Magnifying Interfaith Insight and Social Security

Posted: 14.04.2014
Updated on: 30.07.2015

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8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action
[ICPNA]


 

Abstract

Religious separations based on various faiths and its rituals are creating community dissidence at least in Indo-Pakistan-Bengal sub-continent. It is happening because we are very much within the customs of our own religion rather than its real meaning with real insights. Various religious demarcations in diverse religious-traditions; create confusion and frustrations about the meaning of Supreme Power. Consequently there is disagreement and this can lead to violence in the future and finally a violent community. But every religion is absolutely meant for human welfare, even though their rituals are not the same or not reachable for other believers. Here, we should take a stand based on deeper insight whatever individual belief s/he belongs i.e. needed fruit-bearing dialogue reflecting interfaith insights in order to avoid confusion related to a variety of religious culture.

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Magnifying Interfaith Insight and Social Security

Introduction:

We are human no doubt, and at the same time we are Muslim, Christian, Hindu and others by religious identity. Hindus and Muslims are initially identified by their interfaith signs were introduced by themselves. The feelings of a Muslim hearing a kasor bell (used in Hindu worship) while passing by a temple and vice-versa Ajan (call for prayer) for a Hindu while passing a mosque are not equal. One may feel good-humored, while someone else may feel hatred; but no one is neutral among the Muslims and Hindus, as they have developed a specific interfaith identity and the consequent feelings. This interfaith identity and feelings are based on specific interfaith differentiations. The demarcations have been very clearly stated by religious men (priests, moulovis, puruts, vikkhus, etc), and they have sharply identified their religious dresses, which are immediately visible. Christian priests wear a cassock, Muslims wear a long white dress with white cap, the Buddhist priests wear orange colored long garments, while the Hindus wear white dhotis. The religious demarcations start from interfaith actions which originated and were introduced by the founder or top leaders of any religion. Even among the denominations, say among the Catholics, the hierarchy is also strictly practiced exhibiting congregational signs starting from the pope to the common priests, monks and nuns, including their religious authority accordingly. But in every religious corner there is identification through interfaith demarcation, which creates a deep gap among human beings and creating an environment of difference and social insecurity to whatever extent. This would not be the case if we were based on interfaith insights, as every religion is for the betterment of mankind for human wellbeing as a common good.

 

Religious sacraments and interfaith insights

Religious sacraments, Hindu rituals & attitude:

Ancient Bengal was the land of interreligious bonds. Religio-culture was open to all. There was a week long festival just before autumn to render religious songs on  the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana. But now the folksongs based on Hindu Gods & Goddesses are very much restricted to the Hindu areas, as this is regarded interfaith demarcation, because rendering folk based Hindu songs in Muslim prone areas, begets a risk even though these songs  based absolutely on humanism.

The fair based on Hindu culture is no more because of the growth of the Muslim population and its very open rituals in every corner of Bangladesh. Every year, before the New Year begins there used to be an annual thanksgiving event uniting all communities together.

Hindus are a little hesitant about their religious affairs because of two reasons: they feel a risk to discuss and defend their big number of gods and goddesses openly, particularly among the Muslims; second, they feel shy because of their ignorance i.e. little knowledge of the vast domain of Divineness, while the Muslims are bold with Islamic flow i.e. grandeur, whatever that is. The solution is to again creat an effective dialogue towards interfaith insight as a common consensus.

Religious sacraments and Muslim sentiments

The Christians are enjoying interfaith norms as the means of dialogue, through which they feel to come closer, while the Hindu feels as interfaith dialogue as the religious milestone to accomplish the taking one of its five principles. However, the Muslims prioritize their own religion as the grandest, whatever others may be. Here interfaith insight is very much ignored and not wished for prioritizing the greatness of their own religion only.

Educated Muslims are quite tolerant with regard to other religious’ practices, while fundamental Muslims are quite the opposite. On the other side, the Hindus & Christians are found neutral and do not blame anyone blindly when something disfavors them. The practice of interfaith understanding could however reduce the limitations to some extent.

The slogan of religious grandness in the political and economic field is that Islam is their best. Further, they take only the Ibrahimic/ Abrahamic religion (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) as true, while taking other religions as fake. So, other religious practitioners feel uneasy when exchanging ideas with Islam. Here Sufism- the grand enlightener of Islamic spirituality can widen the hidden corner through interfaith insight creation.

