Addressing the Communal Divide

By   /  6 April 2016   

indiaAll religions agree upon a supreme God and on his several attributes of mercy and all pervasiveness. Then what is it that diversifies them in the way they approach God? Is it alright to accept such diversity as natural and let it be? To answer this question, we need to see clearly how the concept of diversity is built into creation.

As we do not expect birds of all kinds to conform to a single mode of flight, so can we not expect men of diverse backgrounds to conform to a single mode of living or worship. If genetic predispositions guide birds in their flight instinct, cultural and theological conditioning and the outcome of their own individual struggles guide men in the diverse ways they adopt to connect to God.

Flawed understanding comes in to spoil this natural pattern of diversity that God himself has designed. True worship, regardless of the method adopted, is fighting such flawed understanding. The first of monsters that must be slayed is the propensity to judge others on their own diverse paths.

Hindus differ with Islam on its certain tenets. However they treat the symbols of Islam with a fair amount of respect. The sight of Hindu women with infants in their arms queuing up outside mosques to seek blessings after the daily evening prayers is commonplace across India. Such reverence they hold flows out of the awe with which the Hindu looks at this universe around him, and its magnificent creator. He finds the creator all around him, reaching out through men of high spiritual standing and through several ideologies.

The communal divide in India does not stem from a hard-line agenda set by a handful of fundamentalist organizations. On the other hand, its origins can be traced to shortfalls in perceptual thinking, specifically the kind that shape our attitudes towards the symbols of others’ religions.

Fanaticism lies at one end of this attitudinal spectrum, passive disrespect at the other. Narrow interpretations of the religious canons have led its followers to believe that people of all other faiths are “those who have gone astray”. Dangerously close to this perceptual defect is the notion that all are not equal to God.

Shallow scriptural interpretations remain a challenge for the Muslim community. The Prophet foresaw this death of spiritual intelligence coming when he said: “God does not remove sacred knowledge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of scholars until when He has not left a single scholar, people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give Islamic legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding” (Fath al-Bari 1.194, Hadith 100).

Remaining steadfast in submission to the almighty creator is not possible if we fail to recognize with humility the varying forms of dialogue that people of all faiths have with God. Then alone shall an atmosphere conducive to harmonious co-existence form.

Respect alone wins respect. The scope and extent of the Lord’s mercy is evidently spread around all of creation. The grand design of diversity must remain free to further flourish, and for men to exercise their own reasoning and beliefs to pursue such sacred knowledge in the light of their own experiences.

Insights from the Muslim World is an RSC column examining the major issues concerning contemporary Islam. It argues against extremism and the political use of religion, highlighting arguments drawn from the very Islamic holy scriptures and tradition to counter radicalization and ideological recruitment.

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