By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
01 August, 2014
Name of the Book: Windows on Dialogue
Editors: Ambrogio Bongiovanni, Leonard Fernando, Gaetano Sabetta & Victor Ediwn
Publisher: ISPCK, Delhi
Price: Rs. 225/ $10/6 pounds
Dialogue between people who (claim to) follow different faiths has now become an existential necessity for the very survival of the human species. A great deal has already been written on interfaith dialogue, but the very urgency of the task requires that much more be written about it. This book is a welcome addition to the corpus of writings on the subject, bringing together a rich variety of perspectives and a wealth of insights.
Jesuit and sociologist Rudolph Heredia’s article neatly summarises the case for interfaith dialogue. Going beyond the all-too-common tendency to see interfaith dialogue as a means to enable others to understand and appreciate one’s own faith better (or even to convert to it), Heredia stresses that dialogue is—or, rather, should be—a valuable means for each dialogue partner to be spiritually enriched and to grow through encountering and learning and benefitting from other religious traditions and their adherents. Seen in this way, interfaith dialogue becomes a “mutually enriching encounter”. For us to be able to be truly transformed by this encounter, Heredia tells us, romanticizing our own religious traditions (and also refusing to recognize that they might, in part, need to be rethought or revised—a possibility that the dialogical encounter might provoke) is indefensible. Heredia also adds that for dialogue to be more than people talking past each other there must also be a realization that God or the Ultimate Reality is a mystery that is far beyond human comprehension and that, therefore, no single religion or other such worldview can contain or represent Him/Her/It in His/Her/Its totality.
Heredia pleads for religionists to move beyond mere tolerance of religious diversity to actually celebrating religious pluralism. Passive tolerance can often mean simple indifference to the religious ‘other’. A higher level of tolerance, Heredia says, is love and acceptance of people of other faiths. At this stage, there is a growing recognition that each of our religious truth-claims is necessarily partial and limited and needs to be complemented by the equally partial truth-claims of other faiths. But even here, the ‘other’ remains the ‘other’. However, at the highest—mystical or spiritual—level of tolerance that Heredia talks about—the ‘other’ and the ‘self’ cease to exist in contradistinction to each other and together merge into the One. This is the level reached by mystics in all religious traditions, for whom different religions as such no longer exist. Although he recognises that to expect entire societies to reach this level of spiritual realisation may not be practical, Heredia holds it out as an ideal for individuals to strive to work towards.
Michael Amaladoss, another Indian Jesuit, reflects on positive shifts in the Catholic Church’s position on other faiths—from its insistence on Catholicism as the only way for salvation to recognition of the salvific worth of other faiths. He quotes from official Catholic documents to highlight this welcome development, showing how the Catholic hierarchy now officially recognizes, accepts and respects the spiritual treasures of other religions, including in their scriptures, worship forms and symbols, and acknowledges that God can draw people to Him through them. This indicates a sea-change in Catholic understandings of ‘mission’—from conversion of non-Christians to Christianity to working together with people of other faiths as fellow pilgrims for jointly building the ‘Kingdom of God’.
In her article, Bettina Baumer, an Austrian scholar of Christian background who has spent almost half a century based in Varanasi studying Indian forms of spirituality, indicates that while dialogue at the theological level is not unimportant, it is dialogue at the mystical or spiritual level that holds the greatest promise for mutual enrichment and for building bridges between votaries of different religious traditions. She cites Kabir and the Kashmiri woman mystic Lal Ded as two (among several) Indian spiritual masters who, through their deep spiritual experiences and realization, transcended the apparent differences between various religions, thus becoming icons of trans-religious ecumenism. This sort dialogue at the spiritual level, Baumer writes, goes far beyond institutionalized religion and theology, touching a level where spiritual experiences meet, no matter from which religious tradition they may have started off from.