Fundamentalism as well as rigidity is more acute among the Islamists, while any progressive move among others is taken as anti-religious, i.e. atheist. A soft attitude to other religions as well as creating interfaith insight, thus practicing a tolerant Islam can solve this problem related to mental rivalry.

Christians feel self-righteous about Christianity, as Christianity is much advanced in its research and its findings are incorporated in course of time, while Islamists are rigid and go against those who feel moved towards some changes for more purity. Interfaith insight can show them the right way of accord between them, who form about 62% of the total world population.

Valuing other religions means you are admiring some components of that particular religion; but valuing Islam means you have to fix Islam above all and foremost by rank in all circumstances. These mentalities are the reflection of do or die and can be solved only by developing interfaith insights exercising regular inter-religious dialogue to come to an accord gradually.

Faith identities through rituals

Identifying religious signs through performing rituals is a crucial factor in interfaith demarcation. Every religious structure has its identifying shape and structure; as Church, Mosque, Guruduara, Kiang etc. The Hindu married woman wears white sakhas (bangles) and puts a red dot on their forehead, which differentiates her from other women. Again Muslim women protect themselves from all other eyes by wearing a cloak while she is outside the home. In the other side, Christians and Buddhist women hardly have any signs identifying their religion. There is no identifying religious sign among the male irrespective of all religions, except among the male priests. This last creates the real differences in interfaith demarcation. However, the soft-hearted religious man is accepted by all other communities due to his interfaith insight rather than his religious demarcations only, as insight means "spiritual knowledge" or religion of knowledge, in the sense of mystical enlightenment. ‘To know’ is derived from the Greek word Gnosis, in a philosophy where soul or spirit occupy a supra-mundane plane of freedom from all mental restrictions and prejudices.

The systems of slaughtering of animals by Hindus and Muslims are different and nobody accepts the other’s slaughtered animal on the table. For a Muslim it is Mokru (a sin) to eat meat when the animal is not slaughtered as per Muslim rituals. The same applies for a Hindu as well. The interfaith insight with regard to slaughtering in both the religions is that both religions are aimed at reducing the pain for the animal during the killing.

Clothing and outfit are another crucial factor in interfaith demarcation. The Hindu wears a plain dhoti, while Muslims use pajamas and punjabis and mostly a lungi (waist cloth) at home. The Hindu use the poita (caste thread), while the Muslims use a religious cap as part of usual interfaith demarcation. Unfortunately, these interfaith demarcations have several times been shown as demarcation tools during riots in the Indo-Pakistan conflict, devastating millions of lives.

Circumcision is done to the male child before getting boyhood by the Muslims and Jews, and is found mandatory as part of their religious culture. Different explanations have been given for the introduction of this system. Whatever it is, it also forms a crucial factor in religious demarcation. In the last war between India and Pakistan in 1971 the Pakistan Army made use of these interfaith sign to differentiate Hindus from Muslims during the genocide in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Interfaith identities through burial, food choice form of dresses & ornaments

Food habits are another demarcation line between religions, particularly between Muslims and Hindus. It is very unfortunate that so many riots have been conducted in the problems between India and Pakistan related to this food choice. Cows are the major animals of sacrifice in Islam, while cows are worshiped as sacred animals among the entire Hindu community in India. So this creates differences between Hindus and Muslims with regard to interfaith demarcation. Again, among the Hindus mutton is taken by all who are no vegetarians, particularly by the higher classes, while pork is restricted to and only consumed by lower class Hindus. This type of food separation custom is found as a crucial factor in religious demarcation.

The way in which food is prepared and consumed is another crucial factor in interfaith demarcation. For Muslims some food items are imported from Arabia, particularly the food items after breaking whole day fast (rich with fat/ animal protein), while holy food offering (Prasad) from the Hindu temple is based on simple carbohydrates and milk

The handling of the dead also differs very much. Muslims and Christians go for burial, while Hindus and Buddhists burn the bodies of their death in fire. The habits after the burial are also different according to one’s religious identity. Hindu widows, at least in Bengal, wear white saris as the sign of widowhood in their community. If she is of young age this interfaith sign induces others to be tempted. This system creates opportunity for sinners massively in the Hindu community. That is why Vidhyasagar introduced widow marriage even with his own elder son, going against his mother’s wish.

