The as well. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs

The only thing repeated, recurrent, habitual andcommon to everything around us? Diversity. It is prevalent all around us, inour homes, our societies, our politics, our colour, our environment, and ourbeliefs.

Diversity is everywhere. But the question is if it is a unitingfactor? Or a fractionating one? The religious traditions of humankind are in an allcertitude considered a major diversifying aspect. This, however, is quitemisleading. As boundaried and distinct the religions may seem on the surface,their unifying depth cannot be overlooked. The very origin of religion was anattempt of the humans to understand the world around them.

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Everything man sawor experienced, from the sun to a moving insect, he regarded it as magic and thework of spirits. An explanation came in with the belief of a magician, the God,by whose will the world functioned the way it does. According to what thehumans experienced, they came up with plausible reasons for them, and that ishow we moved towards reasoning life and the varied religions came into being.All these religions stand connected by the people and their encounters and interactionsthrough the ages. When we look into the history of the Muslims, the Christiansand the Jews, we find that they have shared not only the abode, but ideas of thedivinity as well.

Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains with a commoncultural milieu in India, have witnessed interfaith exchanges and it has playeda pivotal role in shaping the lives of the individuals as well as thetraditions. In East Asia, the Daoist, Buddhist and Confucian, share a complexreligious inheritance, all being influenced by one another.  Man is a social animal and what he believes andfollows is largely influenced by interactions and exchanges with the peoplearound him. The religious exchanges are thus a cognate to this natural interaction.When we talk about religions, we ought to recognize that it is the people who madethem, not God. We believe that it was God who spoke to the priests, prophetsand the common people, and that they recorded his sayings for the greater good,which became the sacred texts of different religions.

But just as there aretimes we say one thing, and have the listener hear something different,similarly, only because God said something, doesn’t imply that it was alsoheard right and exact. It is in fact proven by psychologists that humansinterpret everything they hear according to their experiences and understandingof what is around them.”I love you” is a common phrase and we mightthink that it would mean the same in every situation but this simple phrasecould be heard differently by a friend, parent, or a stranger. In a similarmanner, although God says the same things to the people everywhere, but eachone of us hears it according to our beliefs, culture and experiences. Thedifference prevails in the listeners, not in God. God says “I love you” to the peopleof all cultures, places and in all times.

But everyone hears the message in aunique way. The result are the multifarious sacred texts of humanity. Notonly are there differences between religions but within them as well.

Thepeople are not one, but many; all with a multitude of faiths. The Catholics,Protestants, and Orthodox Christians; Sunni and Shia Muslims, the Orthodox andReform Jews, the magnificent amount of cultures and streams of thought withinHinduism, can all cause the religions to encounter an internal dissent.However, it is a usual observation that they stand united or divided depending uponthe platform or level of the argument. The cultures, languages, and faiths spanthe world and they all possess voices of the men and the women, the traditionalistsand the reformers. Exchanges among all of these keep happening and moulding oneanother for good.

Whenwe go deep enough, we know we are all god’s children. Endless cultural proliferations,which we have come to see as conventions, should not make us forget that we areall the same. To be able to accept this, while acknowledging the differences,meaningful exchanges become a crucial tool. They let one understand thatdiversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table.

Bythe mere existence of diversity, people become capable of accepting the factthat differences of perspective might exist among them, and that our beliefs makesus what we are, but the ground reality is that we are all the children of God. Andeventually, it is for us to decide, whether we use this tremendous amount of diversitypresent around us, starting from the little things, going right up to the bigones, for salutary, learning the better ways and filling the voids, or we useit to keep creating borders, diminutions and restrictions that will lead to ourworld going ‘puff’. It comes as no surprise that a heterogeneous group, if itworks together, can solve complex problems contrary to the one where everyoneknows and does the same thing. For this to be applicable to our customs aswell, may not seem that obvious but the science says that it does.

 Globalizationis the truth of today. With the world becoming interconnected andinterdependent, the interactions and frictions among multifaiths standinevitable. Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” no more only feelslike a theory. With politics being a core motif, and immoral use of thereligious diversities for materialistic, and power related advantages, manyleaders have stepped forward towards a “Parliament of World’s Religions” forcreating a more congenial environment.

Co-operation and trust stand as pillarsto this idea of interfaith dialogue. The aim is to shift the focus from whatdifferentiates us to what unites us.     The first step towards this was taken in 1893 inChicago for an interreligious dialogue where religious leaders gathered fromall over the world to sow the seed of peace. It gave an opportunity to therepresentatives to exchange ideas, develop trust, and work in the direction ofspreading the knowledge of tolerance to protect us all from extremism and war. Withinitiatives like these, the awareness on religious sensitivity spread likefire. The political front too realized that religious peace is essential forevery negotiation between states and a healthy working of the system.

Strengthening of this initiative was seen with every conference held around theworld. Some stood out among them including the one held in Mecca in 2008 byKing Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni sided by Akabar Hashemi Rafsanjani, aShiite who tried to propagate the coexistence of their faiths. King Abdullah furtherworked in supporting a dialogue among the monotheistic religions, Judaism,Christianity and Islam.

