The Center of Mosque Studies – The World Wars, and the huge losses of life and gross abuses of human rights that took place during them, were a driving force behind the development of modern human rights instruments. The League of Nations was established in 1919 at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I. The League's goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy, and improving global welfare. Enshrined in its charter was a mandate to promote many of the rights later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While all great powers always have loud sound on Human Rights and necessity of protect underdog people from hands of cruel political regimes, militias or terrorist groups, we are witnessed for wastage of the basic rights of these people.
Today, we are witnessed for existence of many nations who are victim of wars, external aggression or genocide like Palestine, Yemen or Myanmar while they are deprived from basic human rights.
Right to pray is one of the basic principles of human rights that is declined by some political regimes like Israel. While we can use temples, mosques or churches as the symbol of peace and tolerance between various nations, unfortunately many of these holy places have been changed to source of violence and struggle between extremist fake followers of these religions like ISIS.
Regarding this matter, we have talked to Prof. Bhakti.M.Desai who is working as professor of Political Science at D.M.S.M’s B.K. College in Belgaum of India. Desai has experience of teaching and research in many other universities and colleges of India like University of Pune.
The full text of this interview is introduced to you below:
Q 1) On 21st August 1969, Micheal Rohan, an extremist Zionist Jewish fired the Al- Aqsa Mosque of Palestine while he was released from jail by Israeli police just some days after arrest. Israel always rejects its racist policies against Muslims. How do you evaluate their claims?
The attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque symbolizes a breech of the very basic human right of a human being to pray to his God or Allah freely. The Al-Aqsa mosque stands not only as a 900 years old noble sanctuary of worship where an individual prays to his allah but also as a personification of marvellous Islamic architecture .Sadly the Al-Aqsa has come under attack by fundamentalist elements several times even after the 23rd August 1969 attack and the subsequent trial of Michael Rohan. Moreover the way in which Israel handled the crisis raises several questions on its commitment in protecting its Arab subjects and their heritage.
Israel’s largely unwritten constitution and its Basic law have broad anti-discriminatory laws that prohibit discrimination by both government and non-government entities on basis of race, religion, political beliefs etc. The Israeli declaration of Independence stated that the state of Israel would ensure complete equity of social and political rights of all its subjects without any discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender etc and guaranteed freedom of religion, conscience, language education and culture to all. However though the word of the law prohibits discrimination and incitement to racism, the ground reality is far from this word. The poignant truth is the Muslim citizens of Israel live and experience discrimination as Muslims at various levels. Surveys, studies and reports by a number of human rights organizations and other associations point out denial of basic freedoms, prejudices, segregation, discrimination and negative attitude towards muslims in general. Various other surveys have also pointed a dramatic increase in racism against Arab citizens and increase in anti-Arab incidents.
Israel has succeeded in conquering the land but it has failed in winning the hearts of its Muslim citizens. The whole relationship equation between the muslims and Israeli authorities has become a vicious cycle of mutual mistrust, suspicions, hatred, attacks and counter attacks and the resultant increase in terrorist attacks, stone pelting, racists incidents. Making matters worst various bills and Acts have been passed by the Israeli Knesset discriminating against the Muslims. For instance the –Right to return, Right to residency, Right to family life, The Nakba law, and more recently the Jewish Nation state law. In the light of such institutionalized discrimination the Muslim population of Israel finds itself isolated and vulnerable.
The Israeli Government claims that it does not discriminate against its Muslim subjects but a 2004 US State department Report on Human Rights practices for Israel pointed out that the Israeli Government has done little to reduce institutional, legal and social discrimination against the country’s Muslim citizens.
I personally believe that the Israeli Government is very conscious of its image as a democratic nation in the world.Hence it claims of equality and non discrimination. On paper its basic law has various impressive anti discriminatory laws but their implementation lacks political will and seems half-hearted. For Instance even though Arab schools in Israel receive government funding their conditions and standards are world apart when compared to Israel’s Jewish schools. In many places actions of Israeli government and authorities are self contradictory. After the Al-Aqsa attack Michael Rohan was arrested by the Israeli authorities and tried in jail but the apparent delay by Israeli forces in extinguishing the fire raised concerns.