When visiting a Christian graveyard it is very easy to identify the religious demarcation by  their showing the symbol of the cross, and is thus distinct from a Muslim graveyard. For this reason, in Malaysia bodies of Christians and Muslims are buried in the same graveyard, as the deceased are beyond such religious identity.

Azan (call for the prayers) is given immediately after the birth of a male child in a Muslim family, though nothing is done with the female child, while in Hinduism 3 times ulu (shout of joy) and sanko (punch) is offered after the birth of a female child and 7 times in the case of a male child. This is not only significant factor in interfaith demarcation but also in acute gender discrimination.

Intra-faith Contradiction

Catholics and Protestants have a lot of disagreement with regard to the Savior Christ, in particular with the papal kingdom at the Vatican in Rome. The Marafati within the Muslim community are a little soft in their religious culture and practice as well, while Shariati are more rigidly observing religion, even though both fall under the Shea community within Islam. Some signs and symptoms are as follows: A Marafati with black cap and long hair visits other religious places and cultures also in deep meditation, while Shariati wearing the white Islamic cap are short haired and much more rigid when visiting other religious places and cultures. They are very strict in their religious practices as mentioned in the Shariati. The clashes between the Marafati and Shariati are quite old and frequent, which was originally identified and was created in basis of interfaith demarcations. A deeper interfaith insight can solve this problem going through fruit-bearing dialogue only, as those who knows one, knows none.
The Sunni wishes to move with the holy Quran as it is, while the Shea chooses to move with various modifications based on the heirs of prophet Muhammad and the Quran and they include Namaz - the grand prayer of the Muslims to be done five times a day.

Higher and lower castes in the social order follows a long debate in Hinduism. The Monusamhita, a holy book in Hinduism, is not accepted by the Hindu lower castes due to its partiality in humanism.

Commonness found as interfaith insights

Prayer immediately after getting up in the morning is the first mandatory task in all religions, so that man’s first service should be rendered to God. All religions are very much accord on this point, though the way they do it is not the same. Identical prayers before leaving home are another crucial factor in interfaith demarcation. Hindus, while leaving their home, repeat His name in a loud voice. Bengali Hindus call on Durga, (wife or ‘shakti’ of Shiva), while Christians leave home with the sign of the cross. Muslims surrender to Allah and Buddhist do the same for the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha [i.e. the Buddha, his teachings and the (Buddhist) spiritual community - Ed.]. Everybody surrenders to that Supreme Power whatever form or language it is, getting common insights through it.

Again, a unique system of burial prayer is part of every religion. Without this prayer the soul of the deceased is not accepted in heaven. A series of holy sacraments is due to the heirs as part of the pre-burial service in every religion, though the way these are conducted are different. The marriage oath and its signs are compulsory though different in different religions. Hindu marriage rituals are highly diversified and time consuming, while Muslim marriages are very short. A Christian marriage is also limited to taking an oath in the church through a religious ceremony. Nowadays their social behaviors such as rituals are also becoming more and more merged with local culture. The marriage songs, the marriage preparatory bath in turmeric paste, exchange of gifts etc. have been introduced in the Muslim and Christian marriages from the local Hindu culture in Bengal.

My painful feelings on religious customs

Being a son of a Christian family I remember visiting one of our Hindu relatives in my boyhood. As per my teenage bad habit I moved to their kitchen for tasting some cooked foods prepared for lunch and opened the freshly cooked kitchen pot to taste. After noticing that my aunty got shocked, as by religious identity we are treated as untouchable to them. However, due to this religious-demarcation all her kitchen items were now impure. So, she needed to prepare the whole food menu again after having thrown all the prepared food into the dustbin.

Again one of my Christian colleagues in Cox’s Bazaar experienced something shocking created by interfaith demarcation. He lost one of his bosom Muslims friends. Starting from going to the hospital to take delivery of the corpse; he did everything possible for him. As per Muslim custom the body of the deceased was taken for a bath for absolute purity. But after the bath the Christian friend was not at all allowed even to stand near by the corpse.

