The reasoning life and the varied religions came into

The only thing repeated, recurrent, habitual and
common to everything around us? Diversity. It is prevalent all around us, in
our homes, our societies, our politics, our colour, our environment, and our
beliefs. Diversity is everywhere. But the question is if it is a uniting
factor? Or a fractionating one?

 

The religious traditions of humankind are in an all
certitude considered a major diversifying aspect. This, however, is quite
misleading. As boundaried and distinct the religions may seem on the surface,
their unifying depth cannot be overlooked. The very origin of religion was an
attempt of the humans to understand the world around them. Everything man saw
or experienced, from the sun to a moving insect, he regarded it as magic and the
work of spirits. An explanation came in with the belief of a magician, the God,
by whose will the world functioned the way it does. According to what the
humans experienced, they came up with plausible reasons for them, and that is
how we moved towards reasoning life and the varied religions came into being.
All these religions stand connected by the people and their encounters and interactions
through the ages. When we look into the history of the Muslims, the Christians
and the Jews, we find that they have shared not only the abode, but ideas of the
divinity as well. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains with a common
cultural milieu in India, have witnessed interfaith exchanges and it has played
a pivotal role in shaping the lives of the individuals as well as the
traditions. In East Asia, the Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian, share a complex
religious inheritance, all being influenced by one another.

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Man is a social animal and what he believes and
follows is largely influenced by interactions and exchanges with the people
around him. The religious exchanges are thus a cognate to this natural interaction.
When we talk about religions, we ought to recognize that it is the people who made
them, not God. We believe that it was God who spoke to the priests, prophets
and the common people, and that they recorded his sayings for the greater good,
which became the sacred texts of different religions. But just as there are
times we say one thing, and have the listener hear something different,
similarly, only because God said something, doesn’t imply that it was also
heard right and exact. It is in fact proven by psychologists that humans
interpret everything they hear according to their experiences and understanding
of what is around them.”I love you” is a common phrase and we might
think that it would mean the same in every situation but this simple phrase
could be heard differently by a friend, parent, or a stranger. In a similar
manner, although God says the same things to the people everywhere, but each
one of us hears it according to our beliefs, culture and experiences. The
difference prevails in the listeners, not in God. God says “I love you” to the people
of all cultures, places and in all times. But everyone hears the message in a
unique way. The result are the multifarious sacred texts of humanity.

 

Not
only are there differences between religions but within them as well. The
people are not one, but many; all with a multitude of faiths. The Catholics,
Protestants, and Orthodox Christians; Sunni and Shia Muslims, the Orthodox and
Reform Jews, the magnificent amount of cultures and streams of thought within
Hinduism, can all cause the religions to encounter an internal dissent.
However, it is a usual observation that they stand united or divided depending upon
the platform or level of the argument. The cultures, languages, and faiths span
the world and they all possess voices of the men and the women, the traditionalists
and the reformers. Exchanges among all of these keep happening and moulding one
another for good.

When
we go deep enough, we know we are all god’s children. Endless cultural proliferations,
which we have come to see as conventions, should not make us forget that we are
all the same. To be able to accept this, while acknowledging the differences,
meaningful exchanges become a crucial tool. They let one understand that
diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. By
the mere existence of diversity, people become capable of accepting the fact
that differences of perspective might exist among them, and that our beliefs makes
us what we are, but the ground reality is that we are all the children of God. And
eventually, it is for us to decide, whether we use this tremendous amount of diversity
present around us, starting from the little things, going right up to the big
ones, for salutary, learning the better ways and filling the voids, or we use
it to keep creating borders, diminutions and restrictions that will lead to our
world going ‘puff’. It comes as no surprise that a heterogeneous group, if it
works together, can solve complex problems contrary to the one where everyone
knows and does the same thing. For this to be applicable to our customs as
well, may not seem that obvious but the science says that it does.

 

Globalization
is the truth of today. With the world becoming interconnected and
interdependent, the interactions and frictions among multifaiths stand
inevitable. Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” no more only feels
like a theory. With politics being a core motif, and immoral use of the
religious diversities for materialistic, and power related advantages, many
leaders have stepped forward towards a “Parliament of World’s Religions” for
creating a more congenial environment. Co-operation and trust stand as pillars
to this idea of interfaith dialogue. The aim is to shift the focus from what
differentiates us to what unites us.   

 

The first step towards this was taken in 1893 in
Chicago for an interreligious dialogue where religious leaders gathered from
all over the world to sow the seed of peace. It gave an opportunity to the
representatives to exchange ideas, develop trust, and work in the direction of
spreading the knowledge of tolerance to protect us all from extremism and war.

 

With
initiatives like these, the awareness on religious sensitivity spread like
fire. The political front too realized that religious peace is essential for
every negotiation between states and a healthy working of the system.
Strengthening of this initiative was seen with every conference held around the
world. Some stood out among them including the one held in Mecca in 2008 by
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni sided by Akabar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a
Shiite who tried to propagate the coexistence of their faiths. King Abdullah further
worked in supporting a dialogue among the monotheistic religions, Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Another breakthrough was the 2008 “Global Interfaith
Dialogue Conference” held in Madrid that had a representation of 300 delegates
of various religions. It was hosted by King Abdullah with the backing of
Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez
Zapatero.

