Over the weekend, I attended the ‘International Dialogue Between Islam & Oriental Religions’, which was attended by more than 60 participants including from Qatar, Nepal, Pakistan and India. Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamic scholar, was to attend, but had to be operated on, on February 19, so he sent his deputy, Dr Ali Al-Quradaghi of the World Council of Muslim Scholars.
Participants noted that the core message of each of the great faiths was the same–love and tolerance. Various points of view were listened to with respect and attention, including suggestions that non-Muslims ought to be allowed to go on pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina as the Quran doesn’t differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim, only between those who believed in God and those who did not. Among other issues, it was agreed that special attention needed to be paid to women so that they can be given the same status as men, and that local minorities everywhere ought to be given the full protection of the state.
The organisers of the meeting were drawn from all the key Muslim religious organisations in India, including the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind–proof of the moderation of the Muslim community in India, and their near-total absence from the ranks of those that spread terror and take the lives of innocents. India is home to 160 million Muslims, and slowly the world’s largest democracy is once again emerging as a key centre of Islamic thought.
But of course, and sadly, India is still a work in progress and needs to do more to ensure social justice is widespread, as demonstrated by an email I received from Dr J S Bandukwala, part of which I am including below:
‘I have faced severe opposition from the orthodox within the Muslims, including a fatwa on the issue of Salman Rushdie , as I publicly opposed the burning of his books and the death sentence. I
was one of the few who tried to read his book, found it in very poor taste , but yet felt that a writer must only be challenged intellectually. Mass hysteria is not the civilised way to show disapproval. I barely survived that ordeal. Today I enjoy substantial support within my community, both in Gujarat and outside. They respect me for being true to my inner beliefs.
‘I have faced equally vehement opposition from the Hindu right wing. This in spite of the fact that my only beloved daughter is most happily married in a Gujarati Hindu family. But the manner in which I was attacked in 2002 can only be called shameful and deceitful…I had to literally hide in a friend’s bathroom to save myself from a certain death…If this could happen to me, one can imagine what must have happened to the large number of Muslims trapped within Hindu localities in the 「Gujarat」riot affected areas. Yet there was no introspection or remorse at such a ghastly tragedy, even from a liberal figure like Vajpayee. George Fernendes speaking in the Lok Sabha, trivialised as an everyday event in the country, the slashing of a pregnant Muslim woman’s stomach by a VHP fanatic, to kill both the mother and the would be child.’