IOS organises a two-day National Conference on “Inter-religious Understanding and Programming for Sustainable Goals of Equality and Fraternity” in collaboration with Punjabi University at Patiala, Punjab

IOS organises a two-day National Conference on “Inter-religious Understanding and Programming for Sustainable Goals of Equality and Fraternity” in collaboration with Punjabi University at Patiala, Punjab

New Delhi: A two-day national conference on “Inter-religious Understanding and Programming for Sustainable Goals of Equality and Fraternity”, was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies in collaboration with Dept. of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, with technical assistance of Baba Farid Centre for Sufi Studies, Patiala, Punjab, on October 10 and 11, 2022.

Inaugural Session

The inaugural session began with the playing of the university song. This was followed by the welcome address by Prof. Mohd. Habib, Department of Islamic Studies, Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad, & Hon. Director, Baba Farid Centre for Sufi Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala.

Prof. Haseena Hashia, Assistant Secretary-General, IOS, introduced the Institute by highlighting its activities. She said that the IOS is a non-profit organisation, steadily pursuing its goal by conducting research in different areas, like the socio-economic plight of minorities, especially Muslims, oppressed sections, and pressing issues that confronted society. Scholars from across the globe engaged in the study of social welfare are invited to deliver lectures, organised by it. The IOS focuses on the issues of secularism, democracy and constitutionalism and synergy with progress. She pointed out that five regional chapters are in place to take care of regional issues. Emphasising the role of NGOs in supplementing the efforts of the government in social uplift, the Institute has always been eager to bring different organisations and social scientists together for the greater good of society.  The IOS is also credited with providing courage and aid to people during the COVID-19 pandemic to cope with the unusual situation. The Institute is a registered body and is run by the elected bodies – governing council and the general assembly. She said that the Institute has embarked upon publishing books and journals notably. So far, more than 400 titles have been published by it. Regular publications like the Religion and Law, Journal of Objective Studies, IOS Newsletter, and Mutaleaat are regularly published by the Institute. Besides, an online Islamic magazine, the IOS Minaret, was a regular feature of its publication. IOS has a good library and an extensive databank, she added.

Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, Convener, IOS Forum for Inter-Religious Understanding, who introduced the theme, said that the world today is suffering from a catastrophe and one should feel concerned about it. Pluralism and relationship with people of different religions should be encouraged to achieve sustainable goals. He called for setting an agenda which was neither too conservative nor too progressive. Talk of religious understanding was not new but what was needed was to have a cohesive approach to the issue. He observed that common points for inter-religious dialogue should be discussed to arrive at a decision. For this, religions should have good relations among themselves. In this connection, an initiative was taken some five years ago at a conference at Magadh University, Bodh Gaya, Bihar. This journey should continue. As a human being, all the stakeholders must promote understanding of all religions, he stressed.

Inaugurating the conference, Professor Arvind, Vice Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala, said that working together was necessary to sustain an understanding of all religions. This conference focused on sustainable goals of equality and fraternity. Being human was of paramount importance. Fraternity should open up to greater dialogue. He pleaded that the dialogue should be held among believers and non-believers and also with people of the same belief. He called for engaging in dialogue with different religions and making efforts to bring all the stakeholders together. He also stressed that the stage for democracy and equality should be set.

In his keynote address, Prof. M. Afzal Wani, Pro-Vice Chancellor, IILM University, Greater Noida & Vice-Chairman, IOS, emphasised the need for achieving goals of religious understanding. Referring to fraternity, he said that it found a place in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While achieving the goals of sustainable development, a change in the attitude towards humanity should be brought. He said that ethical dimensions of education should also be taken into account, and no one should be allowed to exploit this. He called for promoting fraternity by sustaining it. One should address his conscience. For the furtherance of fraternity, all religions have a role to play in it. Commenting on dignity and fraternity, he said that they also formed a part of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution. He concluded by observing that respect for human dignity should reflect in every decision.