Another breakthrough was the 2008 “Global InterfaithDialogue Conference” held in Madrid that had a representation of 300 delegatesof various religions. It was hosted by King Abdullah with the backing ofSpain’s King Juan Carlos and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis RodríguezZapatero.  TheUnited Nations (UN) General Assembly was then reached out for support. InNovember 2008, with 60 leaders from around the world, including British PrimeMinister Gordon Brown, U.S. President George W. Bush, Pakistani President AsifAli Zardari, the interfaith concerns were discussed. The participation of theUN General Assembly resulted in a milestone for the interfaith dialogue as itwas the first time that people widely segregated by physical, religious,political boundaries sat together and worked to plan for the progress of thesocieties.

TheUnited Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), is another importantinitiative that is trying to address the interfaith problem with a differentperspective. It aims to reach the roots of religious diversity and findsolutions to the problems right from where they arose. The UNAOC launched theEducation about Religion and Beliefs (ERB) which preserves the resources onworld religions.

The ERB uses education as a tool to promote tolerance. Across-cultural youth platform was also built in order to seek ideas and for theyouth to develop their ideas for the world they want for themselves. In 2003, the Republic ofKazakhstan became a part of this too. The President, Nursultan Nazarbayevbelieved that for the light of peace, harmony and prosperity to shine bright,it was essential to continue the interfaith dialogue and cooperation amongthem. Aprogram has also been started in accordance with the motive of interfaithdialogue called “A Common Word between Us and You” and it mainly tries to bringto the people the basis of two religions, Christianity and Islam. It points atthe common foundation of these two religions which is the existence of one Godand love for that one God and people. The sacred texts of both these religionsalso point to these principles repeatedly.

 All the initiatives, organizations and peopleworking towards the interfaith dialogue are also trying to make an effort toprevent and solve the misunderstandings that could arise by the exchanges.There is no denying in the fact that a lot of times the issues that grow andturn out to be very serious are a result of misunderstandings ormisinterpretations. The meaning of increasing interfaith dialogue could alsomean more clashes if one is not cautious. A lot of forums are working to notlet this interrupt with the call for peaceful multicultural coexistence. Anumber of times when politics and religion mix, outrages have been seeneverywhere.

To handle this, it is beneficial to have an efficient forum workingto keep track of such events and solve them to the best of their ability; acollaboration where people with in-depth understanding of the religions cometogether to handle the problems that could have grown due to unawareness. This,as difficult a task may be, can be an important determinant of the globalaffairs and where the world heads to. Acts in the guise of religion should beavoided if we want world peace and not let it become a dream that we can’t turnto reality.  “Every coin has two sides”.Where there are people of the thought that interfaith dialogue can bring abouta revolutionary benefit of world peace, there are also people who do notbelieve in this vision. The Hizb ut-Tahrir isan Islamic group that is not accepting of the idea as they consider it as awestern tool that is designed to bring in the non-Islamic customs into theirreligion.

Peter L. Berger, a religioussociologist put forth his idea of rejection to an exchange on moralgrounds. There can be situations or discussions that involve a reprehensibletheory like with the imams who justify ISIS. In cases like these, thesociologist believes that not having an interfaith dialogue is more rational. Thereare also the traditionalist Catholics who show a disagreement to any exchangebetween religions saying that such a dialogue would place all the religions onthe same level and this would libel the divinity of Jesus Christ. For them, themotives of peace and tolerance do not value as much as the supremacy and thebelief in their God. It is because their traditional practices had earlier beendemoted that they have become sceptical of any dialogue.

The Sedevacantistsand Evangelical Christians are also criticalof the interfaith exchanges. S.N. Balagangadhara and Sarah Claerhoutwho have studied Hinduism are of the opinion that, “in certain dialogicalsituations, the requirements of reason conflict with the requirements ofmorality”. This statement is evidently against any dialogue amongdifferent faiths. It has been mentioned by some Hindus that anything that canresult from the religious exchanges, is nothing but violence.

   Today, what needs to beunderstood, is the dynamic nature of the religions we believe in. A religion isnot something that can remain a constant through the time and be passed on justas it was. With every generation, there are slight changes because the world welive in is not at all constant. Just as how the religions originated anddeveloped into their present forms, they will continue to evolve and find theirplace in the future times. Expecting constancy from religion is expectingconstancy from the people, which is quite unnatural. If it were true we wouldstill be in the Paleolithic age.

  The idea of S. Huntington’s “Clash ofCivilizations” has taken a bend to the “Meeting of Civilizations”. The factthat the world is moving in a direction where many people have come to termswith the religion of humanity, the idea of tolerance being on the mind maps, isa great indication of the interfaith dialogue and religious exchanges pavingthe way for peace in the world. A lot of our everyday life’s encounters, throughmedia, inter-cultural collaborative programs, education and others, are in away promoting the idea and depicting the benefits of different religions comingtogether and interacting in a healthy manner.   Thus, in the present time wherewe witness a diversity of faiths and its prevalence being the determinant ofother motifs including the governments, trade, policies etc., it is for us todecide if we turn it for the better, or for worse. We talk about “Unity inDiversity”, but would we really live up to that? Meaningful exchanges betweendifferent religions can unify the humanity, only if we respect the position ofthe other faith.

We must understand, that in the end, what religions teach usare a way of life, a life that is peaceful and happy and if we perpetrate thisvery motive of our religion, what good can it be?


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