By: Virginia Saldanha
Mumbai June 8 : The present times, marked by divisive forces, terrorist attacks and religious intolerance provided the motivation for the National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) and the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) to collaborate with the Centre for Studies of Society and Secularism (CSSS) to organize an interfaith Iftar for peace and harmony. This gesture demonstrates ecumenism and inter-religious outreach through the sharing of a meal with our sisters and brothers of other faiths. It was inspired by one of the objectives of (ICWM) which is to establish a bridge between women’s organisations and Church organisations as well as interfaith initiatives.
The interfaith Iftar, was held at the YMCA International House, Mumbai on 29th May 2019. Irfan Engineer of CSSS, Rev. Mathew Abraham of NCCI and Shoba Philip Coordinator of ICWM Mumbai, welcomed the guests giving a brief background of their respective organizations.
“In the context of divisions it is good to see so many present from different faith traditions, representing core values to affirm humanity. We exist because of the other. Even though values seem to be losing ground, it is initiatives like these that give us hope,” said Rev. Abraham Mathew of NCCI.
“In the current climate of hatred, this gathering signifies unity and solidarity to spread peace and harmony. We need to respect freedom of religion, freedom to believe in any faith and no faith. This is an inclusive and equal space that is why there is no dais.” pointed out Irfan Engineer. While Shoba Philip shared about the programmes conducted by ICWM Mumbai, to promote justice, peace and harmony.
The array of interfaith speakers at the event was impressive. We had representatives from Hinduism, Islam, Christian Churches, Catholicism, Jainism, Buddhism, the Baha’i faith and Zoroastrianism who spoke about their religious traditions that promote peace and harmony.
Maulana Arif Umri spoke about the tradition of fasting in the holy month of Ramzan in Islam as a way to promote brotherhood amongst all and also instil a sense of self control amongst the followers.
Quoting Sr. Pauline Chakalakal DSP, an ardent promoter of interfaith dialogue who earlier said she believes in ‘Unity in diversity not unity in uniformity’, Swami Devkantyananda from the Ramakrishna Mission asserted, “All religions should be allowed to flourish equally. The core values that transcend time and space are the bedrock on which faith is built. Although diverse, all religions lead to the same goal.”
Sheriar Noozeydan of the Bahai faith said that God had sent his manifestations thru time to enhance our understanding that difference does not matter, he conveyed the message that Bahais provide services to promote peace harmony, justice and equality.
Representing the Catholic community, Bp. Allwyn D’Silva, auxillary bishop of Bombay, quoted Gen 1: 26 and pointed out that all humans derive their dignity being made in the image of God. “If we do not see the other as we see ourselves then the other becomes either a threat or a victim. Respect for the dignity of the other is the basis for peace and harmony”, he asserted.