By Jose Kavi
Kochi, May 17, 2019: Several Muslim leaders in India have welcomed the Vatican’s Ramadan message as an inspiration to work for a world without violence, fear, hunger and ignorance.
The greetings from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue inspire “us to break our fast everyday with prayers entreating God to wipe out violence, fear, hunger and ignorance from the world so that people of all faiths develop their human potentialities to the utmost,” says Khurshid Khan, a scholar of Islamic mysticism who teaches in the Delhi University.
A Vatican letter, entitled “Christians and Muslims Promoting Universal Fraternity” and written by council secretary Bishop Miguel Ayuso, reminds Christians and Muslims that fasting, prayer and alms giving are spiritual practices that connect them both.
Father Victor Edwin, a Jesuit scholar of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, says the Vatican message “doesn’t appear as routine” since it was issued in the backdrop of “atrocious killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Colombo, Sri Lanka.”
The Catholic priest, who heads the Islamic Studies Association, wants the Vatican message to reach “as many Muslims as possible” and urges Catholics to carry the letter to iftar, the breaking of Muslim fasting in the evening, when invited.
“The letter clearly points out that respect for diversity is the key to the culture of dialogue. It carries tremendous hope for future as it affirms the dignity of humans and their freedom to live a dignified life,” Father Edwin explains.
The Vatican letter, he adds, articulates “the dialogue of life” that Pope Francis promotes in his interaction with Muslims and gives theological underpinning.
Muslims who received the letter, lauded its positive message for the modern world.
Sultan Shahin, founder editor of NewAgeIslam.com, a multi-lingual progressive Islamic website, welcomed it as a “very positive development” and expressed the hope that Muslims too would respond in the same spirit of harmony and dialogue that the Vatican has displayed.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, founder of New Delhi-based Center for Peace and Spirituality, points out that Christians and Muslims are “Abrahamic brothers,” since they are part of the brotherhood that began from Abraham.
“The message from the Vatican in the month of Ramadan represents this very spirit of common brotherhood. I pray to God to help reinforce and deepen this spirit among members of the two communities,” he told Matters India.
Shahin says many Muslim organizations too show “a spirit of constructive dialogue,” although some remain “stuck in medieval theology that was evolved during a dark period of our history.”
According to him, theologians, historians, and writers are products of their times so they display prejudices and biases prevalent then.
But generations that come after them should treat such views only for their historical value, and not to hold them as guidelines to apply for ever in life, Shahin asserts.
Those theologies, he explains, had evolved at an era when occupying other lands through the use of the sword was legitimate and the concept of modern nation states with its inviolable borders did not exist.
“But today we live in a very different world — very complex and completely interconnected. Wars of conquest have become virtually obsolete. These medieval theologies do not matter anymore,” he explains.
Shahin also wants Muslims to urgently evolve a theology of peace, harmonious co-existence and gender justice if they wish to live honorably in the modern world.
The Vatican initiative, he told Matters India, should be welcomed by all and “we must participate in an honest dialogue for setting the terms of peaceful, harmonious coexistence. There is absolutely no other alternative.”
Basit Jamal, another religious scholar and founder of “Brotherhood of Humanity,” sees in the Vatican message the “ingredients” required for eradicating conflict and encouraging discussion and dialogue.
“Thus as a believer in a loving God, I am happy to read and share [the Vatican message] with many young Muslims I’m in touch with,” he told Matters India.
Jamal, who teaches young Muslims the values of peace, coexistence and harmony preached by Quran, says the current religious conflicts “are simply unauthentic expressions born of selfishness of people.’
According to him, religions bind people together despite their uniqueness and differences in beliefs and practices.
“The duty of the followers of different religions is to harness the differences to compete with one another serving God and common good,” asserted the scholar, who was featured in UNESCO’s manual on prevention of violent extremism.
According to him, interreligious dialogue happens between the spiritual persons of different faiths as they meet with “love” in one hand and “lets agree to disagree” in the other.
He says the Vatican message calls upon Christians and Muslims to recognise each other as brothers and sisters and demands them to defend “mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence” while firmly rooted in peace
The Vatican message also urges the two communities to tear down walls that divide and set people upon one another and build bridges for harmonious fraternity.