Traveling from New Delhi to Agra to visit the world famous Taj Mahal, I met a Hindu gentleman who was moving to his home for the weekend. We talked a lot, including communality in Indo-Pak-Bengal areas as a result of interfaith demarcations. Just before getting off at Agra station (Rajaki Mandir), I clearly understood that he was eager to know my religious identity, as I was bearing nothing showing my interfaith identity. I told him that I was not a Muslim but a Christian. And he was a little happy about that, because he shared a secret chapter on the Taj Mahal that was full of communality. Finding nothing of my communal identity he shared such feelings taking me as a Hindu in India.

Interfaith identities and its application

Analyzing the above religious demarcations, we gradual begin to feel social insecurity as narrated below: In 1998, I was on tour at an office in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangla Desh, where most of my colleagues belong to the Muslim community. Unfortunately, one Muslim colleague lost his father and the rest visited the graveyard along with the deceased’s sons. As a visiting office superior I also followed them but before entering to the gate of the graveyard I was stopped, as I was not a Muslim. I was unready and felt very much uneasiness during this event.

In April 24, 2013 there was the incident of the collapse of an 8-storied building at Savar in Dhaka that took about 1400 lives. It was a big building with 5 garments factories along with a market. About 6000 garments workers and visitors were there on a fine morning. All of a sudden the building collapsed giving them no chance to flee. It destroyed 1402 lives on the spot. The rest, about 4600 slightly to severely wounded people were rescued. A fainted Hindu lady along with many others was rescued from the 5th floor after the 3rd day of the building’s collapse. In the hospital bed she narrated the scenario. At the critical stage along with others, she uttered prayers to God (Takur). Later she heard Allah, Allah, and discovered that she was in the midst of Muslims and felt insecure. Later, under the collapsed building in Savar she also uttered Allah, Allah. She did this because she was among a the majority of Muslims, but only out of fear.

In spite of many painful experiences there are a few examples in favor of interfaith insights, for example: In 2013, I was visiting to CHT-Khagrachari starting by bus at 9:00 a.m. from Dhaka. Just before starting the bus a Muslim mosque man entered the bus with a small box for collecting subscription made for a local mosque. I surprisingly observed that a Buddhist tribal woman (Chakma) was offering donation for the mosque building though the mosque man told her that it was for a Muslim mosque. However, she assented positively bending her head, doing it consciously.

Again a number of learned Hindus always to observe Christmas, regarding Jesus as a savior of mankind. Like many other Gods they worship Jesus, and take pictures of him like they do with Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and others.

 

Advancement of interfaith movement in the course of time

Emergence of Religion

In order to foster a movement for inter-religious understanding, we should concentrate more on spirituality, because there is congruence of concepts and ideas. As regards the outer shell, each religion came into existence to meet specific situations in time and place. Judaism and some folk religions came to the East about 4000 years ago. Hinduism is believed to have had its beginning some 10,000 years ago and there is historical evidence of its existence from the beginning of Kaliyuga, which is believed to have begun on Thursday, 17th February 3100 BC. Buddhism, Jainism & Zoroastrianism came into being about 500 to 600 years prior to the Christian era. Islam came 500 years later. Sikhism is hardly 200 years old.

Coverage and attitude of individual religions towards Interfaith

The Christian world in the West is actively promoting Inter-Religious Understanding (IRU) through research, publications and dialogues in Seminars, Conferences, etc. The Muslim world is not active in the IRU field. Christians (2.4 billion) are the majority in 120 countries and Muslims (1.2 billion) in 58 countries. Hindus form a majority in only two countries - India and Nepal, because Hindus did not move outside the borders for conquest or conversion - a fact not many have appreciated adequately. Hindus are even now suffering because of Hindu-Muslim conflict on one hand and Dalit grievance that they are being exploited by the higher castes on the other. But Hinduism is an inclusive religion, which accepts that the paths to godhood can be many, each finally leading to the same supreme destiny.

History of interfaith movement

The term ‘interfaith dialogue’ refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., "faiths") and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels. It is distinct from syncretism or alternative religion, in that dialogue often involves promoting understanding between different religions to increase acceptance of others, rather than to synthesize new beliefs.


