Of September 11, 2001

17. Why Interfaith: The New Millennium and the World Peace

 Despite the fact that the world had become a global village, sometimes followers of faith traditions live in small huts of their own, never opening their doors to venture outside to see how other people live or believe. Thus, our apprehension of each other is sometimes a result of our not knowing one another.

Knowing each other is not only a social need but a divine injunction. Just because a person has a skin color different from mine, was born in a land different from where I was born, or prays to the same God but in a different manner or in a different language, he or she does not become less worthy of my love and respect for his life and views. We need to know and respect others' religious beliefs and their cultures.

However, there seems to be resistance and objection to the interfaith process from orthodox religious factions. This unnecessary fear of the other is the reason for the interfaith.
Interfaith is not giving up one's faith or compromising one's beliefs but a process of self-education about others through interactions and exchange of views. It is coming together on a common ground as fellow human beings.

In a world full of hostility, we must instill love and achieve mutual trust and respect. We Americans must tell the rest of the world that we do not like to import centuries-old hatred into our fertile soil. It is not necessary of 85 different nationalities and 14 different religions which comprise the nation of the United States, to completely melt down and lose their ethnic and religious identity. Thus, the concept of "melting pot" must change to a "salad bowl", in which all the ingredients are encouraged to preserve and display their distinct individual tastes and flavors.

In Indianapolis, through the interfaith process, we have matured via programs like Interfaith Seder, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, community service projects (such as refurbishing homes for the poor and giving new underwear to children in need), and through our participation with the Mayor, fighting violence and crime in our community. In this way, we have brought together people from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds and have hopefully helped them to know each other better, in an attempt to please our common Creator and enjoy religious harmony, a hallmark of American life.

We need the interfaith for world peace. The present Millennium, at least the last 100 years, has been one of the bloodiest. In less than 100 years, we have seen two world wars, the second one killed at least 30 million people including 6 million jews who died in the Holocaust.
Korean War, Vietnam War, the use of Atom bombs, Arab/Israeli wars, India/Pakistan wars. Gulf wars, concentration camps, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, 20 million refugees worldwide including 2 million in Bosnia alone.

We need peace at the home front as well. The only superpower left is losing the social war at home. Forty million Americans are below the poverty level including 10 million children, 2 million are homeless. There are 5,000 homeless in our own city. There are 40 million Americans without medical care, 1.5 million teenage pregnancies per year, 1.2 million abortions every year. There are 15 million alcoholics, and 1 of 10 high school students is on drugs, 500,000 children are abused every year and 200,000 women are raped every year. Every day, over 3,000 children run away from home of which close to 1,00 are abused. In our own city this year, in the first 3 months 160 murders have taken place. We need peace in our homes and our community first. We need peace with ourselves and peace with our Creator. The new Millennium ought to be different. Let the people of faith and goodwill work together to turn into a 1,000 years of peace, prosperity, and love. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has foretold "after many years of bad times, an era will come when humanity will commit itself to God and there will be peace and prosperity in the whole world". On the threshold of the next Millennium, we have a duty towards the world and fellow human beings. It is our unilateral obligation to invite everyone and work together in building a better and peaceful world - a world which is free from oppression and exploitation, where rights are reality and where justice prevails over hypocrisy.

What should we do? Talk of peace or prayer, for peace alone is not enough. It should be combined with peaceful action. We must agree on human bond. Injustice brings out hostile response therefore injustice must stop. Dr. Martin Luther King said "True peace is not merely absence of tension, but presence of justice". "More justice, more peace". As mentioned in the Jewish Thalmud.

I propose we should become trees, i.e. become as compassionate as trees. When a tree extends its shade to a tired traveler, it does not ask the question what is your religion, color, race or language. When a tree allows a bird to sit on it, to sing or make a nest, it does not ask where she came from and where she is going, but we humans ask all these questions from a fellow human before we give him or her a place in our heart.

Forgiveness promotes healing of wounds. We want God to forgive us but we are not forgiving to each other some times. Let us start fresh. "Fight hate with love". Cardinal Suenens in 1963 said at the United Nations, "Peace requires truth, Justice as its rule, Love as its driving force and Liberty as its atmosphere". We Muslims believe in the same God as who is (Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim) Kind and Merciful, who is As-Salam (the source of peace), who is Al-Wadud (the source of love), who is Al-Ghafoor (the forgiving) and Al-Adil (the source of justice). Peace and justice is combined in one.

Let me end this with a prayer of peace and love as taught by the Prophet Muhammad:

"Prayer of Love" "O Lord, grant us your love, that we love those who love you, that we do deeds that win your love. Make your love dearer to us than the love of ourselves, our family and our wealth"

"Prayer for peace" "Our Lord, You are Peace, From you is Peace, Make us live in Peace, Make us enter into the abode of Peace".

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Shahid Athar, MD
8424 Naab Road
Suite 2D
Indianapolis, IN 46260