The Dalai Lama says: "All major religious traditions carry basically the same message that is love, compassion and forgiveness- the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives."
Really? you might ask. When in Nigeria Boko Haram is kidnapping hundreds of girls? When in Myanmar the Rohingya people are being shoved out onto the Bay of Bengal by Buddhists to die in boats? When in Pakistan Sunni Muslims are bombing mosques attended by their Shia brethren? When the new government in Sri Lanka is deeply divided by the conflict with its Hindu minority?
Maybe that is up to each of us - but I think the Dalai Lama is profoundly correct - whatever the headlines.
The news media focuses on facts and friction but the vital underbelly of an issue is often masked: Here are some stories that illuminate hope, support and cooperation among the faiths -- a cause for optimism -- which may even lead to a resurgence of La Convivencia or the "co-existence" of the three Abrahamic faith which span Spanish history from the Muslim Umayyad conquest of Hispania from the 8th to the 15th century - a period of peaceful co-existence for Christianity, Judaism and Islam which Steven Nightingale highlights in his latest book "Granada."
First, Belgium, where Georgetown Law Professor John L Esposito reports that the "Belgian Muslim Community Reminds Us That Peacefully 'Living Together' Is the Under-reported Norm," "the oldest Jewish house of worship in Belgium, the Synagogue d'Arlon, had been forced to close its doors due to structural problems with the building."
When the word spread that the Jewish congregation was short of funds to re-open, interestingly, "a local Muslim community took it upon themselves to call for donations at Friday prayer -- even though they themselves do not have a permanent mosque and pray in a converted house." What a terrific gesture! Esposito writes: "The Muslim community ended up raising 2,400 Euro (about 2,600 dollars), which they presented to Rabbi Jacobs at an emotional roundtable discussion on the theme of "Living Together" where they were joined by other religious and secular leaders from the city."
The movement to help their Jewish neighbors then spread to Muslims across Belgium who contributed to the fund. In a communiqué released by the Association of Muslims of Arlon (AMA), Hajib el-Hajjaji urged fellow Muslims to contribute: "It is important to save this synagogue for the families and children who find comfort and fraternity there. The Jewish community needs support to live fully -- like all other faiths -- in full freedom, security and comfort."
The good news on interfaith support among Abrahamic faiths is reassuring. On February 15, 2015, 1000 Muslims encircled Oslo's Synagogue, providing a human shield - a show of support and symbolic protection for the city's Jewish brethren while condemning an attack on a synagogue in Denmark.
But is this example a tribute to interfaith understanding and solidarity being uniquely developed in Europe? Surely such a model could not flourish in harsher regions of the world - say Pakistan.
Typically, Pakistan = terrorism: But check out how "Conviviencia - or interfaith harmony" can change the dynamics in war torn Pakistan: While the general gist of the news from Pakistan is dominated by terrorism, deaths of charismatic leaders like Sabeen Mahmood a dynamic change maker, here is a story of Hindu- Muslim co-existence which is a mind blowing eye opener.
In a small town in Mithi in Tharparkar district in Sindh, Hindus and Muslims have co-existed peacefully since partition in 1947. In that year of carnage, Mithi did not fall apart. Mithi's Hindus remained in Pakistan. The population of Mithi is 80% Hindu and 20% Muslim. Here's how Hindus and Muslims they interact with each other sixty years later in a Pakistan rife with intra and inter faith violence: Muslims, though carnivorous, respectfully refrain from slaughtering cows and Hindus, in turn, restrain themselves from organizing marriages or other celebrations in Muharram, a time of respectful mourning for Muslims. Hindus even participate in leading the Muslim Ashura processions and assisting Muslims who constitute a mere 20% of the local population.
Hassan Raza an aspiring Pakistani journalist and human rights activist working passionately to bridge the religious divide between various faith communities while focusing on social justice, religious intolerance and discrimination through his blogs and public speaking, writes in his blog on Huffington Post "Mithi gives interfaith harmony a new meaning. They live, eat and work together because, according to them, it is in their culture. Respecting each others' beliefs is the solution to a lot of Pakistan's current predicaments. Religions differ, humans don't."
In an on line exchange, Salesh Khatri of Gainesville, Florida posted a comment to Hassan Raza's blog on Huffington Post which read: "That's because its 80% Hindus, my fundu friend. Show me a town where there are 80% muslims and there is no oppression to other cultures. Sindh is peaceful because of Sindhus."
Hassan Raza, author of the comment on Mithi and a blogger at Huffington Post responds: "Respectfully disagree friend. I wrote this piece. Even though I focused on the town of Mithi, because that is where I stayed, there are 3 other administrative divisions of Tharparker. Chachro, Diplo and Nagarparker. ... It is not about being Muslim or Hindu but because of the Sufi culture that has existed in the province for centuries. That is why Sindh is a province which, even at this moment is still resisting Arab cultural invasion which is why this province has not seen much of Talibanization or religious militancy. ... It is true that due to radicalization, even Sindh is getting affected but still there are some people who are resisting it with tolerant Sufi culture. ..There was a time when almost all Pakistan was this way but due to State's policies regarding religion and specially due to Arab imperialism, such issues of religious intolerance are rising."
Esposito sums this up "Conflicts between faiths, and even within faiths, require extra vigilance and bravery on the part of those called to peacemaking. It sometimes requires that we take a stand against people from our own traditions who are calling for hostility and instead demonstrate another way. This intentional peacemaking is happening all around the globe. People have responded to threats against their neighbors by forming circles of protection."
And Indian sociologist Ashutosh Varshney, author of "Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond." drives this home more generally. Varshney argues that "inter-ethnic networks are agents of peace because they build bridges and manage tensions." The flip side, however, he cautions is that "if communities are organized only along intra-ethnic lines and the interconnections with other communities are very weak (or do not exist), ethnic violence is then quite likely."
Varshney believes that "engagement, if robust, promotes peace: contrariwise, their absence or weakness opens up space for ethnic violence." Interestingly, Varshney notes that the associational engagement is sturdier than everyday engagement, "especially when confronted with attempts by politicians to polarize the people along ethnic lines. Both arguments have significance for theories of ethnic conflict and social capital."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged this reality when he welcomed the Christian faith into the rainbow of multiple religions in India in the eyes of his BJP party. This was a vital, strong, and welcoming act -- unexpected perhaps from the BJP -- that was long overdue: an affirmative stand in the right direction.
But note something. This "intentional peacemaking", the restoration of the 8th to the 15th century Andalusian " La Conviviencia", the Dalai Lama's compassion and forgiveness, is not something religion gives us - it is something we create within religion. It is not something we look to the leaders of the "other faith" to deliver (where are the moderate ... voices); it comes from our own hard work, and our own robust engagement.
Interfaith connection can heal the world; but only if there is enough of it - and enough of it requires enough of us working hard at it.
Peace among religions is a precondition for world peace.-- Swami Agnivesh
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