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, 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 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 saw it as magic and work of
spirits. The explanation came in with the belief of a magician, the God by
whose will the world functioned the way it did. According to what the people
experienced through the ages, and their plausible reasons they could come up
with, we moved towards reasoning life and the varied religions came into being.
All of them, knit in time with people and their encounters and interactions, growing
through the ages. When we look into the histories of the Muslims, Christians
and Jews, they have shared not only the abode, but ideas of the divinity.
Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains with a common cultural milieu in
India, have witnessed interfaith exchanges and that has played a major 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.
Man is a social animal and what he believes and
follows is largely influenced by interaction and exchanges with the people
around him. The religious exchanges are thus a cognate to this 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
people and that they recorded his sayings for the greater good which became the
sacred texts of different religions. There are time we say one thing, and have
the listener hear something different. Similarly just 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 us.
“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, 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 Shi’I 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 on the platform of arguments when they occur. The cultures,
languages, faiths span the world and they all possess voices of the men and
women, traditionalists and reformers. Exchanges among all of these keep
happening and moulding each other for good.
When we go deep enough, we know we are
all god’s children. Endless cultural proliferations that 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
accept that differences of perspective might exist among them and that our beliefs
makes us what we are. 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,
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.
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 progress of the societies.
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 to the roots of this diversity and then solve the
problem from where it arose. The UNAOC launched the Education about Religion and
Beliefs (ERB) which preserves the resources on the 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 build their ideas
for the world they want for themselves. In 2003, the Republic of Kazakhstan became a part of this too. The
Kazakhstani President, Nursultan Nazarbayev believed that for the light of
peace, harmony and prosperity to shine, it was essential to continue the
interfaith dialogue and cooperation among them.
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 we can’t turn to reality.
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 which can
result from the religious exchanges are nothing but violence.
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 form, they will continue to evolve and find
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 to peace in the
world. A lot 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
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 religions, what good can it