IOS-Punjabi University organises two-day National Conference on Inter-Religious Understanding: Its Implications for Human Rights
A two-day National Conference on “Inter-Religious Understanding: Its Implications for Human Rights” was jointly organised by the Institute of Objective Studies and Punjabi University at Patiala on September 29-30, 2021.
Inaugurated by the Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Prof. Arvind, the inaugural session was graced by the Chancellor, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Prof. Dr. Harmohinder Singh Bedi as special guest, Prof. Shivani Sharma from Chandigarh University, Punjab and Dr. Firoz Mohammad, Executive Director (Liberal Arts, Humanities and Creative Practices) Chandigarh University as guests of honour. While Prof. Dr. Mohd. Habib, Head, department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, presented the welcome address, Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, Convenor, IOS Forum for Inter-Religious Understanding, Delhi, introduced the theme. In his key-note address, Prof. M. Afzal Wani, Professor of Law & Director Coordination, GGSIP University, Delhi, and the Vice Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, observed that there was a deep link between humanity and religions. The importance of the conference should be understood in that context.
Inaugurating the conference, Prof. Arvind expressed happiness that the university was hosting a national conference on the subject that assumed much importance in the present context. Prof. Harmohinder Singh lauded the efforts of the organisers to discuss the issues related to inter-faith understanding. He said that his university would explore possibilities to hold such a conference. Prof. Shivani Sharma, explained the revelations and anubhuti in the light of Vedic practices. Dr. Firoz Mohammad held that religions were made to spread the essence of humanity. He emphasized the need for holding dialogues and conferences to promote better understanding among religions. Presiding over the session, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, Director, IOS Centre for Historical and Civilizational Studies, held that such conferences should be regularly organised to help dispel misconception about different religions. He said that the IOS had been holding such dialogues to negate the misunderstanding among religions.
The inaugural session ended with a vote of thanks by the dean, academic affairs, Punjabi University, Prof. B.S. Sindhu.
A view of speakers in the inaugural session
A view of the audience
Business Session I
Chaired by Prof. Mohd. Roslan Mohd. Noor, Malay University, Malaysia, the session focused on inter-religious understanding and religions. Prof. Hamidullah Marazi moderated the session. The speakers of the session were, Dr. Daljit Kaur, associate professor, department of History, Mata Sundri College for Women, University of Delhi, Delhi, Bhupinder Singh ‘Bashar’ Kolkata. While the former spoke on “Sikhism: Tapestry of serenity and valour”, the latter focused on “Inter-religious understanding and dialogue for promoting humanity”. Dr. Naseem Gul & Ms. Ujala Amin from department of Islamic Studies, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU), Rajouri, Jammu & Kashmir spoke on “Ethical philosophy of Sufis: A nourishment to the communal harmony in Kashmir”, while Dr. Nazeer Ahmad Ab. Majeed, assistant professor, K.A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, spoke on “Human rights as a mediator of interreligious understanding”.
Business Session II
The second business session focused on inter-religious dialogues for promotion of humanity and justice, and was chaired by Prof. Ishrat Alam of AMU. Prof. Hamidullah Marazi moderated the session. While Dr. Md. Abrarul Haque, guest faculty (Islamic Studies), MANUU, Lucknow Campus, spoke on “Fr. Thomas Michel’s Approaches to Christian-Muslim Dialogue”, Dr. Poulosiju K.F., assoc. professor, Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, UC College, Ernakulum, Kerala, presented the paper on “Dialogue to Enhance Humanity: The vision of Pope Francis in FratelliTutti”. The third speaker was Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, doctoral candidate, department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora, Kashmir, who focused on “Social Justice: A Key to Communal Harmony”. He was followed by Waheed Ahmad Ahanger, Ph.D. student, School of Education, Central University of Kashmir, Green Campus Ganderbal, J&K and Dr. Firdous Ahmad Sofal, assistant professor in the same university. Both of them spoke on “Religion and Social Justice: Role of Major Religious Schools in Fostering Social Justice in India”. While Dr. Amita Valmiki, assoc. professor and head, department of Philosophy, Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai, discussed on “Dialogical Communication between the Religious Traditions of Asia and Africa”, J. Peter, research scholar, Christian Tamil Studies, Madurai Kamraj University, Madurai, T.N., spoke on “Social Justice in Christian Perspective”. The last speaker was Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, research scholar, Philosophy, Barkatullah University, Bhopal, who focused on “Ghazali’s View of Human Dignity”.
