Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BANGLADESH : A Model Of Communal Harmony

Our nation is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nation of 160 million people. All citizens practice their respective religions freely and peacefully, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of Bangladesh. During his five-day visit to Bangladesh from April 25 , His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontfical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Vatican, passed a busy time. It is noted that his visit was confined to only Bangladesh in South Asia. On April 27 , Cardinal Tauran spoke at the Interfaith Dialogue at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre where Bangladesh minister for religious affairs and minister for cultural affairs were present. Cardinal Tauran, at the beginning of his speech, expressed happiness that Bangladesh is considered "as an example of how it is possible for people of different religions to live together, cooperate together and simply be together." He tried to ascertain the reasons for such an extraordinary characteristic of Bangladesh. He asked: "Is it based in Bengali culture? Is it based in constutional realities? Is it based in the history of the country? Is it based in the realm of religions themselves and in particular in Islam as it is followed here? I leave the answers to the experts." On the importance of the Interfaith Dialogue, Cardinal Tauran emphasised that such dialogues should be understood as an essential ingredient in preserving a plurastic society by allowing religions to be present and active in the "very soul of the nation."He added that such dialogues could discover the richness of each other' s search for, and hopefully discovery of, God and bring the depth of that insight and revelation on the table of the pluralistic public debate in order to see what "we can do together to improve society, to assist it in its growth towards the total development of the human person, and to assure that the universal rights of the human person are safeguarded." One of the great challenges, Cardinal Tauran has pointed out, is to bring this positive development closer to the grass root level. In this regard, he underscored the need to monitor books used in the schools on how they deal with different religions. Very often, he said that at least in some parts of the world, school books portray religions in a bad light, mispresenting their beliefs. Apolostic Nuncio (Ambassador of Holy See) to Bangladesh, Most Reverend Joseph Marino, has equally praised the existing state of communal harmony in Bangladesh. He stated: "Indeed, one of the great joys that I have had since arriving here has been the opportunity to visit many parts of Bangladesh. Each time, without exception, an inter-religious meeting composed of local Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and when possible Buddhist, leaders was always a part of the programme." He further added: "We are all aware that the great feasts of the major religions present in Bangladesh are celebrated on a national level as public holidays. So often there are mutual celebrations of the holiday, usually attested to by the highest civil authorities of the nation." The religious face of the world is changing. At a dramatic pace, more and more regions of the world are becoming environments of multi- culture and multi-faith. At the root of this phenomenon are international patterns of immigration. The worldwide movement of peoples and cultures has facilitated a meeting of followers of various religions. Islam encourages dialogue to reach the truth. In recent times, Muslim theologians have advocated inter-faith dialogue on a large scale. Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, at both the individual and institutional levels, with the aim of deriving a common ground in belief through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values, and commitment to the world. Interfaith dialogue may include: * How different faiths can live harmoniously together; * To build understanding, good will and a sense of community between people of different faiths; * To explore and learn about each other's traditions of faith; * To share religious knowledge and insights with each other; * To work together to achieve common goals, peace and harmony; * To support each other in times of difficulty. History records many examples of interfaith initiatives and dialogue throughout the ages. Emperor Akbar the Great, for example, encouraged tolerance in Mughal India, a diverse nation with people of various faiths, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Budhism and Christianity. Muslim Spain is an additional historical example of great religious pluralism and harmony. In July 2008 , a historic interfaith conference was initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to solve world problems through concord instead of conflict. The conference was attended by religious leaders of different faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism etc. In 2010 , the king of Saudi Arabia, in an address to the UN General Assembly, proposed a "World Interfaith Harmony Week" to further broaden his goals of faith- driven world harmony by extending his call to people of all beliefs and even to those with no set religious beliefs. We live in a conflict-torn world, characterised by hatred, discrimination and violence. Merely asking three fundamental questions --Who am I? From where did I come? Where I shall go when I die? -- may lead to realisation of the impermanence of human life and the belief that beneath the surface differences different religions and human beings are all the same, and that they can believe in each other and can work together toward global peace, harmony and unity. Finally, I quote from Tagore who, from his deathbed, dictated an enigmatic verse on human existence: "When existence first became manifest the first day's sun asked, 'Who are you?' No answer. Years passed. The last day's sun put its last question in the hush of evening on the western ocean shore, 'Who are you?' and got no answer."