The Dialogue Must Never Cease DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM (March 31, 2008)


The Dialogue Must Never Cease

Welcoming Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz's announcement of an initiative to start meaningful dialogue between Islam, Christianity and Judaism DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM says it has not come a day too soon.

Over the last few years we have been witnessing a dangerous drift that seems to widen the chasm between civilisations. The process of meaningful bilateral and multilateral dialogue has virtually ceased. In the void thus created have grown mutual suspicions, hatred and hostility.

Even at the beginning of this century we at the IOS had a clear idea of the fact that the world was falling apart and there was an urgent need for preventing things from spinning out of control. And we knew that it was better to talk to each other across the table than firing at each other across "enemy" lines. Talking has the potential to create understanding, resolve issues and remove the basis for enmity. From our side we launched the programme of creating international understanding by hosting a major seminar called Inter-Civilisational Dialogue in a Globalising World from April 8 to 10, 2005.

Delegates from all over the world participated in the three-day seminar which provided a platform for political dignitaries, intellectuals, religious and civil society leaders from all over the world with the highest government leaders, intellectuals, journalists and NGO leaders of India. Between them they represented most of the major religions and civilisations. Since then we have continued to hold seminars and conferences of that nature periodically.

That is why when the Saudi King announced on March 25 his decision (backed by major Saudi ulema) to initiate a dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths we thought the move was just another confirmation of the validity of what we had already been doing. The Saudi initiative has not come a day too soon, because the tension between Islam, Christianity and Judaism has reached a dangerous point today. The offensive Danish cartoons of the holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) were clearly meant to provoke Muslims and exacerbate Muslim-Christian relations. They did succeed in aggravating mutual relations. Now they have republished some of the cartoons once again. That certainly is not a move intended to improve mutual relations.

The king's announcement came on the fourth day of Pope Benedict's high profile baptism of a person who had converted from Islam to Christianity. To many Muslims the Pope's decision to baptise the man at this moment is reminiscent of his Regensburg speech in which he obliquely suggested that Islam preaches violence. Later he attributed the remark to some obscure European king who lived centuries ago.

Despite the trouble all this portends we stand by the doctrinal validity of dialogue in Islam. Dialogue and efforts at reviving dialogue between Islam and non-Islam is a noble mission.

Already a substantial number of Jewish and Christian religious leaders have responded positively to the idea of lowering the level of distrust between the three faiths, all of whom (in the words of the Saudi King) worship the "same God".

From an Islamic perspective dialogue is not merely an instrument for maintaining a balance of power, but a moral imperative that restores peace and establishes a just order. Absence of a just order creates an environment where dialogue becomes difficult and, almost inevitably, violence erupts. However, Islam demands that the dialogue must never cease, bilateral and multilateral interaction must continue to build mutual confidence and peace. For that end, and for the world to know Islam, dialogue is an essential pre-requisite.  g

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