NEW DELHI (Arab News): According to the MWL website, it was the first time in 400 years that a religious figure from outside India had delivered a sermon at the Jama Masjid, Delhi. Al-Issa did so at the invitation of its imam and with a warm welcome from worshippers.
Constructed during the Mughal Empire some 400 years ago, the Masjid-e-Jahan Numa in the north Indian city of Delhi, popularly known as the Jama Masjid, is among the largest, most beautiful, and most cherished places of worship in the Indian subcontinent.
Although the complex can accommodate 85,000 worshippers, it was standing room only when Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League and chairman of the Organization of Muslim Scholars, delivered the Friday sermon on 14th July 23.
Al-Issa arrived in the capital New Delhi on July 10 at the head of an MWL delegation, following an official invitation from the Indian government. During his trip, he met Indian President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani. He also held meetings with senior Indian Islamic scholars and religious leaders of various faiths.
His visit was designed to promote fraternal and friendly dialogue, enhance understanding and cooperation, and discuss many topics of common interest between the faiths, officials said.
“The visit of His Excellency Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa enhances the relations between the two countries as well as relations between Muslims and followers of other faiths in India,” Mohammed Abdul Hakkim Al-Kandi, the imam of Jama Masjid, said in a video message for the MWL.
India is home to 1.4 billion people, including about 210 million Muslims who constitute the largest Muslim-minority population in the world. The majority of Indians are Hindus. Other minorities include Jains, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists.
More than 75 years after India gained its independence, the country has generally managed to live up to the ideals of a society in which the followers of many religions can live in harmony and practice their faiths freely. However, inter-communal conflicts have routinely flared, leading to calls for mediation and dialogue.
Religious leaders who were present at Al-Issa’s sermon and other events during his visit said they hoped it would further encourage.
Speaking to Arab News, Muddassir Quamar, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “Saudi Arabia has been working toward building an interfaith dialogue globally. At a time when the world has witnessed so much division and tension among different cultures and faiths, greater interfaith dialogue can help heal humanity and develop lasting cross-cultural connections.”
He continued: “Saudi Arabia and India are close partners and the abode of two faiths, Islam and Hinduism. Both belief in peace and the universality of humanity, so the visit by Sheikh Al-Issa will help in developing even closer cultural relations between India and Saudi Arabia. Indian Muslims have seen the visit in a positive light.”
One of Al-Issa’s speeches in the Indian capital, at the Vivekananda International Foundation, was attended by prominent religious leaders, intellectuals, academics, politicians, and parliamentarians. Among the attendees was Adil Rasheed, a senior Indian strategic affairs and defense policy analyst.
“Dr. Al-Issa’s message of religious harmony and peace was very well received,” Rasheed told Arab News.
“His scholarship, wisdom, and oratory kept audiences rapt, interspersed with frequent rounds of spontaneous applause.
“Dr. Al-Issa’s message of the correct upbringing of children, untainted by radical and extremist thought, was highly appreciated, as was his insistence on the need for constant dialogue between religions and civilizations as the only legitimate means for resolving disputes and misunderstandings.”
Rasheed’s view was seconded by Siraj Kureshi, chairman of the India Islamic Culture Center. “Sheikh Al-Issa is a major personality and a scholar. He has a huge reputation, particularly in the Islamic countries, so wherever he goes people look at him with a lot of respect,” he told Arab News.
“The message he delivered to Indians was good. His topics were humanity, women empowerment, youth, and education among other things. These are his qualities. That is why people like him and listen to him attentively.”