Thursday, 12 May 2011

Dialogue: The best way for peaceful co-existence among nations

Dialogue: The best way for peaceful co-existence
among religions and civilizations

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Although it is claimed that the world has reached a high-level of development and modernisation, greater economic booms, technological advances, scientific break-through and more comfortable life-style, yet humanity not seem to be happier than before. The world is marred with wars, conflicts, poverty, starvation, malnutrition as well as sectarian religious and racial clashes. The humanity is suffering from economic disparity, environmental pollution, communicable diseases, social injustice, pollution explosion and migration, massive consumption of energy and resources and most of all the immorality in greed. The humanity is also suffering from a loss of moral values and is going through critical stage where tension and crime are on the rise and the poor are being increasingly exploited,

These are the threatening challenges to human existence, said Dr. Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani, at a Seminar on “Inter-religious and Inter-cultural dialogue: building faith and preventing conflict” organised by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, London, in conjunction with the London Conference administration held at the London Book Fair 2011, in Earls Court, London, in the second week of April, 2011. Dr. Ahmad Turkistani believed there is an opportunity for peaceful co-existence among the religions, cultures and civilizations of the world and dialogue is the only medium that is available to us.

Dr. Ahmad Turkistani is a professor at the University of Imam Saud in Saudi Arabia. He has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication and founding member of the National Society of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. He is also a chief editor of Amal Magazine and host of a number of TV programmes, particularly in English language.

Talking about Islam, Dr. Turkistani said the Qur’an includes major events of the Torah and the Gospel; stories of Moses, Pharaoh, and the Exodus, David and Goliath and Joseph and his brothers, Mary and the Immaculate Conception and Jesus and his disciples – God’s peace and blessings be upon them all. “Muslims, Christians and Jews share a common history,” said Dr. Turkistani.

Historical background of inter-religious
initiatives and dialogue
Tracing the historical background of inter-religious initiatives and dialogues throughout the ages, Dr. Turkistani mentioned about Mughal India, Muslim Spain and Balkans under the Ottoman Turks. “Emperor Akbar the Great encouraged tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation of people of various faith backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. Muslim Spain is a clear historical example of a great religious pluralism. Another example of historical co-existence between people of different religions has been in the Balkans under the administration of the Ottoman Turks from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Muslims and Jews lived happily for hundreds of years in that region with some small incidents,” mentioned Dr. Ahmad.

Inter-religious initiatives and dialogue
In the 20th century
In the 20th century dialogue started to take place between the Abrahamic faiths, i.e. Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Dr. Turkistani mentioned in 1965 the Roman Catholic Church issued Vatican II documents Nostra Aetate, which instituted major changes in the Catholic Churches’ policy towards non-Christian religions. “Pope John Paul was a major advocate of interfaith dialogue promoting meetings in Assisi in the 1980s. Pope Benedict XVI has taken a more moderate and cautious approach stressing the need for interfaith inter-cultural dialogue but asserting Christian theological identity in the revolution of Jesus the Nazareth in a book published in Marcello Pera in 2004,” said Dr. Turkistani.

Moving into the most recent period and the Saudi involvement in the interfaith dialogue which started in the early 1970s through exchange of meetings and visits by Saudi religious scholars and Cardinals representing the Vatican Church. The historical movement in this regard was taken by King Abdullah four years ago. Dr. Turkistani mentioned, “The King Abdullah who is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madina, paid an historical visit to the Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican in November 6, 2007. During the meeting King Abdullah emphasized that dialogue among religions and cultures was essential in order to promote tolerance, get rid of violence and achieve peace and security for all peoples.”

King Abdullah’s interfaith initiatives and dialogue
King Abdullah continued this journey of interfaith dialogue in Makkah in June 2008 which was attended by more than 500 Muslim scholars and intellectuals throughout the world to set an agenda for building better relations between Muslims and the followers of other faiths. “The King addressed the gathering: ‘We are the voice of justice and moral values. We are the voice of rational and just co-existence and dialogue; the voice of wisdom and admonition and dialogue with the best way possible as. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an Call unto the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in a way that is best,” mentioned Dr. Turkistani. .

Dr. Turkistani continued, “King Abdullah said also that it is therefore incumbent upon us to declare to the whole world that difference must not lead to conflict and confrontation and state that tragedies which have occurred in human history were not attributable to religion but were the result of extremism with some adherence of every divinely revealed religions and of every political ideology have been afflicted.”

The second conference on dialogue was held in Madrid on the 16th of July 2008 which was attended by 300 eminent personalities and representatives from among the followers of three revealed religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well as representatives of oriental philosophies, cultures and civilizations. Among the attendees were the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, Michael Sonaida and the Cardinal Jean Louis Toran in charge of dialogue between the Vatican and the Muslim world and representative of the Pope and he is the representative of the Pope. King Abdullah told the Madrid conference that if we want this historical encounter to succeed we must look to the things that unite us; our profound faith in God, the noble principles and elevated ethics that represent the foundation of religions.

