Building Bridges and Interfaith Harmony - India-Pakistan Trip Report
By Iftekhar Hai
I just came back from a very exciting visit to India and Pakistan during November, trying to build interfaith harmony.
I visited the Center for the Study of Society and Secularism in Bombay, where I met Indian writers dedicated to secularism and human rights so essential for eliminating religious extremism. Indians have experienced thousands of years of interfaith reactions and are intellectually and spiritually at peace with all religions. This kind of thinking infuses their daily behavior. Writers from the center hosted me, and I told them what is happening in America today and how we should all be joining together in carving a better world full of diversity and pluralism.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, United Religion Initiative of India organized an international conference on, “Peace through Reconciliation” from Nov. 22 to 25. Dr. Mohammed H. Ansari, the vice president of India, inaugurated the peace conference. Representatives of all the major religions participated. Dr. Ansari said, “Peace cannot become our destiny if it is not built on justice backed up with truth. Negotiators must realize that we all have a stake in a peaceful world.” He added: “Reconciliation cannot happen if parties are not prepared to listen and accept the point of view of their adversaries. The impulse of self-righteousness forces us not to reconcile.”
Dr. Mohinder Singh, a Sikh scholar, said, “We must stand up for higher values of humanity. The global religious community cannot sit idly. We all have a moral responsibility to work for peace among religions.” The highlight of the program was my interaction with the students of Salwan Public School of New Delhi. They were all excited to see the leaders of interfaith community coming together to celebrate diversity and pluralism.
Personally, I felt there is hope for a better world when these students become adults and take their rightful place in the community of nations.
I visited Pakistan on Nov. 14. It was during this time the parliament was dissolved and military rule was declared to stop suicide bombing and insurgency in Taliban-infested areas of Pakistan. The armed forces were seen at every main road lined up with AK-47s. Because of that, Pakistanis behave much better and become law abiding under the watchful eyes of the law enforcers.
One poor rickshaw driver said, “Pakistanis cannot be democratized _ they behave good when “Big Brother” watches over their shoulders _ we are unruly people _ perhaps it may take one more generation to learn from our Indian neighbor.”
In Karachi, I visited a religious school and spoke to Islamic scholars. They were all too curious to learn about why America has become belligerent towards Muslims and Islam. I told them that Americans are believers in God and hold the same values as people from other faiths. But they firmly believe in religious pluralism and diversity, and that the fight is against radicalism and not against Muslims as a whole.
Muslim scholars agreed that there is a need for reforms in the traditional interpretation of the Holy Scriptures to reflect the values of the 21st century.
Iftekhar Hai is the president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance in South San Francisco.