Religion, reconciliation and the future | Page 2 | Daily News

Religion, reconciliation and the future

The title of this week’s article is from a discussion organised in 2013. More recently I found a report which shows anti-faith attacks in 2003-2004. Taken together we know violent religious intolerance raised its head around the period of the report, ten years later erudite panelists spoke about it and four years later the situation was not very different.

I have chosen to illustrate the comments of two of the panelist.

Javed Yusuf in his closing remarks spoke about Islamic history and the first 30 years after Prophet Muhammed and in particular about the second of caliphs visit to Jerusalem and his interaction with Bishop Sophronius, a representative of the Byzantine government, as well as a leader in the Christian Church. Umar ibn al-Khattab left Madinah, was greeted by Sophronius. Umar was given a tour of the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

When the time for prayer came, Sophronius invited Umar to pray inside the Church, but Umar refused. He insisted that if he prayed there, later Muslims would use it as an excuse to convert it into a mosque – thereby depriving Christendom of one of its holiest sites. Instead, Umar prayed outside the Church, where a mosque (called Masjid Umar – the Mosque of Umar) was later built. This example poignant in that the Caliph had thought through what could arise in the future on account of where he had prayed. Many such current claims and counter claims mar inter religious harmony and lead to tensions and violent outbursts of intolerance.

Violence against people and cultures

The Mosque of Umar still stands across the street from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today.

Bishop Chickera another panelists had these comments.

Religion must never be seen as one large entity. Religion is a number of worlds, within a world.

It is vast, varied, controversial, contradictory and complex. Historically, religions have been responsible for both a great deal of harm to human kind as well as healing. During different periods in the history of human kind, religions have up and down, spreading conflict, discrimination, initiating violence against people and cultures and other religions and so on. Running parallel with this, has been the healing trend. Millions of men and women, either as individuals and or in communities, have made a positive transforming impact on life. They have been able rise above that which divides, crushes, and separates and so on. If religion is to impact in the process of reconciliation there are one or two aspects of conflict that religion must try and comprehend. Conflict recurs – whether it is personal or social. Consequently, the responsibility of religion is to respond to conflict in such a way that if there is grievance it is addressed and justice must be done. If there is potential to harm that must be reduced or eliminated, if there are lessons to be learnt, they must be learnt. And there must be growth as far as possible, of the different segments that belong to that particular society.

If any particular religion makes a claim to be a ‘world religion’, in other words, if that particular religion has a way of life that is universal, applicable across history, across the globe, relevant to all societies and cultures and people, then it must be prepared to enter the arena of public discourse. At that stage, religion cannot say – No, this is not what we say, categorically, and we will not dialog.

So being part of the public discourse then requires religion to be ready, to be critiqued, to be interpreted again and again and at times, even to be caricatured. And it is the responsibility of different religions to build resilience and spirituality and an integrity that will enable it to remain in the public discourse. And at the same time, allow itself to be subject to interpretation and critique.

Today we are leading with the anti Muslim campaign, but then over the last decades, perhaps from pre independence, post independence, wherever religions co-exist, there have been and there will be tensions. Just now the emphasis seems to be on Muslims, and small Christian groups at the receiving end. And much of the reaction is violence– either visible violence or violent words. Now what do we do in circumstances like this? The first is, this must be stated again and again, the rule of law must be implemented. This is common sense.

Inter-religious tensions

Parallel with the legal approach, the approach of the authorities, there must be some trust building; not some perhaps a great deal of trust building, amongst the religions. We have reached this stage of inter-religious tensions today, because moderates in all religions have failed. We have failed to simply sustain relationships of trust and friendship. That’s one area. Another area in which we have failed is to have a kind of a restrictive dialog with extremists within our respective religions.

For instance, if there are extremists within the Christian church it becomes the primary responsibility of moderates within the Christian church to address them. And to address them in terms of Christian doctrine and teachings of Christ, and so on. Similarly in Islam, similarly in Buddhism and all other religions, Hinduism included.

Now when this happens you see, you find that the gap of distrust gradually shrinks. And when that happens, something that this country needs very very urgently will then fall into place, and that is cross border solidarity building with other communities. For too long we have had one community only speak and when that community is affected. So we got to cross these borders. Buddhists must speak on behalf of Muslims. Christians must speak on behalf of Hindus. And similar the ethnic border-crossing.

It is then that religions contribute towards becoming a family. And when that strength is displayed in any democratic society, the state, no matter what its intention maybe, has to take note. And the only way that religions can speak with one voice, is if the moderates come to their senses, build trust, stand together, protect each other when the other is subject to harm. And then declare to the nation, that religions speak with one voice. 


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