Each one of us, consciously or unconsciously, plays a part in making religious coexistence a reality, says MAULANA WAHIDUDDIN KHAN, who has been awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, for his exceptional contribution in the field of spiritualism on the occasion of India’s 72nd Republic Day 

The primary principle of any dialogue held to discuss two or more religions is to strive to find a mutual basis for peaceful coexistence. The second principle given by the Quran is purely a matter of pragmatism. That is, matters should be settled on practical grounds while avoiding their theoretical aspects. This principle is derived from this verse of the Quran: To you, your religion and to me, mine (109:6).

This principle is generally referred to, in today’s context, as religious coexistence. This means that whenever common ground for agreement between two or more parties cannot be arrived at on an ideological basis, then the way of practical coexistence must be adopted.

We should not judge our efforts in this matter only by the results of meetings held in formally arranged inter-religious dialogue fora. The truth is that ‘inter-religious dialogue’ is now not limited to specific meetings held in the field of religion. It has assumed the form of a vast historical process ― spontaneous, ongoing and perhaps never fully recorded. Negotiation in controversial matters is in tune with the spirit of the age.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Today, it has permeated all walks of national as well as international life.

Modern industrial revolution and communication have added such vast dimensions to human relations that now the entire world has been converted into a global village. People of various persuasions are coming closer, on a universal scale. This interaction serves as an ongoing dialogue of an informal nature. With distances narrowed, the confrontational attitude has given way to compromise.

Interaction in itself is dialogue. The purpose of inter-faith dialogue is served when interactions between people of different persuasions increase. Today, in educational institutions, offices and factories, on playgrounds and in national and international activities, adherents of different religious traditions are meeting one another on a scale hitherto unwitnessed.

In the course of this continuous and vast interaction, for the first time in human history, people seem less strange to one another. A great gap has been bridged. People are learning one another’s language. They are becoming familiar with one another’s culture. Making concessions to each other have become a necessity.

These factors have brought people closer throughout the world. And it is a psychological truth that closeness and interaction serve the purpose of practical dialogue. In this way, a natural dialogue has come into existence and has become an ongoing process at all times and in all places.

Probably the most significant result of this historical process is that after a long intellectual struggle, religious intolerance has been universally rejected. Religious intolerance has now been replaced with complete religious freedom. Today, under the auspices of the United Nations, all the nations of the world have signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In accordance with this declaration, religious freedom has been accepted as the natural birthright of all human beings.

As opposed to practices in ancient times, no one now enjoys the right to persecute anyone on the basis of religion. Each one of us, consciously or unconsciously, plays a part in making religious coexistence a reality. That day too will dawn when the world is no more ridden with religious disputes, and we are able to live in a peaceful and harmonious manner.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, 95, is an Islamic spiritual scholar who has adopted peace as the mission of his life. Author of more than 200 books, he is known for his Gandhian views, and considers non-violence as the only method to achieve success.

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