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Turning The Wheel Of Interfaith Dialogue In India

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

16 August, 2010

In the context of Islam and interfaith dialogue, there are three categories of people to deal with. First are those who have the will and inclination to understand the fundamentals of Islamic faith. This category of people tries to read, learn and understand about Islam through various means. They buy books, magazine and talk to Muslim friends and improve their knowledge about Islam. In the age of internet their task has become easier as they can browse the websites on Islam and even hold interactive sessions there to clarify their doubts.

The second category of people is those who have an allergy towards Islam. They have a closed mind and do not entertain invitations to know about Islam. They have fixed opinion about Islam and do not want to listen anything positive about this faith.

The third category of people have empty mind towards Islam. Since the positive voices of Islam hardly reach them, they are influenced by anti-Islamic propaganda and fall prey to many misconceptions about Islam. They view Islam with a non-friendly attitude but are open entertain positive ideas and thoughts of Islam.

The challenge before those working towards interfaith dialogue between Islam and other religions in India is to engage all the three categories of people and reach out to them with the message of humanity and peaceful coexistence.

An Islamic academy in Bhatkal, Karanataka has taken a lead in this direction and trying to reach out to the people with the intention of interfaith dialogue between Islam and other religions in India. The academy has various projects running very successfully and their initiative needs to be emulated in other parts of the country and other faiths too can a lesson or two from them.

The project of the academy is to conduct college level essay competition regularly, where students of non – Islamic faith and are asked to write an essay on ‘Islam, a religion of peace’ and other such themes.

The academy is conducting the competition on regular basis and for a minimum of 500 entries; it gives prizes to the best of three essays. The best essay gets a cash award of 50, 000 rupees, the second best 25,000 and third 15,000. This competition is currently being conducted in Karnataka, Kerala, UP, Jharkand and Bihar.

In the last competition the academy received around 7000 entries. Some of the essays reflected deep understanding of Islam and quoted various Islamic sources to reflect their reading on Islam. The essays surprised the organizers as the essays forceful articulation of Islam as a religion of peace.

Although the participants were asked to write the essay with the maximum length of about ten pages, some of the participants wrote as many as 150 pages, almost the size of a book.

The academy feels that this could be one of the many ways to reduce the misconceptions about Islam and a way forward for interfaith dialogue between Islam and other religions of India. It keeps on changing the theme of essay and wants to reach out to many people to other states of India as well. The academy wishes that the entries could reach to 50,000 and then plans to double the cash prize.

The second project of this academy is to prepare booklets based on stories in holy Quran that teaches moral values. Some of the booklet that are already being produced and many more similar ones are underway. One of the booklet is based on stories of Abraham entitled ‘cold fire.’ It talks about how Abraham led a virtuous and pious life.

The second booklet is about the wonderful dreams of Yusuf. According to holy Quran, Yusuf was a dream teller and people use to come to him with their dreams and he use to interpret and tell their future.

The third booklet is about the impossible voyage of Noah's Ark. The holy Quran describes in some detail about the storm and the impossible voyage of Noah.

These booklets are in multicolor and printed on art paper. These books are distributed to the school children and they are asked to read the book and write one or two page what they understand about the book. The academy gives prizes are given to the best write-ups.

These booklets have created a deep impact on the minds of non Muslim children and the feedback is the young minds have gained knowledge about the positive contribution of Islam.

The academy’s third project is to invite non- Muslims for a spot competition. Books on Islam are distributed and the competitors are asked to read them on spot and the answer of two questions after reading them.

The first is; what’s their opinion on Islam as a religion of peace? The second is; what are the misunderstandings that have been removed after reading the book?

The academy promises to give a cash prize of five thousand rupees to the best two answers and three thousand rupees to best three answers. The entire competition is wrapped up in two hours time.

The result of this competition is amazing. There were large numbers of people who voluntarily participate in this competition. The competitors wrote there answers in many pages and some refused to take the prizes. They said being adjudged first second or third was a prize for them and requested the organizers to use the prize money for further promoting the cause of interfaith dialogue.

The fourth project is geared towards non Muslims social and political leaders and highly placed government officers. The academy has selected some three hundred people and has written letters to them requesting to pen their thoughts on Islam. The comments are supposed to be published in the form of a book in English, Arabic and regional languages of India.

The response to this has also been encouraging. The contributors have written back saying they are pleased to write their impressions on Islam as a religion of peace and want to buy time to read books on Islam and improving their understanding before writing their comments. This project is under progress. The academy promises that such nook is soon going to be published.

The fifth project is conducting debate competition among school, college, and university students. Such debates are organized in many institutions and students are asked to speak on the theme Islam, a misunderstood religion’, ‘Islam a religion of universal brotherhood’, ‘Prophet Mohammad a messenger of peace’ etc. This project is very successful and students have debated the given topics with great academic interest.
These are the few experiments that are being done at the ground level to turn the wheel of interfaith dialogue in India and bridge the yawning gap that exits between Islam and other faiths.

The academy feels that such experiments should be replicated in other parts of the country as this could be the only way how people could be educated about other faith and after understanding them their respect may grow better. It appeals to the social leaders,’ non Muslim peace activists and others to take part in such experiments and spread the message of peaceful coexistence in the country. More information about the activities of the academy can be obtained writing directly to nadviacademy@hotmail.com

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com