Greater Need For Civilisational Dialogue Today (March 17, 2008)

L-R: Mr. Sadek Jawad Sulaiman, Former Ambassador of Oman to US & Iran delivering his talk,
also seen in the picture Prof. A. K. Pasha & Prof. Z. M. Khan

New Delhi, March 14: The need for dialogue among civilisations has increased in the troubled 21st century, said Mr Sadeq Jawad Sulaiman, a thinker from Oman. Mr Sulaiman, who had been ambassador of his country to the US and Iran, was speaking at the headquarters of Institute of Objective Studies here today.

He said Samuel P. Huntington formulated the thesis of clash of civilisations some 15 years ago. According to Mr Huntington, in the 21st century there would be no clash between countries, but between civilisations. The thesis was challenged by then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in the United Nations in 2000.

Mr Sulaiman said Khatami’s viewpoint was very clear and straightforward. Since then the world started talking of dialogue among civilisations. “All my life I will be advancing the culture of dialogue among civilisations”, he said. There was a marked difference between inter-civilisational dialogue and inter-religious dialogue, he clarified.

Dr. Ausaf Ahmad (R) presenting a memento to H. E. Mohammed Yousuf Dawood Shalwani,
Ambassador of Oman to India

“A religion firmly stands on its beliefs, which remain unaltered even in the event of dialogue. On the other hand, civilisations learn from each other, and their stances, preferences and aversions keep changing”, Mr Sulaiman observed.

He said a civilisation is based on culture. And a culture is a dynamic and changing thing. This way a civilisation keeps evolving and changing. In this situation the prospects of inter-civilisational dialogue are high. Referring to Mohammad Khatami, Mr Sulaiman said dialogue has the potential to remove misunderstandings, and civilisations are there to bring peoples together, not for starting a clash.

The speech was followed by an interesting question-answer session. The programme was conducted by Prof. A.K. Pasha of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

A view of Audience

Former head of Jamia Millia Islamia’s political science department Prof. Z.M. Khan asked whether dialogue was a means to a better world or an end in itself. Mr Sulaiman replied that inter-civilisational dialogue, by its very nature, had to be a means only.

When one young man went off on a tangent regarding Islam having produced great science and art in the Medieval Age “while Europe was still wallowing in the ignorance of Dark Ages”, Mr Sulaiman told him politely that dialogue had to be couched in more meaningful, less triumphalist language.

To another question he sounded the cautionary note that in the civilisational dialogue too frequent resort to one’s own religion might sabotage the whole idea of dialogue. He quoted the Prophet’s (PBUH) advice to Muslims that they were free to work out non-religious issues without recourse to Islam.


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