Addressing as a special guest, Prof. Dr. Harmohinder Singh Bedi, Chancellor, Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala, said that the cultural legacy and religion could be used to connect people. He referred to the views of Dr. Radhakrishnan who laid emphasis on the dialogue with other religions. He said that it was Guru Nanak Dev who first spoke the language of dialogue and believed that it was like a bridge which could be crossed by all. His discourse contained the participation of all, which was an answer to all the issues that would be raised at the conference. He congratulated the Punjabi university for organising such an important conference. He observed that the Guru Granth Sahib presented a model to the world, describing it as the first book of dialogue in the world based on Indian languages and culture.  When the Universal Charter of Human Rights was being revised, a scholar from Pakistan suggested that the views of Guru Tegh Bahadur should also be included in it. Laying stress on saving water, he said that the Earth would survive only when the water was there. He warned that water crisis was going to be a great problem in the near future. He concluded by saying that the external connection could be snapped, but the internal connection remained unbroken.

Dr. John Dayal, Secretary-General of the All-India Christian Council & Member, National Integration Council of India, New Delhi, held that the IOS is a pioneering institution of its kind in the country. He said that he had spoken several times about the need for holding dialogue with the followers of different faiths in order to understand their viewpoints on a lot of issues. But the problem arose from unrelenting hate speeches that poisoned the mind. Bearded Muslims and Sikhs were targeted by those elements who had no respect for other religions. This phenomenon was not conjoined to India because it was a global phenomenon. He categorically said that the hate against Muslims today was a solitary weapon of the political class to use for political purposes. Hate permeated the whole environment. He observed that the absence of positive wisdom was dangerous for the survival of democracy and its institutions. Dialogues could end the unrelenting hate. He urged the IOS to do something tangible in the field.

Bhai Ashok Singh Bagrian, Former President and Founder Member of the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, who prepared the Encyclopedia of Guru Granth Sahib, touched upon various aspects of the Sikh holy book. Referring to the teachings of Guru Nanak, he said that Guru Granth Sahib was also a teacher. 

Maulana Anisur Rahman Qasmi, Member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Patna, observed that Islam had reference to other religions also. All human beings have been given respect and treated with dignity. Allah made man worthy of respect. All human beings were born to one mother and father, and no one had preference over the other. He observed it was Islam which gave respectability even to a dead body. Islam gave equal status to everybody in respect of justice, protection of life, honour, education, employment and business. Equal punishment for the commitment of similar crimes had been prescribed in Islam.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President & Spiritual Head, Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh, while speaking as guest of honour, highlighted the significance of Inter-religious understanding and stressed on the need of dialogue among different faiths in the present-day context. He congratulated the Institute of Objective Studies for this initiative and extended his best wishes for its future endeavours in this direction.

Dr. Pramod Kumar Dash, Head, Department of Philosophy, Nayagarh Autonomous Utkal University, Odisha, said that there was much gap between religious paradigm and practice. He observed that religion was to understand one’s existence. Everyone should have a common belief because values were beyond religion. There was the need for a common dialogue with different religious denomination he added.

In his presidential address, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, Director, IOS Centre for Historical and Civilisational Studies, Aligarh, held that Punjab was fertile land for Sufis and saints. In this connection, he took several names of Sufis, saints, gurus and babas. Sohni–Mahiwal symbolised love like the clean water of the rivers flowing in Punjab. Dastan-e-Ishq and Mohabbat had been the legacy of Punjab, he concluded.

The inaugural session ended with a vote of thanks extended by Prof. Harwinder Kaur, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Punjabi University, Patiala.