 

 

The
United Nations (UN) General Assembly was then reached out for support. In
November 2008, with 60 leaders from around the world, including British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown, U.S. President George W. Bush, Pakistani President Asif
Ali Zardari, the interfaith concerns were discussed. The participation of the
UN General Assembly resulted in a milestone for the interfaith dialogue as it
was the first time that people widely segregated by physical, religious,
political boundaries sat together and worked to plan for the progress of the
societies.

The
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), is another important
initiative that is trying to address the interfaith problem with a different
perspective. It aims to reach the roots of religious diversity and find
solutions to the problems right from where they arose. The UNAOC launched the
Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) which preserves the resources on
world religions. The ERB uses education as a tool to promote tolerance. A
cross-cultural youth platform was also built in order to seek ideas and for the
youth to develop their ideas for the world they want for themselves. In 2003, the Republic of
Kazakhstan became a part of this too. The President, Nursultan Nazarbayev
believed that for the light of peace, harmony and prosperity to shine bright,
it was essential to continue the interfaith dialogue and cooperation among
them.

 

A
program has also been started in accordance with the motive of interfaith
dialogue called “A Common Word between Us and You” and it mainly tries to bring
to the people the basis of two religions, Christianity and Islam. It points at
the common foundation of these two religions which is the existence of one God
and love for that one God and people. The sacred texts of both these religions
also point to these principles repeatedly.

 

All the initiatives, organizations and people
working towards the interfaith dialogue are also trying to make an effort to
prevent and solve the misunderstandings that could arise by the exchanges.
There is no denying in the fact that a lot of times the issues that grow and
turn out to be very serious are a result of misunderstandings or
misinterpretations. The meaning of increasing interfaith dialogue could also
mean more clashes if one is not cautious. A lot of forums are working to not
let this interrupt with the call for peaceful multicultural coexistence. A
number of times when politics and religion mix, outrages have been seen
everywhere. To handle this, it is beneficial to have an efficient forum working
to keep track of such events and solve them to the best of their ability; a
collaboration where people with in-depth understanding of the religions come
together to handle the problems that could have grown due to unawareness. This,
as difficult a task may be, can be an important determinant of the global
affairs and where the world heads to. Acts in the guise of religion should be
avoided if we want world peace and not let it become a dream that we can’t turn
to reality.

 

“Every coin has two sides”.
Where there are people of the thought that interfaith dialogue can bring about
a revolutionary benefit of world peace, there are also people who do not
believe in this vision. The Hizb ut-Tahrir is
an Islamic group that is not accepting of the idea as they consider it as a
western tool that is designed to bring in the non-Islamic customs into their
religion. Peter L. Berger, a religious
sociologist put forth his idea of rejection to an exchange on moral
grounds. There can be situations or discussions that involve a reprehensible
theory like with the imams who justify ISIS. In cases like these, the
sociologist believes that not having an interfaith dialogue is more rational. There
are also the traditionalist Catholics who show a disagreement to any exchange
between religions saying that such a dialogue would place all the religions on
the same level and this would libel the divinity of Jesus Christ. For them, the
motives of peace and tolerance do not value as much as the supremacy and the
belief in their God. It is because their traditional practices had earlier been
demoted that they have become sceptical of any dialogue. The Sedevacantists
and Evangelical Christians are also critical
of the interfaith exchanges. S.N. Balagangadhara and Sarah Claerhout
who have studied Hinduism are of the opinion that, “in certain dialogical
situations, the requirements of reason conflict with the requirements of
morality”. This statement is evidently against any dialogue among
different faiths. It has been mentioned by some Hindus that anything that can
result from the religious exchanges, is nothing but violence. 

 

Today, what needs to be
understood, is the dynamic nature of the religions we believe in. A religion is
not something that can remain a constant through the time and be passed on just
as it was. With every generation, there are slight changes because the world we
live in is not at all constant. Just as how the religions originated and
developed into their present forms, they will continue to evolve and find their
place in the future times. Expecting constancy from religion is expecting
constancy from the people, which is quite unnatural. If it were true we would
still be in the Paleolithic age.

 

 

The idea of S. Huntington’s “Clash of
Civilizations” has taken a bend to the “Meeting of Civilizations”. The fact
that the world is moving in a direction where many people have come to terms
with the religion of humanity, the idea of tolerance being on the mind maps, is
a great indication of the interfaith dialogue and religious exchanges paving
the way for peace in the world. A lot of our everyday life’s encounters, through
media, inter-cultural collaborative programs, education and others, are in a
way promoting the idea and depicting the benefits of different religions coming
together and interacting in a healthy manner.

 

 

Thus, in the present time where
we witness a diversity of faiths and its prevalence being the determinant of
other motifs including the governments, trade, policies etc., it is for us to
decide if we turn it for the better, or for worse. We talk about “Unity in
Diversity”, but would we really live up to that? Meaningful exchanges between
different religions can unify the humanity, only if we respect the position of
the other faith. We must understand, that in the end, what religions teach us
are a way of life, a life that is peaceful and happy and if we perpetrate this
very motive of our religion, what good can it be?

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