Business Session III
The third business session focused on dialogue in action for justice and protection of human rights, was chaired by Prof. D. A. Gangadhar, professor and former head, department of Philosophy & Religion, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. Moderated by Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, the session commenced with the talk of Dr. Mohammad Habib on “Islam and Inter-religious Understanding: Its Implications to Human Rights”. He observed that Allah’s words were revealed through the Prophet (PBUH) and preserved in the Qur’an. Religion was one and its aim was to uplift human beings by valuing human rights. The Qur’an says, “Unto you your religion; Unto me my religion.” There was no compulsion in religion. If Allah wanted to make everyone as faithful to Him, nobody on earth had the courage to prevent Him. But He did not. This simply meant that He left it to people to decide their faith or otherwise. Quoting freely from the Qur’an, he said that people’s opinion would certainly differ in matters of faith. Unfortunately, Islam was misquoted in the context of human rights. Islamic values and its identity had been presented by the western scholars in a biased manner. He concluded by noting that the faith was a matter of choice. Dr. Javed Nadeem Nadvi, department of Arabic, MANUU, Hyderabad, spoke on “Islam in a Multi-faith Society: Adherence with Rights and Respect”. He said Allah is merciful and compassionate. He introduced His Prophet (PBUH) as Rahmat-ul-Lil Alamin. Referring to the Prophet’s (PBUH) treatment to people, he said that He pardoned Haris despite his unpardonable misdemeanours. He also pardoned Suraaqa. Sulah Hudaibiya (Treaty of Hudaibiya) was the best example of engaging with the enemies in the most humane manner. His behaviour on the warfront also did not have a parallel in the history of mankind. Jews tied up with the tribals of Madina to attack Muslims. In the battle that ensued, Jews were forced to withdraw. All the withdrawing forces were treated humanely. Christians were never forced to embrace Islam during the rule of Second Caliph, Hazrat Umar Bin Khattab, he added.
Dr. Hassan Shareef, assistant professor and head, PG Department of Islamic Studies, SAFI Institute of Advanced Study, focused on “Peaceful Coexistence in Indian subcontinent: Lessons from Madina Charter of Prophet Muhammed”. He said that the Charter was an example of unity in diversity. It was the first written constitution of the world in a country that was composed of fifty percent tribes. It also created a platform to promote peace, love and compassion among people of diverse ethnicity, he noted. While Iymen Nazir, Ph.D. scholar, department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir, presented the paper on the “Rights of Religious Minorities in India Through a Constitutional Perspective”, Dr. Afroz Ahmad Bisati, assoc. professor, department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, Kashmir, focused on “Cultural Diversity Under the Frame of the Indian Constitution”. Dr. Afroz said that the provision in the IPC had been made to give protection to the minorities. The National Commission for Minorities was in place to deal with issues that affected minority rights. Article 30 of the Constitution outlined each category of the minorities defined as to who fell under the minorities category. She held the anti-conversion law as anti-constitutional as Indian Constitution guaranteed religious freedom. Calling India’s multi-cultural diversity unique, she said that inter-faith dialogues should be held to cement the bond of brotherhood and communal harmony.
