New Delhi: The Hindu faith has for long drawn strength from the fact that it is the most tolerant religion in the world. Jews world over have acknowledged that during their worst crisis of the Holocaust, India was one of the few countries where they were safe and unfettered. But in the present day context, the Conclave has chosen to move away from tolerance to the more universal and needed attribute of harmony - one that can embrace cultures, peoples and ideologies.
When the Prime Minister of a country inaugurates an Inter Faith Harmony Conclave and the Chief Minister of the capital city is the presiding guest along with President of the country’s highest cultural office and the participants include religious leaders of nine faiths and former foreign ministers of SAARC countries, you know that the subject has the ability to help merge and create a unified society, one which is for the betterment of society, in general.
The Inter Faith Harmony Foundation of India, a forum floated by Indian Muslims in conjunction with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Temple of Understanding, organized the South Asia Inter Faith Harmony Conclave representing religious faiths of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. The faiths represented from the South Asian Region included Bahai, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the two-day conclave. In his welcome remarks he quoted from Swami Vivekananda’s address which he made at the World’s Parliament of Religions, in Chicago in September, 1893 where he spoke of India’s civilizational tradition of accepting the greatness of all religions, “We believe not only in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true.”
It was not religious “tolerance” that Swamiji valued, as much as religious “harmony”. For, harmony requires mutual respect. Also, one can be tolerant of another, without being respectful and this may not necessarily produce harmony. True harmony, is based on mutual respect.
Co-existence of faiths
Indian civilization which is based on co-existence of faiths - Sarva Dharma Sambhava, implies equal respect for all Dharmas. Elaborating this, Vivekananda used the metaphor of many rivers flowing into one mighty ocean. Using an ancient hymn to corroborate his view, he said:
”As the different streams having their sources in different places mingle their water in the sea, sources in different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, ultimately lead to Thee.”
According to the PM, this universal worldview is the foundation of our composite culture. He cited, “India has been home for centuries to all great religions of the world and has learnt to live together, grow together and learn together. And even as each one of us remains devoted to our own individual faith, we have learnt to respect the faith of another. This has been the basis of our nationhood.”
Building a modern nation on the foundation of our social and religious diversities is significant to the world we live in. Nations big and small must come to terms with their growing internal diversity. No modern and open society can be a monolith. Nations and societies that seek to impose uniformity will give way to those who embrace and celebrate diversity.
Every nation will have to learn to deal with the political, cultural and social consequences and implications of this growing phenomenon of diversity. He emphasized that this perspective has to strongly lend itself to every human endeavour be it in the political arena or in the corporate, social or educational sectors.
The timing of the conclave was relevant also because the international community today is in the throes of a communal wave that threatens to destabilize their economies. International terrorism is on the rise and there is a growing intolerance amongst communities and individuals that is having a collective impact on socio-cultural-economic scenarios.
Dr Karan Singh, President ICCR recalled the time when as part of Mrs Gandhi’s cabinet he had attended an Environment Conference in the early 80’s in Europe. The media then had not reported on Environment, thinking it was “too soft” an issue. According to him, it might be a similar story today, with regard to the theme of Inter faith harmony, but not for long.
He said that religion had played a critical role in the growth of human civilization. Whether art, architecture, music, literature, philosophy, law, moral codes or spiritual texts, achievements of the human race can be traced back to religion and that “No one religion ever has or will dominate the entire world. It is an inclusivist approach that religion will lead us inwardly towards spiritual light and outwardly towards peace, harmony and global consciousness.”
Interfaith movements work best in democracies
Inter Faith harmony movements would work better in a country with a democratically elected government as compared to dictatorships with a State Religion. Dr Kamal Hossain, former foreign minister of Bangladesh and Sardar Aseef Ali Daula, former foreign minister of Pakistan assured Dr Karan Singh that they would spread the credo of harmony in their countries.
At a broader level interfaith harmony remains the cross cutting theme of all activities at the Human Development Centre. It steers them towards training communities in helping each other and in resolving conflicts at all levels.