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.