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Interfaith Dialogue ( 20 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Towards Meaningful Interfaith Dialogues: Religious Conflict Is Often the Root Cause of the Many Conflicts

By Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid

19 February 2016

TRIBES and civilisations go to wars to fight for resources of food, water, precious metals (such as gold and diamonds), territories, spices and other resources. Contemporary civilisation with its superhighways, skyscrapers, space shuttles, aviation industry, transport and communication, and fast, easy and complex lifestyles depend on oil and gas. In some ways, there is dependence on coal, hydroelectric power and other sources of energy as humankind seeks renewable resources, especially energy. Societies go to wars because of differences of language, culture and race.

People of the same racial stock or ethnic groups also go to war because of all sorts of differences including ideological differences. North and South Vietnam were at war because of ideology before their reunification. There were and there are still differences between India and Pakistan and Bangladesh, Russia and China and their various territories. There is ideological difference between North and South Korea. Christians, Hindus and Buddhists have had intra-religious conflicts among believers of the same faiths. Saudi Arabia and Iran, and many Muslim societies have differences between Sunnis and Shia and within their sects.

 Religious conflict is often the root cause of the many conflicts. When religions are politicised, religious conflicts get transformed into ideological conflicts. Civil wars like the American Civil War have religion, economics and ideology as among the root causes. In all causes of conflicts, the egos of leaders and their teams whether at the local, national or international levels come to play. Whatever the conflicts, the question of power and winning come to the fore. Also at the centre stage are the art of wars of the stakeholders, heroes or villains, the protagonists of the conflicts.

 True teachings of religions and belief systems seem to focus on the philosophy or idea of moderation. For instance, in Islam the concept of wasatiyyah, is about “moderation”, “middle path” and “balance”; and in Buddhist and Confucius doctrines emphasis is given to  chung yung or the “middle path”.  Good people see the relevance, significance and willingness to engage in interfaith dialogue as necessary, essential and urgent.

Theologian Catherine Cornille identifies five preconditions for any meaningful interfaith dialogue. The all-important preconditions are “…humility (causes a disturbance of one’s view of other religions), commitment (causes a commitment to faith that simultaneously rejects intolerance to other faiths), interconnection (causes the recognition of shared common challenges such as the breakdown of families), empathy (causes one to view another religion from its own perspective), and most importantly, hospitability (like the tent of Abraham, that was open on all four sides as a sign of hospitality to any new comer). Breaking down the walls that divide faiths while respecting the uniqueness of each tradition requires the courageous embrace of all these preconditions”.

 During the 65th UN General Assembly in 2010, King Abdullah II proposed the idea for a “World Interfaith Harmony Week”. The proposal was adopted unanimously as an UN Observance Event. The first week of February, every year, has been declared a UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. Accordingly in Malaysia, the World Interfaith Harmony Week was launched on Feb 3, in Putrajaya, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup had announced a series of key events leading up to the UN resolution held in honour of the week.

Malaysia, in 2010, launched the Global Movement of Moderates at the United Nations in New York when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared: “The real divide is not between Muslims and non-Muslims or between the developed and developing worlds. It is between moderates and extremists.”

As a multiracial, multilingual and multireligious nation, Malaysia is at risk if there are religious conflicts. Malaysian society can only exist as a successful society if there is national unity and integration and interreligious harmony. In a world torn by ideologies and quest for supremacy in all domains, there are bands of good people everywhere who work quietly to promote understanding, religious integrity, unity, integration, peace and harmony. They interconnect respectfully, with humility, commitment, empathy and hospitality.

 Malaysia’s Committee for the Promotion of Understanding and Harmony among Believers of Different Faiths operates at the national level, but, the moment of truth of its effectiveness will be evident if seminal and significant ideas, principles and values generated can be accepted globally, and the spirit and substance of their work can be included in schools, universities and the social media curriculum. Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid is President, Malaysian Association for Education 61 reads