Baumer also suggests that theologians of different religions can re-read their respective scriptures in order to understand the religious ‘other’ in more positive and accepting ways than hitherto. In this regard, she rightly remarks, “It is by searching in our scriptures for traces of openness, tolerance and appreciation of ‘other’ traditions and their followers that we can overcome fundamentalism, the greatest enemy of inter-religious understanding.” Such rethinking of how we understand the religious ‘other’ in ‘our own’ religious traditions is an absolute must for interfaith dialogue efforts to be at all meaningful.
Jesuit G. Gispert Sauch’s paper provides a historical overview of Hindu-Christian dialogue in India. He recognizes that many of his fellow Christians have been dismissive of other faiths. He appeals to them to make repent and amends for this long tradition of hatred and scorn and to recognize the great spiritual worth of other religions, including Hinduism. In this regard, he advocates inclusive Christian theologies of religious pluralism and pleads for the Indian Church to shed its Western trappings.
Several other papers included in this volume do not deal specifically with the issue of interfaith dialogue as such but touch upon issues related to inter-community relations. JPS Oberoi’s presentation highlights the importance of the Divine Name in many religious traditions, indicating that this could be an important basis for trans-religious unity. Ambrogio Bongiovanni’s paper deals with challenges to Christian theology posed by contemporary European society: a case here of the need for dialogue not so much between different religions as between Religion as such and a society where religion is no longer taken seriously by many. Gurdrun Lowner’s paper on Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism reflects on key aspects of Ambedkarite Buddhism—in a sense a dialogue with, and revolt against, Brahminism.
Jesuit scholar John Mundu’s paper reflects on aspects of the spiritual traditions of the Adivasis or ‘tribal’ people of Chhotanagpur in eastern India. He indicates that given the phenomenon of widespread dispossession of many of these Adivasis from their lands and displacement in the name of ‘development’, “any genuine inter-religious dialogue from the subaltern Adivasi perspective demands that the starting point and the basis of it must necessarily be the existential material base” of land and nature. Such dialogue, he helpfully informs us, “needs to be guided by the goal of restoration of the destroyed material base and the dehumanized face of the Adivasi people”.
Jesuit scholar Victor Edwin’s paper explores widespread negative perceptions that many Christian and Muslims have for each other, showing how these are conditioned by a range of factors, including theology, politics and history. He highlights that such differences have to be recognized and handled with care in any effort to promote Christian-Muslim dialogue.
This book is a welcome addition to the growing, albeit still limited, corpus of writings on interfaith dialogue from a largely Indian perspective. Given the importance of the subject that it deals with, one wishes it could be abridged and made available in various Indian languages. That would help promote greater awareness of the interfaith dialogue imperative, going beyond the restricted English-speaking readership that the vast majority of books on the subject presently caters to.
Naseer Ahmed Observer, Yes, I do see your post now. It was sent four hours ago at 11.16 AM (IST). But you posted your comment, I think, yesterday itself to which achcha has already responded too. So how did I ignore it?
Why should I ignore an article on "The concept of Unity in the Quran while celebrating Diversity?" This is my subject. Have I ever refused to post any of your previous articles? Why do you have to accuse and abuse people all the time? I doubt if this is part of Quranic teachings. If not then what is it? Surely you must be getting influenced by other teachings too, although you claim to just read the Quran. Why blame the Holy Quran for your perversity?
article is dedicated to accha on whose request it has been written.
The Concept of Unity
There is only one God, who may be
called by any name
(20:8) Allah! there is no god but He! To Him
belong the most Beautiful Names.
Say: "Call upon Allah, or call upon Rahman: by whatever name ye call upon
Him, (it is well): for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. Neither speak
thy Prayer aloud, nor speak it in a low tone, but seek a middle course
The concept of religion
So if they dispute with thee, say: "I have submitted My whole self to
Allah and so have those who follow me." And say to the People of the Book
and to those who are unlearned: "Do ye (also) submit yourselves?" If
they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, Thy duty is to
convey the Message; and in Allah´s sight are (all) His servants.