Dr. Masihullah, guest teacher, department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, presented his paper on “Meesaq-e-Madinah”. He said that good words had been used for Jews and Christians in the Qur’an. It also commanded the faithful to mete out decent treatment to non-Muslims. Meesaq-e-Madinah (Charter of Madina), which had 47 points, was the first written agreement. He noted that 50 per cent Muslims from Mecca came to Madina. An agreement was reached with the Jews, rejecting the Western theory of ‘King can do no wrong’. Under the Meesaq-e-Madina, the Prophet (PBUH) was the last authority to decide contentious issues. He opined that Hindu-Muslim unity could create a good society. Dr. Nazir Ahmad Zargar, assistant professor, department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir, Kashmir, held that the Shari’ah was based on the benefit of all. According to him, Shari’ah had 6 objectives. These were – life, property, progeny, honour, preservation of age and preservation of Al-Aql. Sharia commanded the faithful to avoid certain indulgences. Murder of a human being had been treated as crime, he added. Prof. Jashpreet Kaur Sandhu from Punjabi University, Patiala, underlined the need for mutual understanding among different faiths. She said that truth was multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Referring to six Sikh gurus, she said that they treated all the religions as divinely inspired. The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev held inter-faith dialogues. His teachings were preserved and encouraged in Gurbani. She observed that God is not specific to any particular religion and thus human interaction was necessary for preventing violence and ensuring peace all over the world.
Presiding over the session, Prof. D.A. Gangadhar said that Islam was one of the strongest religions of the world. This raised the question as to how to manage religious plurality. Calling for world peace, he held that the problem of human rights was of utmost importance today. The crux of the matter was ‘Kuchh kahiye; kuchh suniye’ (Say something and listen something). One could never nurture religious intolerance if he followed his religion in letter and spirit. He briefly referred to the classical cults in Hinduism-the Vaishnawism and Shaivism. There were two aspects of a religion – practical and theoretical. He was all praise for Islamic sufism and noted that it was the practical aspect of Islam. Speaking in the Indian context, he said that pluralism was deeply rooted in society and the country. He concluded by observing that no effort should be spared to take the country on the path of development.
Business Session IV
Devoted to the theme Inter-Religious Understanding in Islam and Indian Religions, the fourth session was chaired by Prof. Abdul Rashid Bhat, Central University of Kashmir. Dr. Nazir Ahmad Zargar moderated the session. Prof. Aleem Ashraf Khan, former head, department of Persian, Delhi University, was the first speaker who focused on “Traces of Tolerance in Persian Malfuz Literature”. He said that India had been a centre of rational and intellectual sciences. Teachings of sufis, particularly, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Mahboob-e-Ilahi, always inspired peace and amity in society. He was a true pir. Sikh gurus also spread the message of love and peace. He observed that Din-e-Ilahi was aimed at harmony and religious tolerance. He was followed by Dr. Ashraf Amin and Ms. Ujala Amin, guest lecturer and doctoral candidate respectively, in the department of Islamic Studies, BGSB, Rajouri, who spoke on “Revisiting Socio-religious Harmony: A Study of Sufi-Saint Traditions of India”. Both of them insisted that religion was the lifeblood of the Indian sub-continent. Unlike western countries, secularism never took deep roots in this part of the world. Ignorance of other religious was the main cause of misunderstanding that permeated today. They said that conflicts were orchestrated to make political gains.
Sajad Ahmad Kumar and Dr. Rafique Anjum, research scholars, department of Islamic Studies, BGSBU, presented their paper on “Religious Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence: An Islamic Perspective”. They noted that religious pluralism and peaceful co-existence went hand in hand. Diversity was the law of nature, and multi-culturalism formed a part of it. There were a number of instances in history when clashes among different faiths took place, they remarked. Mohammad Osama, research scholar, Religious Studies, Punjabi University, who spoke on the “Rights of the Minorities and their Protection in an Islamic State”, argued that Islam was the first religion to give minorities their rights. Minority rights formed a place in the Charter of Madina. This could be understood in the present context, he observed. Ab. Majeed Ganaie, Ph.D. scholar, department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir, presented his paper on “Inter-religious Understanding in Indian context: Dialogue a way forward for the promotion of humanity”. He laid stress on the collective recognition to promote the rights of minorities. Ashaq Hussain Hijam and Dr. Firdous Ahmad Sofa, Ph.D. scholar, School of Education, Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal, focused on the “Place and Promotion of Inter-religious Understanding with Special Reference to Various Major Schools of Philosophy”. Dr. Muied-ul-Zafar, assistant professor, department of Religious Studies, Punjab University, discussed “Inter-religious Understanding in Kashmir during the Sultanate Period”. He said that a new culture emerged during the Sultanate period. There was religious tolerance and understanding among the people. Islam took care of the poor, he noted.