Business Session I

Chaired by Prof. M. Afzal Wani and co-chaired by Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, the first business session focused on peace in the context of religion and sustainable development. The first speaker of the session was Dr. Altaf Hussain Yatoo, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Higher Education Government of Jammu & Kashmir, who spoke on the Quranic principles of tolerance. He was followed by Saba Naqvi, who focused on the Islamic concept of faith. Mr. Javeed Ahmad Malik, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora, was the third speaker, who threw light on ‘A Study of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)’s Universal Peaceful Initiatives’. He was followed by Mrs. Jamaliah Jamil, Research Scholar, University Teknologi Malaysia and Idris Ali, Research Scholar, University Malaysia Sabah. Both of them centered their talk on the role of psychology and gratitude emotion in harmonising Islamophobic behavior. The next speaker was Mrs. Narinder Kaur, Research Scholar, Department of Philosophy, Punjabi University, Patiala, who spoke on ‘Humanising Dimensions of Religion and Sustainable Development’. She was followed by Ms. Chetna Trivedi, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. She focused her paper on ‘Reading Secularism in India with Special Reference to Akeel Bilgrami’.

Dr. Riyaz Ahmad Sheikh, Associate Professor, Department of Islamic Studies Islamic, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, Kashmir, was the last speaker of the session who dwelt on ‘Interfaith Dialogue as Tool for Co-existence: An Islamic Perspective’. He laid emphasis on achieving social cohesion and fostering mutual respect. 

Business Session II

Devoted to religion, Gandhi and non-violence, the second business session was chaired by Prof. Idrees, Department of History, Patiala University, Punjab. Prof. Haseena Hashia was the co-chair. Dr. Daljit Kaur, Associate Professor, Department of History, Mata Sundari College for Women, Delhi, was the first speaker who spoke on ‘Bhagat Bani, Guru Granth Sahib-An Explicit Legacy’. She explained the concept of Bhakti and the composition of Guru Granth Sahib. She said that the Granth Sahib was a paradigm of peace and a model of structural harmony. She was followed by Dr. Rukhshanda Shaheen, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh. She presented her paper on ‘Religion and Peaceful living from the perspective of Abul Kalam Azad’. She said that Maulana Azad was a nationalist and expressed himself against dogmas. Ab. Majeed Ganaie, Research Scholar, Central University of Kashmir, was the third speaker who spoke on ‘Universal Brotherhood: A Study’. The fourth speaker was Mr. Sandeep Kumar, Research Scholar, GNA University, Jalandhar, Punjab, who focused on religion and peaceful living. He held that a healthy environment was required in society to promote calmness. Religious tolerance could ensure peace in society, he said. Summing up the proceedings of the session, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin said that history was all about the interpretation of events.

Day 2 (October 11, 2022)

Business Session III

The third business session focused on inter-religious understanding and the Indian Constitution. The session was chaired by Prof. Gurmail Singh, Deptt. of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, and Prof. Leila Chamankhah, Visiting Professor from Department of Philosophy, University of Dayton, USA, was the co-chair. The first speaker was Dr. Khalid Hossain, Head teacher, Monu Memorial Institution, Kolkata. He spoke on the Indian Constitution and its safeguards for minorities. He briefly discussed Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, which was most important for the minorities and Article 31, which gave right to them to set up and maintain their educational institution. He was followed by Dr. Peshimam Nazeer Ahmed, Joint Secretary, OMEIAT Tirupathur, Tamil Nadu. His paper focused on ‘Indian Constitution and Safeguards for Minorities’. He said that majorities created problems for minorities leading to conflict. The rights of minorities were inherent and in consonance with the rights contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Minorities, he added. Dr. Humera Afzal Qadri, Senior Lecturer of Islamic Studies, Department of Education was the third speaker of the session who delved into ‘Hazrat Ali’s Perception on Social Justice and Human Rights’. She was followed by Dr. Showkat Hussain, Sr. Assistant Professor, Department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantiopra, who focused on ‘Debating  Muslim Women’s Rights Act in Contemporary Socio-Religious Context: Challenges and Future Discourse’.