Say: "What has come to me by inspiration is that your Allah is One Allah:
will ye therefore bow to His Will?"
Common Message of God to all
Before you (Muhammad) We sent (messengers) to many nations, and We afflicted
the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility.
Submission to God and good deeds
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West
(differences in the rituals of people of different faiths is unimportant); but
it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and
the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him,
for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask,
and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular
charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and
patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of
panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing.
Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans,
those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the
companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands
possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”
“… whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good,- He will get
his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve”.
The message that on
the Day of Judgment all human beings will be judged on their moral performance
alone is repeated many times.
Islam stands for the protection
of all places of worship
(22:40) “Did not Allah check
one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down
monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated
in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for
verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)”.
stands for the protection of all places of worship and says that in these, it
is the name of the One God or Allah that is celebrated.
No exclusivity for Muslims
People will be raised along with their
Prophets and judged. Presumably this is to allow the Prophets to intercede on
behalf of their followers.
“The Trumpet will (just) be sounded, when all that are in the heavens and on
earth will swoon, except such as it will please Allah (to exempt). Then will a
second one be sounded, when, behold, they will be standing and looking on!(69)
And the Earth will shine with the Glory of its Lord: the Record (of Deeds) will
be placed (open); the prophets and the witnesses will be brought forward and a
just decision pronounced between them; and they will not be wronged (in the
least).(70) And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its Deeds;
and (Allah) knoweth best all that they do”.
"To Allah belongs exclusively (the right to grant) intercession: to Him
belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: In the End, it is to Him
that ye shall be brought back."
(10:3) “Verily your
Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly
established on the throne (of authority), regulating and governing all things.
No intercessor (can plead with Him) except after His leave (hath been obtained).
This is Allah your Lord; Him therefore serve ye: will ye not receive
(19:87) “None shall
have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission (or
promise) from (Allah) Most Gracious”.
isn’t a single verse in the Quran that speaks specifically of Muhammad (pbuh)
interceding or there is no verse that makes Muslims exclusive recipients of
Verses that celebrate
each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so
willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you
in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of
you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in
which ye dispute;”
Islam teaches that it is for God to judge
people in what they differ and not for human beings. It also teaches that
diversity has a divine design and is asking the people to strive as in a race
with other people in order to excel over them in good deeds.
among Allah’s signs are the creation of heaven and the earth and the difference
of your tongues and the variation of your colours.”
mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and
tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).
Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most
righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is fully informed.”
The purpose of diversity is to “know each
other,” or to learn from the other as opposed to despising the other for the
difference. This Quranic verse gives a very profound insight about the nature
of human societies and what makes them excel. Only those societies which
appreciate and celebrate diversity excel. It is therefore not surprising that
in the medieval ages Spain under Muslim rule where Christians, Jews and Muslim
worked together collaboratively took the arts, sciences, architecture, music, astronomy
and medicine to new heights.
And today, it is the US which has become great
for the very same reasons. It welcomes people of all nationalities to come,
work and settle there. It is a country of immigrants who have made the US a
Characteristics of a society that
The western society displays the typical
characteristics of a mercantile society. There was a time when Europe was cut
off from the rest of the world, had little external trade, and had become a
'self-sufficient' society (meaning zero external trade). This had the effect of
plunging Europe into the dark ages with little individual freedoms,
exploitation of child labour, miserable conditions for the working class,
religious persecutions, witch hunting and inquisitions. During the same period,
the Islamic empire was a mercantile society with trade with the rest of the
world and showed all the virtues of such a society.
Diversity is wealth and
It is diversity in production and a desire to
share with others what each one produces that makes for trade. Trade is what
builds a consumption based interdependent society with a work ethic and honesty
in dealings. Trade is what creates a market for the surplus of one community
which is consumed by another community in exchange for their surplus. This
increases overall consumption and the standard of living. It is diversity
in our talents and resources that makes for diverse products. As trade makes
available more items for consumption, there is an incentive to produce more of
what each one is good at so as to afford more items for one’s own consumption.