Javad Ahmad Mir and Prof. G. N. Khaki, research scholar at CCAS, University of Kashmir, focused on “Dara Shikouh and his Model of Hindu-Muslim Inter-religious Understanding: An assessment” and Contours of Religious Co-existence and Cooperation in Islam”. In their presentations, they said that Dara Shikouh was the believer of Tawhid. He was a Sufi and belonged to the Qadariya order of Sufism. Baba Lal Das’ teachings influenced a sizable population. Dara Shikouh rejected exclusivism which pitted orthodox sections of Islam against him. It was Dara who got translated Vedas and Upanishads into Persian, they added. Ms. Ira Leo, & Rifat Khan, research scholars, Lovely Professional University, Jalandhar, who were the last speakers of the session, spoke on “Inter-religious Marriages and their Implications”. They said that marriage had been a universal social institution. The contemporary hostilities were politically motivated. They made special mention of Articles 16 and 21 of the Indian constitution.
Delivering the valedictory address, Prof. Hamidullah Marazi pointed out that religion had two dimensions – the role of sages and religious communities. A platform to promote religious tolerance was needed. Similarly, ideological dialogues should be regularly organized to maintain peace. Clerics, gurus and sufis could play a significant role in the restoration of peace and communal harmony. Keeping this in view, Sheikh Farid reached out to people belonging to other faiths. He said that Islam laid emphasis on peace and spirituality. Issues involving Hindus, Muslims, Sikh and Christians should be discussed in secular and constitutional perspective, he stressed. Presiding over the session, Prof. Afzal Wani said that the two-day conference was historical as well as demanding because of the paradigm shift in religious faith at this juncture. Seers and saints had been preaching harmony among followers of different faiths. The paradigm shift in the realm of religion suggested that faith should be rational with the purpose to reach the essence of it. As the sustainable development was much talked-about, sustainable thought was equally necessary. There should be no lopsided thought. He observed that since there was no prophet to reveal things, the responsibility now devolved on intellectuals to do so. Human history was witness to it that there were avatars and gurus who did their every bit to bring back things. This was repeated by the scholars. He said that religion was there to promote human dignity to teach and give respect to others. If God says to give respect to human beings, so give it to them. He remarked that if the shift took place in human mind, the objective of the conference would be fulfilled. He reminded that religion would lose its meaning if it does not promote human dignity.
Dr. Mohd. Habib, while lauding the activities of the IOS in reaching out to the minorities, depressed and deprived sections by way of research, survey, study and dissemination, said that it might be a small world but the vision was broad. It was like an oasis in the desert, an Anasagar in Ajmer, and Amrit in Amritsar. Dialogues and understanding among different religions must be a continuous process. He observed that humanity, tolerance and universal brotherhood were vital for human rights. Human rights and humanity were ingrained in all the religions, he concluded.
Prof. Syed Jamaluddin observed that Guru Nanak Dev laid emphasis on universality in his teachings. On this occasion, he read out a 6-point resolution which was unanimously adopted by the participants. The resolution read as:
- There should be regular programmes on inter-religious understanding at various places of Punjab organized by the Institute of Objective Studies in collaboration with GGS Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala.
- A special course should be included in the educational curricula to teach common core values of harmony, peace and dialogue among Indian religions.
- A committee comprising of scholars and academics should be formed by the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, and Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, to regularly monitor the pace on inter-religious programmes.
- Punjabi University, Himachal University and Chandigarh University should form a core group to carry on regular programmes on inter-religious dialogue in collaboration with the Institute of Objective Studies. Religious scholars and community leaders of all the communities should be invited to the programme.
- GGS Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, should be made a nerve centre to carry on such activities, and a core committee comprising of the representatives of the said universities who participated in this conference, should be formed to take ahead the programmes on inter-religious dialogue.
- Urdu is the beloved daughter of Punjabi. Therefore, efforts should be made in collaboration with Punjabi University to revive literary and cultural ethos of Urdu in Punjab.
At the end, the registrar of the Punjabi University, Prof. Ravinder Kumar Kaushik, extended a vote of thanks to all the participants.