By New Age Islam Special Correspondent
7 August, 2014
His Holiness Pope Francis' Message Invites Both Muslims And Christians “To Build Bridges Of Peace And Promote Reconciliation Especially In Areas Where Muslims And Christians Together Suffer The Horror Of War.”
Mr Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam receiving the Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis from Padam Shri Father Thomas V Kunnankal S.J.
With a view to promoting interfaith dialogue, Islamic Studies Association, an organisation of Christians in collaboration with New Age Islam Foundation, organized an interfaith dialogue event in the office premises of New Age Islam Foundation on August 6. President of the of Islamic Studies Association, Padma Shri Father Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ presented His Holiness Pope Francis’ letter of greetings, on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City, Rome, to Mr. Sultan Shahin, Editor New Age Islam.
Fr Tom Kunnunkal, former Chairman, Central Board of Secondary Education and founder Chairman of National Institute of Open Schooling said: "Every year such letters are especially delivered to the Muslim community leaders, Ulema, intellectuals, scholars and interfaith activists. As Mr Sultan Shahin and his website have been at the forefront of interfaith dialogue and fight against religious intolerance, religious extremism and radicalisation of youth, in the eyes of Vatican, we are offering this letters along with our greetings and best wishes."
Islamic Studies Association (ISA) is an interfaith-oriented organisation committed to preparing Indian Christians to reach out to their Muslim brethren. Fr. Victor Edwin SJ, a catholic Christian priest and an expert on Islam, Christian Muslim Relations and Inter-religious Dialogue (associated with Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi) is a dynamic and active member of the ISA who helped the NAI foundation organise this workshop.
Mr Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam addressing the Muslim and Christian Scholars
The Program started with a brief introduction of the Christian and Muslim guests. Having extended a warm welcome to the guests, Mr. Sultan Shahin spoke on the vital concerns of the process of interfaith dialogue. He shed light on the harmonious teachings of Sufism in India and said that Indian Sufi saints and mystics upheld the cause of interfaith discourses with an aim to enhance the ties of people professing different faith traditions. He said that “Islam spread far and wide in India as a result of peaceful efforts of Sufi saints who taught the pluralistic, moderate and inclusive narrative of the Islamic faith.
Mr Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi reads out the Arabic version of the Letter of Pope
The Arabic version of His Holiness Pope Francis' Letter was read out by Mr. Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi. Afterwards, Fr. Victor Edwin SJ read out the English version of the Letter. Speaking on the topic he said that it was truly amazing and delightful for him and all the present Christian guests to offer heartfelt greetings contained in the Pope’s Letter of the Greeting to the Muslims. Then, the President of Islamic Studies Association, Padma Shri Father Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ. handed over the Letter to Mr. Sultan Shahin, President of New Age Islam Foundation.
His Holiness Pope Francis
Christians and Muslims, live under the sun of the one merciful God, we both believe in one God who is the creator of man. We acclaim God’s sovereignty and we defend man’s dignity as God’s servant. We adore God and profess total submission to him. Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers in faith in the one God.” Addressing both Muslims and Christians, The Letter of Pope to Muslim leaders reinforced the idea of universalism and shared values. It says: "We are inspired by our shared values and strengthened by our sentiments of genuine fraternity …We are called to work together for the rights and dignity of each person … for those most in need: the poor, the sick, orphans, immigrants, victims of human trafficking, and those suffering from any kind of addiction.” The Message also invited both Muslims and Christians “to build bridges of peace and promote reconciliation especially in areas where Muslims and Christians together suffer the horror of war.”
The Letter expressed deep concern over the ongoing global crisis. It said: “As we know, our contemporary world faces grave challenges which call for solidarity on the part of all people of good will.....Such situations give rise to a sense of vulnerability and a lack of hope for the future. Let us also not forget the problems faced by so many families which have been separated, leaving behind loved ones and often small children”.
Offering a solution to the worldwide crisis, the letter said: “Let us work together, then, to build bridges of peace and promote reconciliation especially in areas where Muslims and Christians together suffer the horror of war”. It continued: “May our friendship inspires us always to cooperate in facing these many challenges with wisdom and prudence. In this way we will help to diminish tension and conflict, and advance the common good. We will also demonstrate that religions can be a source of harmony for the benefit of society as a whole”.
The letter ended with a beautiful prayer: “Let us pray that reconciliation, justice, peace and development will remain uppermost among our priorities, for the welfare and good of the whole human family.”