The work ethic improves. Everybody now begins to produce more of what they are
good at in order to afford a high standard of living. There is then
specialization in production and immense variety in consumption. An
interdependent society then builds institutions and develops processes for
collaboration and better understanding between people. Exchange of goods leads
to meeting and mating of ideas and fecundity of new ideas. Libertarianism
is both a result and facilitator for the growth of a society built on
principles of high interdependence.
The insight that the Quran offers us is that there is unity
in the goal of all moral people which is to strive as in a race to excel in all
virtues but there is great diversity in their paths, ways of life, outlook,
emphasis, methods, abilities and talents. This diversity is a divine blessing
and those societies which appreciate and celebrate diversity will alone
prosper. In the matters that they differ, God is the sole judge.
Is excellence possible without diversity?
Different people excel in different fields and show the rest
of us the possibilities or potential in their field. We can only achieve what
we think is achievable or what we aim for. Knowledge about other people’s
achievements help us set our goals without which we would not aim as high and
therefore achieve much less.
Here is an interesting true story. It was considered humanly
impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. A record of 4:01 minutes was
set and it held for nine years. Athletes appeared to be resigned to the expert
view that running a mile under 4 minutes was humanly impossible. In 1954, Roger
Bannister broke the barrier running the distance in 3:59:4. Within a year
someone else also ran the distance under 4 minutes after which it was broken
routinely by athletes all over the world.
The role that competition plays in making us excel is well
understood. The competition at the local level, the national level and the
international level is what makes us all set our goals higher and ever higher
and helps humanity achieve its potential. Without competition and without
knowledge of what others are excelling at, we would have been so much the
Does diversity trump ability when it comes to
Page in his book “The Difference” shows that it helps to add more diversity of
perspectives to the problem-solving team than to increase the ability of
individual team members.
can read his book or listen to his talk on the subject
he says in effect is that diversity makes good economic sense and not just
political. He argues that there is a strong case for embracing diversity
rather than just paying lip service to it.
Interesting Examples of the uses of diversity
Solving a problem becomes easy when you view the problem from
the right perspective. The following three games or puzzles demonstrate that
you do not have to be a genius to solve what at first appears to be a difficult
problem. If we are able to relate what we already know in a different context to
the problem under discussion, the solution is easy. In other words, knowledge
of diverse subjects in a single person or bringing together several persons who
are experts in different fields helps.
Three marbles (spheres of equal size) are placed touching
each other so that their centers are equidistant from each other. How will you
place a fourth marble so that the centers of all 4 marbles are equidistant from
Game 2. This is a game with two players and 9 cards numbered
1 to 9 with face up (number is visible).
Each player picks a card by turn. The first player who has
three cards that add upto 15 wins the game (For example 8+4+3)
If you are one of the players, devise a strategy for playing
the game so that you either win or draw but never lose, irrespective of whether
you start the game by picking the first card or the other guy does.
This is one of my favorites. I was told by a PhD in
mathematics that the solution requires knowledge of “partition theory” while he
gave the problem. I said that the question looks simple enough and came up with
a solution in 20 minutes. It again demonstrates the difference between the
first mathematician who solved it and someone who came later (myself) who knew
that the problem had a solution and this knowledge helped me figure it out on
my own without reading “partition theory”. Without the certainty that the
problem had a solution which someone else had found, I would not have even
considered that a solution was possible.
Divide a 40 lb cake into 4 parts in such a way that using
these parts as weights and a two pan balance; it should be possible to weigh
another commodity in a single weighing all integer weights from 1 to 40.
On the internet, you will find an
answer but perhaps not the solution. The answer is 1,3,9 and 27. You can see
that if you wish to weigh say 14 lbs of wheat you take the part weighing 27 lbs
in one pan and (1+3+9) in the other pan and balance it with 14 lbs of wheat.