Dr. Turkistani mentioned, “The participants issued the final statement pointing to the agreement among the followers of religions and prominent cultures regarding the value of dialogue as a best way of mutual understanding and cooperation in human relations as well as peaceful co-existence among nations. The conference noted that terrorism is one of the most serious obstacles confronting dialogue and co-existence. Terrorism is the universal phenomenon that requires universal unified international efforts to combat it in a serious responsible and just way. This demand and the international agreement on defining terrorism and addressing its root causes and achieving justice and stability in the world.”

Referring to the recent revolutionary uprising in the Arab world, Dr. Turkistani observed, “Saudi Arabia has had its success in so far as focusing more specially of religious dialogue. Today many countries in the Arab world are going through a revolutionary uprising seeking more freedom and social justice, better life conditions and above all dignity and integrity of the governing system. Dialogue was and is being called upon to help resolve this conflict and save life sufferings and tearing these countries apart.”

King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious
and Inter-cultural Dialogue in Vienna
Last January, the three Kingdoms, the Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, have agreed to establish King Abdullah International Centre for Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria, to help serve the cause of dialogue in conflict resolution. “Early this year Saudi Arabia has agreed to pay the cost of headquarter building and other founding expenses. King Abdullah believes in this cause wholeheartedly,” said Dr. Turkistani and observed, “One good example of the success of dialogue is which took place in Sudan. The South has chosen to separate, ending war and seeking better future for both parts of the Sudan based on understanding and cooperation.”

Saudi Arabia promoting dialogue at home
Saudi Government started promoting dialogue at home before taking all these international activities, mentioned Dr. Turkistani and said, The King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue was established in 2003 under the care of King Abdullah himself when he was the Crown Prince. The aim of the Centre lies in dissemination of the cultural dialogue as well as the basis for all dialogue-related activities and programmes building under technology, communication and scientific critical knowledge which have broadened the scope of human communication. Special emphasis was put on mass media and information flow as well as educational institution to utilise them as centres of co-existence and dialogue in the fields of thoughts, science, arts, and culture through all the centres to enhance the unofficial dialogue among the different religious sects in Saudi Arabia and to ensure the rights of religious minorities.”

Training Saudis to reinvent dialogue
The Centre imparts training to Saudis in dialogue as a life style. Referring to the training, Dr. Turkistani mentioned “of the project of training more than 40,000 influential trainers every year. The total number of trainers has exceeded 200,000 people. These include teachers, youth leaders and imams of Mosques. The idea behind the project rests on convening sessions to qualify trainers on dialogue, team-mates and communication skills. So far the centre has trained over 500,000 Saudis for different regions of the country and how to train students and members of their own local communities on dialogue techniques and communication skills.”

These initiatives have been stepped in the right direction in building religious harmony in the country, said Dr Turkistani and observed, “By empowering religious political leaders in their unique roles we can further King Abdullah’s quest for common values and respect for differences and foster pluralism both inside Saudi Arabia and around the world.”

Dr. Turkistani quoted the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner the editor of Tikkun Magazine in New York City, It may be hard for many of us to imagine a world in which Islam becomes identified with these values of love, generosity, kindness, tolerance, social justice and peace. Such a development for Islam owe for that matter for Judaism, Christianity with certainly be incredibly wonderful development. Dr. Turkistani said, “He continued saying the notion that Islam might be the spark that generates a new dialogue revival based on mutual respect and spiritual intensity could dramatically expand our understanding of the endless potential for God to surprise us and to undo our perceptual certainties and to open our hearts for each other.”

“Then he continuing saying, As for myself, he said, I would like to warn, however, that inter-religious dialogue can easily become an illusive exercise which scholars and religious leaders create among themselves clubby brotherhood across religious lines to perpetuate and in the worst case, justified the economic and social status quo.”

Dialogue is a noble mission
Dr. Turkistani observed, “Dialogue in its full acceptance is a noble mission distinguishing man from all other creatures on the basis of reason, language and communication which are qualities God has bestowed upon man for the benefit of mankind and the whole universe. The series of wars with which the world have been afflicted, the human toll of which exceeds the large deaths caused by natural disasters and catastrophes are real mark of disgrace for modern technologically developed humanity.”

Dr. Turkistani said, “We are today more than any other times in the past in dire need of formulating a new regulatory set of ethics for communicator actions or what the influential German philosopher Jurgen Habermas called, discourse of ethics. It is imperative for humanity at large to restore justice and to make up for food, culture and technological gaps.”

“There should be a fair distribution of resources and knowledge between countries and within nations and only by establishing peace and joint cooperation and solidarity and disseminating the culture of peace and justice can such objectives be attained. It is indeed high time to move from dialogue to devising plans and programmes, from theory to practice, from words to deeds and from knowledge to effective implementation,” concluded Dr. Turkistani.

No comments: