Interfaith dialogue has rarely, if ever, brightened up a neighborhood — it causes confusion instead of forging the requisite affiliations for conflict resolution. The representatives of each religion believe that their faith has a copyright on truth. To reinterpret and syncretize being heresy, interfaith dialogues flounder on this reef of exclusivity, surviving on toothless announcements of mutual admiration.
So these dialogues are neither about faith and nor among equals. One faith being temporally stronger than the others, it’s about concessions and handouts which means condescension and consequent resentment. Religious leaders play politicians pretending to resolve conflict while bargaining concessions and preparing tidy little press statements.
Since interfaith dialogues have done little to resolve inter-communal clashes, then maybe the existence of different faiths is not, in itself, a cause of conflict. Somewhere down the line pragmatic religious leaders hope that inter-faith dialogues grant them inter-communal leadership.
The logical alternative to pre-determined failure is an inter-communal dialogue. That too, is fraught with danger, especially in countries like Pakistan where communities are identified by their faith and not by their geographical location or ethnicity.
So communal identity needs to be tackled and faith left to its own dynamics. As such, leaders of different faith communities should just meet and commune regularly over gourmet meals of which all clergies are known to be connoisseurs. At these communions, religious discussions should be taboo, engendering secular relations which may then blossom into inter-communal friendships.
And since Pakistanis are no longer Mughal or British subjects, but citizens in their own right, they should not wait for the state to organize and finance the mughlai dishes, halvas and venues of such meetings. Local businesses, business associations, associations and foundations should organize a national competition of the best inter-communal meals and the best discussion results judged through public-access to the menus and minutes on the Internet.
In times of communal tension, it is these Maulanas, Padres, and Hindu, Parsee and Sikh priests who will be orchestrating peace on their mobile phones instead of gasping, overworked police officers.
Chief Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius was a stellar example of the attitude to inter-communal relations.
Cornelius Sahib was so beloved of devoted jurists that they would affectionately refer to his initials as Allah Rakha since he stood up to President Ayub Khan! His oft-quoted statement “I am a constitutional Muslim” was neither a declaration of faith, nor a desire to convert to Islam. As one of the world’s renowned constitutionalists, he had appreciated that Muslims, claiming Islam to be a culture in itself, had engineered the creation of Pakistan. As such, all Pakistani citizens, regardless of their faith, were constitutional Muslims. One may add that all citizens of Pakistan are also cultural Muslims.
On July 25, 2014, decades after ‘Allah Rakha’ Cornelius’ statement, Goa’s Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza declared that “India is a Hindu country. It is Hindustan. All Indians in Hindustan are Hindus, including I — I am a Christian Hindu”, sparking a merry controversy that let him have his day on the front pages.
It is such acceptance by minority faith communities that allow their goodwill to be reciprocated by their neighbors. Eastern Christians suffer from the reputation of their western co-religionists. Western Christianity still bears the scars of the Crusades, the Inquisition and colonization in which Eastern Christians played no part.
Yet, the residual tarnish has hardened the lives of Christian minorities in the East.
At the end of the day, Christianity is an Eastern religion, the Gospels of which encourage fellowship parallel with internal, spiritual development. Temporally declaring oneself to be a cultural / constitutional Muslim or Hindu is not a cop-out — it only enhances faith.
Thus it is that by and large, across Pakistan, Christians and Muslims cohabit in peace without the assistance of inter-faith cowboys, happily communing at Eid and Christmas. The occasional tension erupts from jealousy and land disputes, although the recent massacres and church bombings are singularly distinct.
Justice A. R. Cornelius and Sri D’Souza’s exemplary attitudes accepting socio-political reality have not been duplicated by Indian or Pakistani communities in the West. They still expect largesse to be doted out by the state, a ryot mentality of subjects. To go and get it while standing tall is the prerogative of integrated citizens.
Mirriam Webster defines a citizen as “one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman.”
Freemen do not wait for the state to organize regular dinners for the leaders of faith communities to build relationships to preempt or resolve conflict.
As minorities, they do not wait for state patronization, but incite the state to extend it.
And they savour their neighbours’ reciprocal love through hugs, eidee, cakes, sheer khurmas, biryani, jhalfarezis, and namkeen goshts, adding lustre to their precincts and mohallas.
Ritually celebrating each other’s eids, Christmases, diwalis and baisakhis is a win-win situation.
On November 13, terrorists struck again in the world’s City of Lights. On December 2, it was San Barnardino, in California, USA. Then Yemen. Then London, the Lufthansa flight and where next?
While nations mourn, a well-rehearsed machinery emits enlightened warnings against an uncontrolled backlash, padded by reminders that the situation, being the pre-meditated creation of US-led imperialism, implicitly mitigates terrorist acts. President Obama has made a measured speech against any backlash against American Muslims, unusually broadcast from the Oval Office.
Yet, pictures of the victims with captions such as “While the world media is focused on Paris attack, atrocities continue in Palestine” gloat with impunity to imply that the victims of terrorism have received their just deserts.
And the semantic battle over the use of the signifier Islamic as an attribute renews its vigor.
To grasp the polemics enshrouding the signifier Islamic requires an understanding of the overlapping concepts of Sha’b and Ummah.
Sha’b refers to a nation with a common ancestry or geography, making Chinese, Pakistani or Saudi Muslims distinct entities subject to the constraints, privileges and obligations of their nation-states. No single state can share in the accomplishment or failings of another.
Ummah is a synonym for ummat al-Islamiyah, which means Islamic state as opposed to the nation state, or the transnational collectivity of Islamic peoples. Triumph, failure and tragedy are equally shared by individual and collective components. In practice, the concept of Ummah, enshrines the civilizational accomplishments of Muslim peoples and subordinates that of Sha’b, transiting from Muslim to Islamic.
Islamic being what pertains to Islam, Mirriam-Webster defines it as “the religious faith of Muslims including belief in Allah as the sole deity and in Muhammad as his prophet; the civilization erected upon Islamic faith.”
Thus, if it is commonly accepted that a great civilization inspired by the Islamic religion may be called ‘Islamic’, when it goes into decline, it does not become un-Islamic.
Islam is a noun for a belief system, and its followers are identified by the noun Muslim. When a person is referred to as a Muslim, the degree to which he is one, is irrelevant as it cannot be judged off-hand. The status of Muslim is immeasurable for non-Muslims and if a person declares he is Muslim, can only be challenged by competent Muslim authority. The signifier Islamic lends itself to measurement due to its liberal use by Muslims with reference to their past.
A person is only referred to as Islamic by the ignorant, unless it is “Islamic peoples”.
Islamic usually qualifies an event, situation, object or act. The acts may be flattering or prejudicial to Islam itself. Thus, there are Islamic conferences, Islamic prosperity, Islamic education, Islamic art or Islamic charity.
Among acts, the achievement of one Muslim nation is claimed by all.
Therefore Muslims and non-Muslims have conjointly referred to the Islamic conquest of Spain, as a continuum of Islamic for science, medicine, education, art and charity.
Thus, the Umayyads, who acquired Spanish real estate, hailed from Mecca were ethnic South Arabians and on the jus sanguinis principle, Saudis even though Saudi Arabia did not exist at that time. Going by jus soli, their seat of government being in Syria, it would be more appropriate to call it a Syrian conquest.
Although the term would exclude Muslims from Kabul to Kashgar, it would also secure them against charges of invasion and colonization in a democratic era of apologies. Whatever the case, Muslims themselves, especially during the decline of the power of Muslim states overtaken by the Enlightenment, have been compensating for their sunset by deflecting focus on bygone Islamic art, architecture, literature and medicine.
Muslims have been able to achieve this semantic and soft-power victory in tolerant western democracies evidenced in the Islamic art shows, galleries, centers etc., and volumes of cut and paste jobs by keen academics!
While mainstream, enlightened Muslims struggle to compensate for the failure of the Ottomans to provide Muslims with a renaissance, misguided Muslims, hoping to revive a Caliphate to reverse decline, have been able to recruit enough dispossessed souls living in misery to initiate acts of terrorism financed by decadent petrodollars seeking to trim western sails without dirtying their hands.
Since mindsets had been prepared to accept architecture as being Islamic because it was designed by a motley scattering of Muslims, terrorism by a few Muslims also acquired the signifier “Islamic” to qualify it. Calling it Islamist only makes a difference to the choir, since the root word remains unchanged.
The impressive resources deployed by Muslims in fighting this term and bickering over blame-shifting is an impressive resource waiting to be deployed against terrorism itself. Terrorism is neither the birth child of an Islamophobic conspiracy, nor a mere blowback of inept American policy, although the existence of both are a convenient umbrella for terrorists and their unwitting sympathizers. The term is a child of terrorist acts committed by lethally irresponsible fringe Muslims.
Proclaiming that the victims of terrorism were a direct result of their nation-states’ foreign policies insinuates that they deserved their fate and renders the narratives of comfort and sympathy meaningless. We’re talking here of neighbours and compatriots in mourning, who need comfort and not reminders of their nations’ foreign policy shortcomings.
This pass-the-parcel received wisdom should wait until the mandatory chaleeswan forty-day mourning respected by Muslims is over. Jumping the gun on this issue is poor taste at the best, exulting at the worst, either or both of which may come to drench the gloaters with shame.