Interfaith Harmony: Myth & Reality

Anand Krishna*

About 60 years ago, our President Soekarno scoffed at Indian shopkeepers in India who took pride in “displaying” their religion on their signboards, “Hindu Tea Stall”, “Muslim Restaurant” and so on and so forth. Around the same time, President Radhakrishnan of India was amazed at how we on the archipelago had preserved our culture and traditions deeply rooted in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, irrespective of our religious affiliations. That was a reality “then”, but a myth “now”. Now, the hard reality is that a notorious cleric, totally ignorant of our age old traditions and culture, can publicly threaten us: "Since the government has not adopted a sharia system, such disasters *suicide bombings* will continue." The intensified police efforts to curb terrorism is not blessed by the purportedly man of God. Instead, he blesses the suicide bombers and calls them martyrs. In his own words, "I don't absolutely blame bombers in Indonesia because their goal is good, namely to defend Islam.” Such view is in clear contrast with what Mahatma Gandhi believed in: “Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak. A religious act cannot be performed with aid of the bayonet or the bomb.” Another hard fact is that, our government feels helpless in dealing with this one single man’s notoriety, which has already tarnished our country’s image. Or, perhaps he is not a single man after all. Perhaps there are others behind him. A, or a number of political parties, some influential people “up” there, forces outside the country – who are they? An ex high officio tells me that that was not the case. So, what is the case? “It’s the political will. There is no political will to put an end to all this.” Perhaps. Our learned analysts and scholars argue that fanaticism, radicalism and terrorism are not the same. “Not all radicals,” they argue, “are terrorists.”

Our notorious cleric is also reported to have said, “I make many knives, I sell many knives, but I am not responsible for how they are used.” (Prof. Greg Barton, “Jemaah Islamiyah: Radical Islamism in Indonesia”) Our moderate clerics maintain that terrorism and violence have nothing to do with religion. They carefully avoid discussing the issue of growing fanaticism. They would not echo with Gandhi, “A fanaticism that refuses to discriminate is the negation of all ideals.” Speaking in international forums, the leaders of our religious institutions are reluctant to admit that the growing fanaticism and radicalism have divided our society where interfaith harmony had never been an issue to discuss, but a way of life to practice. Earlier we did not have interfaith groups, but we had interfaith harmony. This was a reality then, and a myth now. Now, the reality is that we have several interfaith groups, but no interfaith harmony. Whether you like it or not, religion has been used to justify acts of terror. Religion has been presented in such a way, and by its own followers, that it has lost both its meaning and its utility as “a uniting force”. It is against this backdrop that, December this year the Parliament of World’s Religions will meet in the city of Melbourne, Australia. We may recall, back in 1893, the parliament had met for the first time in Chicago. Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of the speakers who was to become the star then, firmly believed that, “sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.” He hoped that the convention might toll the “death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” More than a century later, his hope remains a hope and a dream to realize. The conference in Melbourne later this year therefore, is not only timely, but also urgent and imperative. However, more important is the meeting of our minds and hearts. More urgent is our willingness to be honest and truthful in what we say and what

we do. More imperative is the change of the paradigm of a mere tolerance. We have to learn to appreciate the differences between us. We have to work on our individual belief system and mental complexes. Can we change our slogans from “my religion is the best” or “my religion is the only solution” to “my religion is not better than yours”. This will bring an end to all our religious and religion based conflicts, competitions and acts of conversion. To my friends who still endorse fanaticism toward one’s religion, I must use harsher words this time; your endorsement is not only unhealthy, but also dangerous. Consider the fanatics who have been, and still are, hiding the terrorists in the name of religion. They are not terrorists. They are only fanatics, and perhaps not even radicals. Yet, they pose danger to society and nation. As long as fanaticism and radicalism are not eradicated, terrorism will continue. And, interfaith harmony shall remain a dream. I look forward to the meeting in Melbourne, as I also look forward to its outcome. The options are limited, either we continue having dialogues or really come together, work for world peace, and serve the world community as one unit: One Earth, One Sky, and One Humankind.

*Spiritual Activist, writer of more than 130 books in Indonesian and English. He is scheduled to speak in the 2009 conference in Melbourne, and has been nominated as an Ambassador based on his interfaith involvement and significant contribution to the interfaith movement

The In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world’s fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. A number of congresses were held in conjunction with the exposition, including those dealing with anthropology (one of the major themes of Exposition exhibits), labor, medicine, temperance, commerce and finance, literature,

history, art, philosophy, and science. One of these was the World’s Parliament of Religions. The Parliament of Religions was by far the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the Exposition.[1] The 1893 Parliament, which ran from September 11 to September 27, had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide. Absent from this event were Native American religious figures, Sikhs and other Indigenous and Earth centered religionists. (It would not be until the 1993 Parliament that these religions and spiritual traditions would be represented.) The conference did include new religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy. Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was the first to mention the Bahá'í Faith in the United States (it had previously been known in Europe.[2]) Since then Bahá'ís have become active participants.[3] In 1893, The Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited there as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the term applied at that time to the Theravada. He was a great success and by his early thirties he was already a global figure, continuing to travel and give lectures and establish viharas around the world during the next forty years. The Jainism preacher Virchand Gandhi was invited there as representative of 'Jainism' & had won silver medal at first parliament, his success was covered by many USA periodicals and later by the New York Times. [edit] Address by Swami Vivekananda Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Swami Vivekananda The eloquence of Swami Vivekananda and his introduction of Hinduism taught to the United States are particularly remembered. The speech has been identified by many to mark the beginning of western interest in Hinduism not as merely an exotic eastern oddity, but as a vital religious and philosophical tradition that might actually have something important to teach the West.[4][5] The opening line, "Sisters and Brothers of America...", was greeted by a three minute standing ovation from the audience of 7000.[6] "Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now."

Every 5 years last one in 2004 in barcelona spain 2009 Parliament The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions has said Melbourne, Australia will host the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions.[2] The 2009 Parliament will take place December 3 through December 9. Based on attendance at previous events, the Melbourne Parliament is expected to bring together 8,000 to 12,000 people. The Melbourne Parliament will address issues of aboriginal reconciliation. The issues of sustainability and global climate change will be explored through the lens of indigenous spiritualities. Environmental issues and the spirituality of youth will also be key areas of dialogue. The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, [3], suggests that the Melbourne Parliament will "educate participants for global peace and justice" through exploring religious conflict and globalization, creating community and cross-cultural networks and addressing issues of religious violence. It suggests it will support "strengthening religious and spiritual communities" by providing a special focus on indigenous and Aboriginal spiritualities; facilitating cooperation between Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Bahai, Jain, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities; crafting new responses to religious extremism; and confronting homegrown terrorism and violence. [4]