Dr. Asma Kounsar, Research Scholar, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar, presented her paper on ‘Gender Equality in Islam’. Dr. Tamanna Mobeen Azmi, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, spoke on ‘Islamic Tolerance and Justice for the Peaceful Coexistence in Multicultural Society’. While Mr. Arshadul Islam, Research Scholar, Shri Venkateshwara University, Gajraula, U.P., focused on the ‘Significance of Religion in Social Justice: A Comparative Study of Social Justice Theories of Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Khaldun’. Ms. S. M. Rizwanah, Research Scholar, Department of Philosophy, Manipur University, presented her paper on Indian Secularism and its challenges. Ms. Umme Ammara, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, was the last speaker who expressed her views on Social Justice and Equality: An Islamic Perspective.

The vote of thanks was proposed by Dr. Tajinder Kaur, Deptt. of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala.

Business Session IV

Chaired by Prof. Abdur Rashid Bhat, Department of Islamic Studies, IUST, Awantipora, the fourth session was devoted to the dialogue for social change and inclusiveness. It was co-chaired by Prof. Haseena Hashia and Prof. Leila Chamankhah.

The first speaker of the session was Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Executive Director, Religions for Peace, USA. He spoke on ‘Religious Pluralism in the Public Square: Perspectives from South Asia, United States, and Europe’. He was followed by Dr. Mohammad Shekaib Alam, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, IIU, Malaysia, who spoke on internalising the maxim that “there is no compulsion in religion” in Islam to realise societal peace and harmony. Dr. Sabreen Javid, Post-doctoral fellow (ICSSR), Shaikh-ul Aalam Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, discussed ‘Linguistic Pluralism Today: A study of Humanistic Values in the Poetry of Shaikh-ul Aalam’. Mr. Mohd Azam, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, BGSB University, Rajouri, spoke on the ‘Role of Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi in Strengthening Communal Harmony in Indian Subcontinent’. Mrs. Robina Singh, Research Scholar, Department of Art History and Visual Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh, touched upon ‘A Study of Artistic Responses to the Communal Violence through Installation of Art in India’. She was followed by Mr. Jaswinder Singh, Research Scholar, Centre for Comparative Religion and Civilisations, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, who spoke on ‘Communicating "with" or "about" Other Religion: Making Sense of Inter-religious Dialogue in Habermasian Perspective’. He was followed by Mr. Heera Singh, Research Scholar, Centre for Comparative Religion and Civilisations, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, who focused on ‘Appropriation of Meaning of Religion in Inter-religious Dialogue: A Ricoeurian Perspective’.

Mrs. Anita Rani Kamboj, Research Scholar, Tantia University, Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, read her paper on ‘Sangat-Pangat and Human Welfare’. Ms. Humaira Mehmood, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh, centered her paper on ‘Inter-religious understanding: An Islamic perspective’. She was followed by Ms. Arsala, Research Scholar, AMU, Aligarh, who spoke on ‘Peaceful Coexistence: An Islamic Perspective’.

The vote of thanks was proposed by Dr. Ritu Raj, Deptt. of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala. 

Business Session V

Fifth business session was chaired by Prof. Syed Jamaluddin and co-chaired by Prof. Idrees, Deptt. of History, Punjabi University, Patiala. The session was devoted to the ‘Concept of Langar and Idea of Human Equality’.

The first speaker of the session was Dr. Mohammad Ajmal, Assistant Professor, School of Language Literature and Culture Studies, JNU, Delhi, who focused on ‘Vivekananda and Religious Diversity: A critical approach to his thought and belief’. He was followed by Dr. Sartaj Ahmad Sofi, Assistant Professor, BGSB University, Rajouri, who devoted his paper to ‘Contextualise “Langer Khana” in Tassawwuf: A Study of selected Langer Khana’. Dr. Ambreen, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh, spoke on ‘Tolerance and its value in one’s life: The Perspective of Abul Kalam Azad’. She was followed by Mrs. Areesha Azhar, Research Scholar, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, who focused on ‘Islam and Peaceful Behavior’. The next speaker was Mr. Nasir Hassan Wani, Research Scholar, Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh, who spoke on ‘Islam and Peaceful Behavior’. The last speaker was Mr. Umar Rashid Bhat, Research Scholar, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar, who co-authored his paper with Mr. Ishtiyaq Ahmad Wagay. He spoke on the ‘Institution of Sangat-Pangat and Human Welfare in Sikhism’.