Symbols of various faiths

Interfaith dialogue and action has taken place since many centuries. Emperor Akbar the Great, for example, encouraged tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation with people of various faith backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. Religious pluralism can also be observed in other historical contexts, including Muslim Spain. The Ottoman Turks' administration of the Balkans from the 15th to 19th centuries provides another historical example of generally peaceful coexistence between peoples of different faiths, including Sufi and non-Sufi Muslims, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews. The tolerant context of this period contrasts dramatically with the ethnic strife and atrocities in the region during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. There have been several meetings referred to as a Parliament of the World’s Religions, most notably the World's Parliament of Religions of 1893, the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. The event was celebrated by another conference on its centenary in 1993. This led to a new series of conferences under the official title "Parliament of the World's Religions".

Religious leaders in emergence of Inter-religious movement in the Globe

Swami Vivekananda: It was the 1st assembly of the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in September 1893, where Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902) declared that all religion is true. This is the first time such call came from a India born saint. All the other religious leaders were startled hearing this, as they had never heard even thought of that. Later on, Pope John Paul-II (18 May 1920 - 2 April 2005) showed inherent in this movement, which is now also being patronized by King Abdullah of Jordan - the 1st Muslim leader of such thought in the world.

Pope John Paul-II: He was one of the most-traveled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. A key goal of his papacy was to transform and reposition the Catholic Church. His wish was "to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada". Pope John Paul II made considerable efforts to improve relations between Catholicism and Islam. On 6 May 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first Catholic pope to enter and pray in a mosque. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the Umayyad Mosque, a former Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist (who was believed to be interred there) in Damascus, Syria, and gave a speech including the statement: "For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness." He kissed the Qur’an in Syria, an act which made him popular amongst Muslims but which disturbed many Catholics. In 2004, Pope John Paul II hosted the "Papal Concert of Reconciliation", which brought together leaders of Islam with leaders of the Jewish community and of the Catholic Church at the Vatican for a concert by the Kraków Philharmonic Choir from Poland, the London Philharmonic Choir from the United Kingdom, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from the United States, and the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir of Turkey.

The Dalai Lama has done a great deal of interfaith work throughout his life. He believes that the "common aim of all religions, an aim that everyone must try to find, is to foster tolerance, altruism and love". He met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and also later in 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2003. During 1990, he met in Dharamsala with a delegation of Jewish teachers for an extensive interfaith dialogue. He has since visited Israel three times and met during 2006 with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. In 2006, he met privately with Pope Benedict XVI. He has also met the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, and other leaders of the Anglican Church in London, Gordon B. Hinckley, late President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), as well as senior Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh officials. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama visited Pope John Paul II eight times - more than any other single dignitary.

Emergence of Inter-religious movement in Bangladesh:

In November 1980, the Bangladesh Christian Youth Association organized an inter-religious discussion meeting at the Notre Dame College, Dhaka under the caption of ‘Shover Upar Manush Sattya’ which means the human being is above all. This meeting was presided over by an eminent philosopher, the late Principal Dewan Md. Ajraf. The Residential Director of Islamic Foundation Prof. Abdul Gaffur, spoke on, “Islam is the religion of Mankind”. Dr. Paresh Chandra Mondal, then head of the Dept. of Sanskrit, Dhaka University spoke on, “Hinduism is the religion of Mankind” Dr. Sumongal Barua of Dhaka University spoke on “Buddhism is the religion of Mankind” and late Simon Sarker spoke on “Christianity is the religion of Mankind” If every religion creed is towards “Mankind”, our religion differs only by name, place and date because philosophically it is linked to the same i.e. interfaith insight that “every religion is for Mankind”. So, obviously Interfaith Insights should be the root of a Nonviolent Future though it is still not happening all the time in all situations. In this regard the Bangladesh Ramakrishna Mission every year conducts interfaith discussions on "As many ways, so many paths" on the eve of Ramakrishna's birthday inviting religious people from diverge sectors, which is not just a contemporary event but an ongoing effort for concord through its total mission in Bangladesh.

Conclusion

We are all human, and being human we should not be involved in making disparity among us on basis of religious identity. When someone is identified as Muslim or Christian, Hindu or something else by their individual demarcation; there the security is somehow disturbed, as they are not ready to accept others with their heart due to religious identity created by religious demarcations. So, there is mistrust and misunderstanding, consequently social insecurity. As a result, violence is grown whatever form it is. Three major wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 in South Asia between India and Pakistan were actually initiated and based on religious contrast. So, the religious demarcations and a violent future are proportionately related. In this regard, interfaith insight should be based and reared silently, bypassing religious demarcations in the community.

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