By Maulvi Syed Nikhat Husain Nadwi (Lucknow). Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand.
The fundamental basis of such relations, as Islam understands it, is to jointly work against oppression and for establishing justice and peace. A second basis is the Islamic belief that all creatures are members of the family of God, and that, hence, they must be served. The third theological basis of inter-community relations and dialogue in Islam is the duty to respect the rights of all human beings.
Islam insists that there can be no compromise on its ideological principles, such as faith in the one God, Prophethood, and the Day of Judgment. Besides this, there can be dialogue and discussion on all issues.
It is necessary to study in detail about other’s cultures and religions, their languages, histories, beliefs, practices and traditions directly, from their primary sources, in an unbiased manner. This should also go along with efforts to devise means to work together with other communities to solve their problems and address their concerns. Only in this way can cultures come closer to each other.
When seeking to initiate inter-religious or inter-cultural dialogue, it is crucial not to start with negative issues, because this is a sure way for dialogue efforts to fail. Rather, the focus should, as far as possible, be on positive issues and a constructive agenda. Likewise, it is not proper to seek to initiate a dialogue by harping on past events or grievances. Instead, the focus must be on the present, for the aim of the dialogue is essentially to improve the present conditions of, and relations between, two or more communities, not to harp on the past.
For such dialogue to succeed, partners to the dialogue must be willing to make sacrifices. They must be tolerant and broad-minded. They must take into account other people’s sensitivities and emotions and always be conscious not to seek to trample on their rights. Successful dialogue requires that partners be genuinely committed to work for peace, freedom, justice and good relations.
Another principle that must always be kept in mind when thinking about or engaging in dialogue is that to consider any other culture bad or to label it so is not proper. Islam forbids Muslims from abusing the deities of polytheists. This is so because this might provoke them to react in a similar way. This Islamic teaching suggests to us that Muslims must not abuse or vilify other cultures or brand them as enemies.
There are extremely few Muslims who have studied Sanskrit, the language of the Hindu scriptures, so that they could directly read and understand the Gita, the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Vedas and so on. Hardly any Muslims have studied the Pali language in order to read the Buddhist scriptures. There must be almost no Muslims who have directly met and interacted with Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious leaders. Probably no Muslim has visited, or stayed for a while in, Hindu religious schools and other such institutions and their pilgrimage sites so as to directly understand them.
The same holds true in the case of all the other communities in India.
We need to struggle against authoritarian tendencies, and, through dialogue, work to ensure that all people get the same rights and opportunities to live and prosper. This is the only way out for global, as well national and local, peace, welfare and justice.
(Maulvi Nadwi’s Urdu booklet, ‘Muzakirat Ki Zarurat’: ‘The Need For Dialogue’, Published by Institute of Objective Studies, Delhi, 2005)
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