The course on “Islam and Inter-Faith Relations” organized by the Henry Martyn Institute was not just about people talking about religion, but was also a practical demonstration of recognizing values such as honesty, kindness, peace and love, embedded in all faiths and religions.
By A Staff Writer
Located in a quiet, leafy campus in the suburbs of Hyderabad is the Henry Martyn Institute (HMI), a centre for interfaith relations and reconciliation between people of different faiths and cultures. It offers a variety of academic and practical community-based programmes and projects.
This September, the HMI organized a week-long course on Islam and Interfaith Relations. The 40-odd participants came from various parts of India. I was fortunate to participate in the course, which helped me learn much”most importantly that no matter what faith each one of us may follow, what really matters is how we are as human beings and how we relate to each other and the rest of creation.
The HMI arranged for a batch of excellent resource people, including Gautam Siddharth, a journalist with theTimes of India, New Delhi, Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Executive Editor of the Bangalore-based Islamic Voice, Shaikh Imdad, an exponent of classical Carnatic music from Hyderabad, Sister Anjali of the Brahma Kumari Centre in Hyderabad, Nanak Singh Nishtar, head of the Hyderabad-based Sikh Centre for Interfaith Relations, Victor Edwin of Vidyajyoti, a Catholic seminary in Delhi, Nayeem Siddiqui from the Sufi School, Deepti Rupani from the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, and Maulana Fayaz Omeri, who is associated with the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. A team of women from the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind handled topics on women’s status in Islam and women’s rights. Other resource persons included T.R Ganesh from the Ramakrishna Muth, Hyderabad, Nuzhath Syed, a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, Gjnanam Shreenivas from the Hyderabad-based Osho Mevlana Centre, and Faraaz Mohiuddin, an IT professional from Hyderabad. In-house resource persons from HMI included Dr Packiam Samuel, Director of the HMI, Dr Surya Prakash, chairman of HMI, Dr M M Abraham, associate director, Academic Department, HMI, Maulana Abdul Kareem, teacher of Arabic at the HMI, Asma Nuzhath, HMI’s Urdu teacher and Qadeer Khwaja
A unique aspect of the course was the daily devotion. Each morning, participants gathered in a hall to remember God, pray or share spiritual insights. The devotion was led by resource persons from different faith backgrounds. They spoke on the importance of human values, love, kindness, compassion, brotherhood and unity from their own spiritual traditions. That was the perfect start to a day packed with sessions on various topics.
Dr Packiam Samuel, speaking on “Reflections on Interfaith Dialogue”, recollected his days in the seminary where he had studied, and how, over the years, his interactions with people from different faith backgrounds had strengthened his conviction in the need for dialogue. His heart-to-heart dialogue with Faraaz Mohiuddin was delightful, providing participants with new insights on working together with people of different faiths.
Simple and to-the-point was Maulana Abdul Kareem as he described the articles of faith in Islam. Maqbool Ahmed Siraj’s presented a thought-provoking paper on Islam Women and Gender Justice. Bringing in his vast experience as a journalist, Gautam Siddharth highlighted various aspects of politics and violent extremism, concluding his excellent talk on the role of the media in promoting inter-community harmony. Focusing on Muslims in India, Dr M M Abraham traced their history back to the early days of the Arab traders. Shaikh Imdad shared his experiences as a Muslim trying to learn Carnatic music, stressing that music has no religion and pointing out how it can help build bonds between people from different faiths.
Chairman of HMI, Dr Surya Prakash presented his reflections about the importance of living together in one common brotherhood. Victor Edwin shared his experiences of interacting with Muslims over the years, stressing that it was only by “meeting more Muslims” one could understand Islam and understand the communalities that exist between Islam and Christianity.
Participants were fortunate to be able to experience practical meditation techniques guided by Gjanam Shreenivas of the Hyderabad Osho Centre. It was a very new experience of focusing on the self. It seemed like a divine blessing from heavens above to be able to listen to Deepti Rupani on the “Sufis of Sindh: From the Teachings of Sadhu Vaswani.” To many thousands around the world, Sadhu Vaswani is a name synonymous with reverence for all life. Indeed, he was the living embodiment of unsullied love that knew no bounds and that included all mankind, animals and all creation. He cared deeply about the birds of the air and the animals of the earth, and he protected them whenever and however he could. Deepti’s explanation of the importance of “Satsang and Seva””concepts common to all religions”was very inspiring.
The course was not just all about lecture sessions. It was also a practical demonstration of celebrating honesty, kindness and love. HMI’s academic coordinator Sribala arranged for three friends to make a short appearance: Shaikh Lathif, Hari Prasad and Shiva, who had spotted a sum of 24 lakhs lying at an ATM in Hyderabad recently and had promptly contacted the police. The boys spoke about their amazing deed of honesty and civic concern and were felicitated on the occasion.
It was wonderful being part of the course. I got to learn, as well as unlearn, many things and to meet people from different faith backgrounds. It revived my hopes and faith in inter-faith dialogue. The positive ambience and approach of the participants and the HMI team inspired me with hope, reminding me that all of us, from different faith backgrounds, are bonded by that one spark called “peace and love!” and that what we need to be able to live together is acceptance of each other, not mere tolerance.
There was another thing that participating in the course reminded of: that it’s not money that makes the world go around, but love and peace, with all of us having to finally come back to one Centre”the only Centre”God.
From God we come, and to God we shall all return, no matter what religion or belief-system we claim to follow!