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DMC holds colloquium on Muslim-Christian relations

New Delhi: Delhi Minorities Commission held a seminar on Muslim-Christian relations in cooperation with the Islamic Studies Association. Religious leaders, scholars, intellectuals and mediapersons from both communities participated.

The seminar started with a one-minute silence in prayer and remembrance of the martyrs of the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Inaugurating the seminar, DMC Chairman Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan said that the Holy Quran holds Jesus Christ and his mother Mary in highest esteem and describes Jesus as the “Word of God”. He said Muslim-Christian relations were excellent during the first few centuries after the advent of Islam. In fact, the first two migrations of Mecca’s persecuted Muslims were to Abyssinia ruled by a Christian king. And this is the reason why even in their heyday Muslims never attempted to conquer Abyssinia. Dr. Khan said Crusades and the colonial onslaught caused huge damage to Muslim societies but still Christians remained safe and protected in Muslim lands so much so that an ordinary Christian in Muslim societies is more well-placed than an ordinary Muslim. He said it is a testimony of Muslim tolerance that seats of four churches are based in the Muslim world, viz.,Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria & All Africa, seated in Cairo; Syriac Orthodox Church, seated in Damascus; Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, seated in Istanbul and the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch based in BkerkéLebanon.

Dr. Khan said the immediate reason for holding this seminar is the joint document on “Human fraternity for world peace and living together” signed last February in Dubai by the leader of the Catholic Church Pope Francis and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb, who is the highest authority in Sunni Islam. He said although this document is about establishing good Muslim-Christian relations but, in fact, it can become a good basis of friendly relations between all religions.

Moderating the seminar, Laxmi Menon, India director of Unity Earth, shed light on Muslim-Christian relations in recent times and how they have vacillated between good and bad. She mentioned in particular how St. Francis of Assisi crossed the Crusaders’ lines to meet the Egyptina Sultan, Malik al-Kamil, in 1219 AD which paved a new beginning of good Muslim-Christian relations despite the bitterness of the Crusades.

Prof. Poulose Mangai of Vidya Jyoti College shed light on past Muslim-Christian dialogues. He said the Catholic Church was not interested in developing relationships with other religions but this changed in 1962 when the Vatican established a department to imoprove relations and understanding with other faiths. Dialogues started as a result. This policy has received impetus since Pope Francis took over the reins of the Catholic Church in 2013. Pope Francis believes that religion is a strong force to change the world. He is the first Catholic head to visit the Arabian peninsula. It was during this visit last February that the Pope signed a joint document alongwith Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh to work for better relations between Muslims and Christians. Prof. Mangai said we honour God only when we honour His children. Pope Francis says the real education is that you should know your brothers and sisters. He says the real demilitarization will take place when hearts are demilitarized because God is with those who seek peace.

Prof. Shareena Bano of Jamia Millia Islamia said that the Al-Azhar-Vatican document should be used to educate the masses. She said, we think separately and still believe that unity will be achieved. If we want unity, we must think together. Textbooks of schools should be prepared on this basis. Prof. Bano advocated that we must benefit from the educational experiment of Finland.

Thinker Basit Jamal, who popularises Islamic ideals through telling stories in schools, said that if there are people who want amity in society, there are others who do not want friendship to flourish in society. He refuted the idea that Muslims do not want good relations with others and referred to Sura Al-Mumtahina (60:9) of the Quran where Allah exhorts Muslims to hold good relations with those non-Muslims who do not fight and persecute Muslims.  He mentioned the document preserved in Sinai’s St. Catherine Church in which Prophet Muhammad has ordered Muslims to treat Christians well.

Prof. Akhtarul Wasey, Vice Chancellor of Maulana Azad University of Jodhpur, said the joint statement of the Vatican and Al-Azhar is an important landmark for better Muslim-Christian relations which nobody can disagree with. He said, other religions should also be joined in this endeavor, especially in India where many religious traditions live together, so much so that Jewish, Syrian Orthodox and Islamic traditions arrived here very early and became a part of the Indian fabric. Prof. Akhtarul Wasey said Allah has ordained religions plurality for us, otherwise He could have made us all follow one single faith. Why we should bother for something which Allah did not do? He said, Allah did not send His Prophet to convert people by force but only to convey His message. Allah has decided for all time to come that there will be no coercion in matters of religion, when he said, “For you, your religion; for me, mine” (Quran, 109:6). He said, differences are found not only between religions but there are differences even within every religion, therefore there should be inner democracy within each religion. He said, we should organize a front against all philosophies which are inimical to religion, whether they are based on hate, ignorance or terrorism. He said, in the coming years the Indian model will guide the world because here we have been living together amicably since thousands of years. We should enlarge our circle. Here, there is no minority or majority. Everyone is free to worship as he or she wishes but there is no freedom to hate others.

Prof. Khurshid Alam of Delhi University said the Al-Azhar-Vatican document is complete in every sense and it covers all religions. The contents of the document have come out of heart. It considers all equal; none is minority or majority. Prof. Alam demanded a new Platonic doctrine which would say that God exists everywhere and all humans should cooperate with each other. She said the venom found in the minds of professors does not exist among the masses.

Dr. Syed Jamaluddin of the Institute of Objective Studies and a former professor of Jamia Millia Islamia, said that the decline of tasawwuf (mysticism) resulted in the decline of human values. We should live as a spiritual family and for this, purification of the soul is necessary.

Iqbal Mulla, a leader of Jamaate Islami Hind, said the Al-Azhar-Vatican document is based an humanity which is very much required in the current circumstances of our country and the world. These ideas should percolate to the masses and to the youth in particular. There should be a loose federation of people sharing these ideas because some people in positions of power have different thoughts. He said, an atmosphere has been created by claiming that all evils emanate from religion while the reality is that evils are a result of the misuse of religion. He narrated an incident from the life of the great Islamic scholar, late Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, who was once told that even bearded people have started stealing; he said: no, say that even theives have grown beards.

Secretary of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, Amin Usmani, said that the Al-Azhar-Vatican document is a comprehensive statement prepared by the leaders of two great religions. Muslim organization should support it. He mentioned that Dr. Ahmad Al-Raisouni, President of the World Association of Islamic Scholars, has already supported this document.

At the end of the colloquium, DMC Chairman Dr. Khan announced that the Commission will soon hold a conference to which leaders of all major faiths will be invited to discuss the Al-Azhar-Vatican document and to disseminate its massage which applies to all faiths.   

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