Closer home one finds numerous equally powerful and beautiful examples of inter-religious harmony.
Last Sunday as I read the news about how a church in Vienna, not far from my church, celebrated Iftar (breaking of fast), inviting the Muslims from the neighbourhoods, I began missing the Iftars in New Delhi.
Fortunately I was never invited to those organised by politicians. I was excited reading the news, knowing that soon I would be again in such multi-religious circles celebrating various religious festivals, like the Eid Milan (Eid get-togethers). At such milans, one experiences the warmth of individuals who are seriously interested in engaging with people of religions other than their own. They understand that only such gestures can help us appreciate each other’s differences and realise that we can peacefully co-exist only when we have such life-sharing experiences with brothers and sisters of other religions. For the Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense prayer, accompanied by fasting and almsgiving. Many Muslims organise Iftars for the poor. They frequently perform other generous deeds towards people of other religions too.
One such deed came to light during this holy month from Abu Dhabi. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince ordered that the mosque named after him in Al Mushrif, in the capital Abu Dhabi, be renamed Mariam, Umm Eisa Arabic for Mary, the mother of Jesus. His aim was to “consolidate bonds of humanity between followers of different religions”. It is instructive to note that the Holy Koran honours both Jesus and Mary. Christians in the UAE and from the around the world are naturally delighted with this move. Despite radical Islam trying hard to sell itself using violent means, it is such gestures that undoubtedly stand as shining examples of inter-religious harmony.
Closer home one finds numerous equally powerful and beautiful examples of inter-religious harmony. An inspiring one from Tamil Nadu shows how Sindhis who after the Partition moved from the Sindh province towards the Bay of Bengal serve Iftar at the Wallajah mosque. It was started by one Dada Ratanchand under whose guidance, the Sufidar Trust was established as a dedication to the Sufi saint Shahenshah Baba Nebhraj Sahib. As many other Sufis like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti interned at the dargah in Ajmer, his teachings promoted communal harmony. Similarly, Pope Francis took up a journey to Cairo last April. On meeting the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Pope addressed him as his brother and refused to be driven around in a bulletproof car despite the killings of 22 Coptic Christians two weeks before his trip.
His words there can inspire us all: “True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane”.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of the Parliament of Religions, can be contacted at email@example.com