Interfaith Harmony indeed a framework to avert clash of civilization

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Martin Luther king, Jr, once said, I have decided to live with love. Hate is too great a Burden to bear. Love should be the only way to move forward and especially when it comes to interfaith harmony within an environment of Religious Pluralism. Harmony is about co-existence that means live and let live. It is a way forward towards tranquility and perhaps success, both urgently required in a world of growing political and economic dissonance. Inter-faith harmony is a plausible condition, suggesting peaceful co-existence among practitioners of various religious beliefs, aimed at eliminating the possibility of discord, violent or non-violent. Such a condition calls for a global level of understanding that all religions are mutually acceptable in terms of their basic tenets as well as manifestations in human behaviour along with all ramifications of traditions and their progression to the contemporary life. Despite all pretensions, the civilisational development might still be some distance from that level of understanding. Consequently, Inter-faith harmony, in strict sense of the word, continues to elude us as an achievable idea in the real world of 6 billion people under the available parameters of human thinking. However, this could change, given the will to show respect and consideration for one another. Growing awareness of the idea of interfaith harmony and the urge for its realisation is valuable. The intensity of this awareness might have been highlighted late because of the unprecedented perplexities, crystallising exponentially in the wake of efforts to impose a New World Order, essentially on the economic trajectory.

Unfortunately, Religion has emerged as a major source of conflict across the globe. Ideological strife has now given place to the “clash of civilizations” and it is felt that in the foreseeable future, religion will be a major source of conflict within and among nations. The possibilities of conflict are greater in countries where different cultures and religions meet. However, such clashes can be prevented if appropriate strategies are formulated and implemented at an early stage so as to ensure religious harmony.

We live in interesting times. To respond to a mad act with an equally insane measure is progressively becoming an acceptable fashion across the globe. Interfaith dialogue can help combat evil forces and rein in fundamentalist elements among various religious communities. In addition, it is the only natural method of relating to people of other faiths and understanding their thinking patterns.

All the religious communities should reaffirm their faith in the values of pluralism and actively participate in undertaking trust-building efforts. Interfaith harmony must be built on the foundations and concerns that all religions have things in common. The sad fact remains that all religions of the world intending to spread the message of compassion and tolerance are invariably used by a bigoted minority with vested interests to fan inter-civilisational discord and tensions. In the post-9/11 era, this pernicious trend has gained enormous proportions as in certain cases mighty political governments are also adopting this policy. We claim to live in a well-informed world today but, in fact, we are fed a distorted view by sensationalist media of how alien other religions and ways of life are.

The teachings of all religions are based on peace, love and harmony and a true follower of any religion can never think of provoking hatred against other faiths. We have to keep on searching for ‘common ground,’ keep looking for our essence, and continue talking to each other instead of talking about each other, which in turn will cultivate mutual trust. Civilisations and religions need to forge unity in their ranks and promote dialogue. Through dialogue and effective communication, each side will be able to understand the other dispassionately and curb those prejudices that give rise to hatred and conflict.

Pakistan is the land where 95% of the total population is Muslim, while the rest five percent are Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sikhs, Buddhists, and small portions Kalasha, Kihals, and Jains. This diversity signifies the need to develop a pluralistic society in which people with different beliefs can live in peace and harmony. The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan declares Pakistan as an Islamic Republic, and Islam as the state religion protects rights of all citizens without any discrimination of faith and religion. The Articles 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 36 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan provide full protection and equal rights to all citizens including minorities to freely profess and practice their religion and culture. Islam has proved to be a guardian of human rights in accordance with the vision of the father of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who made it clear in his epoch-making speech of August 11, 1947. This manifests commitment to the interests and rights of minorities, and promotion of interfaith harmony. In the last reporting year, the government of Pakistan took some positive steps to promote human rights and to attempt to combat sectarian and religiously motivated violence and rhetoric. The government also made positive gestures toward religious minority communities and encouraged interfaith harmony during the year. For example, in September 2016, the Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs announced the establishment of a new human rights task force, which will include members of civil society, journalists, priests, pastors, and Islamic scholars. In July 2016, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a Christian and a Sikh were acknowledged as tribal leaders in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

None-the-less interfaith harmony contributing to peace and prosperity would continue to remain a desirable objective. For facilitating movement towards the valuable objective, Inter-faith dialogue is being looked upon a possible option. The dynamics of Inter-faith dialogue are bound to be complex and difficult. Establishing viable and credible platforms for such dialogues is not the only insurmountable problem. Such experiments have been carried out in the past without persuasive reconcilable results. Inter-faith dialogues pertain to intangible matters of beliefs and emotions connected therewith. To create one voice for each faith would imply difficulties verging on the impossible, mainly because of the intra-faith variations. Learning to live together in peace, respecting human rights, practising democracy and achieving sustainable development requires a coherent and integrated approach to ensure learner involvement that has an impact on every aspect of the learner as an individual. This approach will involve an integrated curriculum framework, appropriate teaching strategies, a variety of approaches, techniques and resources, access to key international documents and the direct involvement of students in internalizing and practising these values in realistic situations. It is important to build and promote the new concept of interfaith harmony so as to meet the challenges posed by religious diversity in a globalized world. While recognizing religious diversity and differences, all religions should enhance mutual understanding and empathy through dialogue, shoulder the common responsibility of upholding peace and justice through cooperation, and foster intra- and inter-religious harmony and harmony between the religious community and society at large. It is imperative to promote the principle of “harmony without uniformity” and learn to respect each other and jointly shoulder social responsibilities. Religion is a powerful constituent of cultural norms and values, and because it addresses the most profound existential issues of human life, religion is deeply implicated in individual and social conceptions of peace. To transform the conflicts besetting the world today, we need to uncover the conceptions of peace within our diverse religious and cultural traditions, while seeking the common ground among them. The relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

Interfaith-cross-cultural improvisation was born out of a need to engage community members across a broad range of local cultural and faith-based groups for a specific event. The term ‘Interfaith Dialogue’ refers to the positive and cooperative interaction between people of different religions, faiths or spiritual beliefs, with the aim of promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance and tolerance. It is an expression of the participants’ lived faith and therefore interfaith encounters increases awareness. Constructing dialogue between followers of different religions means understanding, through cooperation, the different religious principles and teachings that should benefit all of humanity through the promotion of mutual respect and tolerance. It means coming together and sharing aspects of their respective faiths and striving to understand that which is foreign. Dialogue among people of different lands and their governments is essential to accommodate diversity and emphasize pluralism. Cultural accommodation by living in another culture for a while may have a long-lasting but partially dormant influence on behaviour. Same behaviours can be foundations for more vibrant religious harmony.

Islam has taught very pragmatic and durable ways of conflict resolution from the very beginning. The world cannot survive without a new global ethic, and religions play a major role, as parties in violent conflicts, and as active peace-makers and peace-builders. In an evolving globalize world, there has been emerging new and common challenges facing the whole of mankind, some of dire consequences. The importance and need of cogent and cohesive world views in the face of devastating crisis was felt never before than in the last century. It is a need of the time to develop and identify mystical interpretations around the true moderate and tolerant message of Islam to be able to emerge as a meaningful voice in the Inter-faith as well as Interfaith dialogues. The guiding idea is not to tamper with the basic tenets of Islam but to present them in a form wrapped with the message of love, tolerance and moderation, as the Sufis did in order to avoid a clash of civilization.