New Age Islam
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Interfaith Dialogue ( 11 Jul 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Knowing the 'Other': Key to World Peace

By Sukiya, New Age Islam

08 July 2016

 The other day, I woke up to hear the horrible news about a group of demonic, self-styled Muslims who had killed many people in a Dhaka café.

 Evil-minded people spreading murder and mayhem in the name of Islam had struck yet again—in what has now become a sickening routine.  Again I wondered what people of other faiths may be thinking about this latest barbarity. I thought of what my Christian and Hindu friends would think about Islam and Muslims when they saw that day’s newspaper. It wasn’t at all comforting.

 I am a Muslim, and most of my friends are from other communities. It has always been that way. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my friends of other faiths for not asking me about all the evil that the extremists are doing in the name of Islam. Maybe they are too polite to talk about it. I feel terrible about what these self-proclaimed defenders of Islam are doing, grossly misusing its name. I know that their evil deeds are nothing less than a crime against God and the whole of humanity and that it is wholly and unambiguously anti-Islamic. But if my friends ever asked me, would I be able to convince them that Islam is a religion of peace and love that I know it to be?

 I’m part of a WhatsApp group. We are a bunch of friends, from different faiths, and our friendship goes all the way back to our college days. We are as giggly as ever even now.  But when terror attacks by Muslim extremists occur, I feel apprehensive that the topic might come up for discussion. It’s a great relief when my friends discuss other issues instead.

 One needs to remember always, and especially at times like these, that in all faith communities there are some bigots and extremists who twist and misinterpret the teachings of their religion to fan hate and violence. They certainly do not represent all the members of their community, nor the religion in whose name they claim to speak.

 Recently, I read about how scores of Buddhists had ransacked a mosque in northern Myanmar, forcing Muslims to seek refuge in a police station.  Now, this incident does not make me stereotype all Buddhists as ‘ransackers’. In fact, some of the most compassionate people I have ever met are Buddhists. Even after reading the story about what happened in Myanmar, I can never label all Buddhists as violent bigots because I have had personal interactions with several Buddhists, including some monks who are the very epitome of peace and love.  Just the other day I was fortunate to have a conversation with a young Buddhist monk, and it was wonderful to hear him speak about his views on life, about his routine at the monastery and about how each day, the monks wake up and tell themselves “Today, I will help someone and hurt no one”.

A non-Christian friend of mine has a certain stereotypical image of all Christians as ‘missionaries’, supposedly all out to convert everyone they meet to their faith. A Christian pastor recently shifted to near her place, and she told me that he drops in with his wife occasionally and talks to her about God. “Oh, he thinks he can convert me,” she said, not concealing her irritation.

 Not having interacted with many Christians before, my friend’s labeling of all Christians as “soul harvesters” can seriously damage her relations with her new neighbour. Trying to bring some more nuance to our conversation about Christians, I told her that I personally know many Christians who are wonderful people, loving, kind and compassionate, and that she needs to stop stereotyping all of them as “converters”.

It took years for this same friend to shed her stereotyping of all Muslims as innately and incorrigibly violent. This gradually happened after we became friends.

Because she’s watched a Muslim TV preacher notorious for spewing scorn against people who follow religions other than Islam and because she keeps reading in the newspapers about the horrors committed in the name of Islam by some of its self-styled champions, my friend developed a certain view about all Muslims. One day, she asked me, “How come you are so peaceful, while all these Muslims are killing others? Does Islam preach violence?” Today, however, because we have kept up our friendship, she knows that while there are some Muslims who are driven by a hate-filled vision, there are also peace-loving Muslims whose understanding of Islam is just the opposite of that of Muslim terrorists.

There’s one issue that some people who claim to be religious just have to get over with if we are all are to live amicably. And that is, a wholly unwarranted sense of supremacy. Some of them think that truth is to be found only in their religion and that other religions are bereft of virtue.

This is just awful.

People who think like this can hardly expect others to love them. Can there be peace in a multi-religious society if people think so highly of themselves and so lowly of others? Can people who imagine that they alone have the Truth and that others live in pitch darkness seriously entertain any hope that others will value and respect them?

In our closely-interlinked world, people of various faith communities are coming into much closer interaction at the global level than ever before. Today, there is an urgent need for inter-community dialogue, understanding and harmony. Based on my experience, I’d say that the best way to do this is to befriend people of faiths other than one’s own.

 Befriending the “other” is absolutely necessary if the world is to be peaceful and if vibrations of love have to flow.

 At a time such as ours, when hate in the name of religion is having such horrific consequences, knowing, understanding and befriending the “other” is the only way for peace. Only then can the harmony of hearts happen. And in this quest, every single one of us has a very important and unique role to play. Making just one friend, or even just one good acquaintance, from another faith community can be our way of making a great difference to our badly-fractured world. 


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