Summing up the proceedings of the session, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin highlighted the Concept of Langar and Idea of Human Equality.

Dr. Leila Chamankhah proposed a vote of thanks. 

Valedictory Session

Addressing as one of the guests of honour, Dr. Abdullah Al-Lheedan, Visiting Professor, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, said that Islam called for equality regardless of colour and creed. There is no superiority of one race over the other. The idea of superiority represented colonisation or subjugation of others. He observed that equality was very important for progress and said, “we made nations and tribes, but they colonised them. Tolerance meant acceptance and peaceful co-existence. Tolerance also meant mercy and compassion”. Equality and tolerance are the two pillars of Islam. Islam called for dialogue among all religions. Cooperation was the key to goals of sustainable goals of equality, he added.

The second guest of honour was Prof. (Dr.) R. S. Bawa, Pro-Chancellor, Chandigarh University, Punjab, observed that faith and religion are very personal to everyone. Human dignity is central to all religions, and all humans must be respected and valued. He called for restraining from saying anything which hurt the sentiments of the people belonging to other religions. He suggested that a prayer relevant to all religions must be held in order to imbibe common minimum features of different religions.

Prof. Om Narayana Rao, Department of Philosophy, Niranjan Govt. Women’s College, Odisha, held that every religion is supreme and human beings are at the centre of it. No interpretation was wrong because everyone has their standpoint. Much of the conflict would be resolved if one understood others’ perspectives. He said that focus on good should be there. He called for focusing on the good and not on the bad. All the good things should be learnt from others. He added that the brotherhood in Islam and Ahinsa in Jainism should be adopted for greater acceptability.

Prof. Hardev Singh Virk, former professor of department of Philosophy, Punjabi University, Patiala, also expressed his views on the subject as guest of honour.

Prof. M. Afzal Wani called for making all the efforts to arrive at a consensus. This was quite possible to achieve, he observed. He said that Guru Nanak Dev first initiated inter-faith dialogue. The purpose of such conferences and seminars was to disseminate ideas and the message, he pointed out.

Presiding over the valedictory session, Prof. Z. M. Khan, Secretary-General, IOS, remarked that the conference should continue to be organised regularly. He said that the outreach of other organisations and universities should be utilised for sharing experiences. He said that religion should be exercised and debated. The politicisation of religion affects the true understanding of religion. He observed that propaganda has made religion a tool in the hands of politicians. Religion is the spiritualisation of the human body. He also emphasised that ventures like the two-day conference should try to be collaborative. A committee should be formed to finalise the modalities of such conferences, he suggested.

Earlier, a five-point resolution, read out by Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, was unanimously adopted by the participants of the conference. The resolutions are as under:

  1. Appreciating the impact of its programming in the direction of creating fair understanding about various religions for promoting equality and fraternity, the Institute of Objective Studies is urged to continue such programmes in collaboration with other institutions across the country.
  2. The Institute of Objective Studies, by widening its horizon, should expand and extend such programmes and important messages to the whole of humanity, irrespective of their faiths.
  3. The Institute of Objective Studies greatly acknowledges the healthy and cordial collaborative support from Sri Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies and Baba Farid Center for Sufi Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, and expects such collaborations with other departments of the university also.
  4. Youth, including students and scholars, should be involved in the dialogue process and essential measures should be taken for the same.
  5. To facilitate this task of nation-building based on equality, justice, universal brotherhood, sustainable co-existence etc., individuals and organisations should come forward and support the Institute of Objective Studies in these endeavours.

The conference ended with a vote of thanks extended by Sh. Daljit AMI, Director, Educational Multimedia Research Centre, Educational Multimedia Research Centre.

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