What I am interested is not the answer but the solution which shows why these 4
parts should be 1,3,9 and 27.
have lived among Hindus all our life and visit every Hindu home on their
festival to greet them and all our Hindu friends come over to our house on Eid
day. My daughter’s colleagues look forward to ‘sheer korma’ on Eid and for her
wedding, her own guest list was 95% Hindu. She celebrated her birthday a couple
of days back and showed us her gifts which are quite expensive and mostly from
her Hindu friends. A Hindu friend who is now in Australia made it a point to
wake up early and wish her at 12 midnight (IST) and then go back to his sleep.
During the day, a courier delivered a cake and bouquet on his behalf. Earlier,
my daughter was a regular invitee to the festival where virgin's are honoured
and their feet are washed etc. by our Hindu friends when we were in
Mumbai. My daughter used to look forward to it. We also had a Christian neighbor
and once at a Christmas party, the Hindu kids devoured even the roasted pigling
(unknowingly) which became a minor issue with the vegetarians. However,
since all were from a common background and working for the same organization,
they laughed it off.We did garba for Navratri and celebrated every festival in
student days at Kanpur, I was taken by my friend to his village in Kannauj to
attend his brother's thread ceremony. This friend was two years my senior
at IIT and had already graduated but stopped by at Kanpur only to pick me up. I was the only friend whom he had invited from the college. On
reaching kanauj, he informed me that his people in the village were very
conservative and so I was asked to assume the name " Jain". I stayed
with them for a few days as Jain Sb. I was unfamiliar with all the taboos and
the do's and don'ts of the uch koti ke Brahmins. My friend was on tenterhooks
that I may commit some serious faux pas which would show that I was an
'imposter'. He wasn't mistaken. When having dinner, I was offered papad by the
lady who was serving. I said yes and took it from the lady rather than wait for
her to drop it into my Thali. There was a brief instant when the two of us held
the two ends of the papad at the same time and the lady winced and quickly
released the papad. I believe that this called for the entire basket of papads
to be thrown away as I had polluted the serving lady with my ' jhuta' hand
and as she was holding the basket of papad, the entire basket was also
polluted. Luckily, the lady was from the city and she quietly carried on as if
nothing had happened. My friend was however shaken up and from then onwards, he
ensured that the two of us took our food separately in our room! My real
identity was known to his immediate family and his aunts and uncles from the
city. Only for relatives from the village, I was made to assume a different
in Mumbai, one of my Hindu lady colleague’s female cousin (stranger to us) was
visiting Mumbai for a few days and stayed with us. The lady colleague (one
batch senior to me) and her husband (2 batches my senior) had between them,
hundreds of friends from the same organization and from their own batch, in
Mumbai, with whom the guest could have stayed and yet, they were more
comfortable asking us. This lady colleague also stayed with us when she had come
to Mumbai on official work when she could have officially stayed in a 5 star
hotel or with any of her other friends.
We have a Hindu domestic help apart from two other Muslim domestic helps. She
has been having several problems for the last few months and is absent half the
time. Her husband appears to have disappeared. Apart from her full salary (although
she is absent half the time because of illness or domestic issues), all her
needs have been taken care of including medical, house rent, children’s fees
etc., because the husband who was contributing earlier, is no longer there. And
this is not by way of advance either, as there is no way she can pay back almost
four times her salary she has been receiving from us for the last 4 months.
a flat which I have rented out since 1991 and all my tenants to date have been
interfaith relations are a reality, and not some difficult ideal to be
achieved, debated or discussed.
Ghulam Mohiyuddin Saheb, Dialogue is always useful, even among enemies. People may have diametrically opposed views and dialogue can do some good.
Of course, dialogue can be more fruitful if people come to the table with a view to learning something new and changing their attitude if they feel like that.
But there are some people in our midst who openly say that they are not going to change ever. They are determined never to learn anything new. I am not sure how effective any dialogue will be with such people. But I think despite this determination getting exposed to different points of view may still help.