In his reflections about the interfaith event and the NAI foundation, Fr. Victor Edwin SJ said: “Our visit to the office premises of New Age Islam Foundation was a delightful occasion. We were privileged to meet the founder of New Age Islam, Islamic scholars and Ulema recently graduated from Islamic seminaries. We keep up brotherly relationship with the Muslim Ulema and scholars. We believe the best way to shed away the prejudices about a religion is to know it correctly by way of interaction, dialogue, friendly gathering. The event was such an occasion for all, as we all would agree.” He continued: “We were received by Muslim brethren cheerfully wherever we went and whenever we interacted and held dialogue with them.” “Their gesture of hospitality put us into a comfortable zone”, said Fr. Victor Edwin SJ.
Father Victor Edwin S.J. reads out the English version of the Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis
On the occasion, the President of New Age Islam Foundation and Editor of New Age Islam website, Mr Sultan Shahin spoke on the challenges Islam and humanity faced presently and said that Sufi Islam was the answer to the threats posed by Wahhabism and extremist groups that insist that only their interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah was right. He said that the Sufi shrines are a centre of interfaith dialogue and interaction as they draw peace loving people from all the religious communities and these are the places where people find peace and solace.”
Fr Victor Edwin conveyed the concerns of the Christian community by asking Mr Sultan Shahin if Sufism can withstand the onslaught of Wahhabism. Mr Sultan Shahin replied that though the Saudi Arabia had been pumping petrodollar in India and promoting the radical Wahhabi version of Islam, Sufism is ingrained in Indian culture and so it will withstand the onslaught of Wahhabism in India. At the same time he expressed his concern over the growing number of conversions to Wahhabism in India, at least in terms of the Muslim mindset.
So far as interfaith dialogue is concerned, Mr Shahin said that Muslims have not shown any sincerity towards this because of their supremacist approach to religion. He gave an example of the Imam of New York's biggest mosque, very active in interfaith dialogue who said that only prophet Mohammad's message was meant for the whole world, other prophets were local and their religion should remain confined to those localities. “So, interfaith dialogue will not work if Muslims carry such supremacist attitude to these events”, said Mr Sultan Shahin. He lamented the fact that there were no such organisations among the Muslims in India that would carry out interfaith programmes to promote harmony among various religious communities. He said, ‘As far as New Age Islam Foundation is concerned, with our limited resources, we have been trying our best to fight extremism and religious intolerance and create inter-faith harmony. But this is a much bigger task and requires participation from larger sections of the community. ’
Deprecating Islam-supremacism among many Muslims which, he said, was a hindrance in interfaith harmony,” Mr Sultan Shahin also lamented that while our Christian brothers and sisters come to our rescue and support whenever we need that in our struggle for equal rights, Muslims generally do not come forward to help Christian minorities in India or elsewhere.” He further said, "We Muslims seem to think that while Muslim minorities in India should have equal rights, it doesn't matter if other minorities or weaker sections are treated badly. We also never come out in support of religious minorities in Islamic countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or other Muslim countries.” He continued.
"However, it is important that we realise that human rights are indivisible. Any minority or weaker section of any community or country suffering anywhere affects us all. We Muslims must fight for the human rights of all minorities and weaker sections, particularly in Muslim countries and all the more so in those countries that designate themselves Islamic. Our heads should hang in shame if human rights are violated anywhere, particularly in countries that call themselves Islamic.” He added.
"Even an expression of shame and disgust and disapproval from us, if there is nothing else we can do, will by itself create an atmosphere of harmony among different faiths and work as the best form of interfaith dialogue. This will put us all on the same page. Merely reading out scholarly papers in seminar rooms or creating bonhomie for a couple of hours in a workshop will not do. If we consider some people our brothers and sisters, as we say in these seminar rooms, we should also stand up for them when they need us," Mr Shahin said.
Participating in the dialogue with the Christian scholars, Islamic scholar, Mr Ghulam Ghaus, regular columnist of New Age Islam, said, “One should respect differences among different faiths. No one should use abusive or offensive words for any religion, as it would create more problems and make all efforts of interfaith dialogue fruitless.”
At the conclusion of the interfaith dialogue program, Mr. Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi briefed the recent graduates of Islamic seminaries and Ulema and Fuzala of madrasas who had participated in the interfaith workshop. He talked to them about the significance of interfaith dialogue and its contemporary relevance. Quoting the Qur’anic verse exhorting interreligious dialogue: “Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and hold discourse with them in the finest manner” (16:125), Mr. Dehlvi said that holding interfaith dialogue is one of the finest manners of presenting Islam as a spiritual, peaceful and pluralistic faith rather than a political ideology.
Among many Muslim and Christian scholars present in the dialogue were Brother Joby, student of M.A. in Christian Theology, Maulana Ahmad Raza Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Maulana Ziyaul Mustafa, Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi), Maulana Ghulam Ahmad Raza from Odisha and a number of volunteers of New Age Islam Foundation like, Mr. Arman Neyazi, Mr. Misbahul Hoda, Mr. Anjum, Mr. Huzaifa Haroon, Mr. Asit Singh and others.
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