they would like to have a united country under one State of Palestine-Israel with common citizenship and equal rights, to which there was no clear commitment.

It is this proposition that constituted the centre-piece of my proposal regarding the Dialogue between Muslims and the West for a Peaceful and Just World.
I pointed out that "in spite of post-1945 ever increasing worldwide acceptance of human rights norms and rule of law, the West's pursuit of global power and dominance, led by the U.S., is mostly devoid of any sense of values of justice, compassion and sharing". I also admitted that the Muslim World faced a multidimensional crisis --- religious, political and civilizational and that all the sources of their miserable lot today did not lie in the West's urge for political dominance in the region and its support to Israel.

In my view what was needed was a sincere commitment to human rights norms and rule of law within the countries and in all international relations, de-emphasising unethical nationalism and pursuit of profit and power. From the ashes of post-Cold War and post 9/11 let a New Sacred Humanism be born wherein moral idealism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam could be a common source for addressing common concerns which would require us to rebuild Palestine-Israel as an inclusive, non-racist, non-sectarian plural democracy with common and equal citizenship. Such an upsurge to reconstruct humanity will automatically de-emphasis the medieval modes of thought and categorization of people as closed groups.

I made a plea for evolving Muslim-Christian-Jewish common human rights regional instruments and institutions like those adopted by the Council of Europe.

Chicago based Dr. Irfan A. Khan (formerly of the Aligarh Muslim University) was one of the pillars of the Parliament so far as Muslim participation is concerned. Dr. Mujahid Mallik, one of the Trustees of the CPWR, was also of great help to Muslim delegates. Other distinguished Muslim delegates included Syed Shahabuddin and Dr. Abdul Haq Ansari from India, Dr. Zahid Bukhari and Dr. Amir ul Islam from the U.S. and Dr. Ataullah Siddiqi from U.K and Dr. Ghazali Basri, Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Qamar Oniah from Malaysia. Syed Shahabuddin's lecture on Peace, War and Terrorism in Islam was very rich in contents and excellent in delivery.

I was personally impressed by Aminah Assilim, a neo-Muslim American lady wearing hijab, who is Director, of International Union of Muslim Women. In the course of her careful study of the Quran for her Christian missionary work to convert Muslims to Christianity, she got converted to Islam, especially in view of Islam's specific commitment to justice and human rights.

The World Council of Muslims For Interfaith Relations (WCMIR) which held its third annual conference during the Parliament provided us with the opportunity to meet Muslims from Jamaica, Mindanao, Cambodia, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, U.S, U.K. Spain and several other countries.

The most conspicuous presence in the Parliament was of the Sikh community, who served free lunch to about 5000 participants every day in their Langar in the traditional style.

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