In 1994 when Baruch Goldstein of Kach party massacred 24 Palestinian Muslim worshippers at the Cave of patriarchs in Hebron, on one hand Israeli Government condemned the massacre and banned the Kach party but on the other hand it severely restricted Palestinian freedom of movement in Heborn and has not been able to prevent Jewish extremist from heroizing Goldstein. How can a murderer be hailed as a Hero?
My heart goes out the Jews for what they suffered during the Holocaust. No people should suffer in such a way because of their race, religion or beliefs. But Jews should understand “Injustice can ever be repaired by Injustice”. In fact Israel and Jews should be most sensitive to racial and religious discrimination because they have suffered and experienced it in the past. They should understand the pain it causes to a community. The Israeli government should make a genuine effort to reach out to its Muslim citizens and to bring them to the mainstream by securing their basic Human rights and ending any signs of discrimination.
2. We believe that mosques, temples, churches and synagogues are created as the symbols of God’s blesses to humanity. How can we use these places to achieve a Universal unity among people?
The Great Persian poet Khawaja Hafez remarked “I am in love with every church And mosque And temple And any kind of shrine because I know it is there that people say the different names of the One God.”
It is exactly this message that we need to give to our children in our mosques, temple, churches and synagogues. Places of worship have the ability to calm the human mind, heart and soul in a way unparalleled by any other human association. These take man closer to his God. I remember as a child, I was travelling with my parents, our car passed by a mosque and I saw my mother joining her hands in respect from within the car. The child in me was a little confused, because in school lessons taught us Hindus go to a temple, Muslims to a mosque and Christians to a church. So I remember asking my father if our God lives in a mosque too. My father simply replied,” God has no religion. You can find him in a temple, a mosque, or a church. You can find him anywhere and everywhere.” To this day whenever I pass by a shrine my head automatically bows down in respect irrespective of whether it’s a mosque or a church or a temple.
I believe the best way we can use our mosques, temples, churches and synagogues to achieve universal unity is first and foremost by taking children to different places of worship in addition to that of their own religion and teaching them that the forms might be different but they are all the houses of the same One God whom we call by different names.
Collective praying in mosques, temples, churches and synagogues naturally awakens feelings of spirituality, morality, brotherhood, humility and kindness. These feelings can be strenghtened by organizing such activities that further enhance these tendencies so that all of it ultimately leads to mutual respect for all religions. Mosques, temples, churches and synagogues should take up such initiatives by which they can reach out to people of other religions and foster feelings of brotherhood. Religious leaders can together take initiative by which people of different religions can come together at places of worship for special occasions like festivals. Celebrating festivals together fosters feeling of oneness and brotherhood. Nothing would be more beautiful than to see a mosque celebrating diwali and a temple observing Eid.
Moreover instead of focussing only on rituals places of worship should focus on humanitarian activities and serve as centres of charity based activities and harmony clusters. The destiny of universal unity can be accomplished only if the path that leads to it starts with mosques, churches, temples and synagogues.
3. Is it possible to achieve global peace through a comprehensive religious dialogue? Do you evaluate this as a successful method?
Professor Hans Kung of Global Ethic foundation remarked “there will be no peace among the nations without peace among religions. There will be no peace among religions without dialogues among religions.” So true! A comprehensive religious dialogue or so to say interfaith dialogue is the only means by which we can bring co-operation and interaction among people of different religions, which is the first step to achive global peace.
This method though is not very new. Back in the 16th century, the Mughal emperor Akbar attempted to synchronize various religions under Din-i-illahi to foster communal harmony and peace in Mughal India. The Bhakti and Sufi movement of Medieval India under Islamic and Hindu saints like Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti, Nizam-ud-din Auliya, Saint Kabir, Saint Tukaram etc. is a glaring example of hindu-muslim unity and demonstrated how inter-faith endeavors can help bring peace to the society.
In the modern era right from the Chicago Parliament of world religions in 1893 till date various interfaith dialogues have taken place. These dialogues have always ended in positivity where leaders of various faiths have agreed and stressed on the commonality of good message of all religions and need for harmony.
Ignorance is darkness; it breeds doubt, fear, suspicion, prejudice and misunderstandings. Much of the problems of religious disharmony, war and violence are on account of ignorance and Proselytism. Interfaith dialogue is the only means by which we can address ignorance and Proselytism. Through interfaith dialogue people have a better opportunity to understand other religions as well as their own religion. It is only through inter-faith dialogue that people could be made to understand that all religions lead to the same God and they teach the same noble sentiments of mercy, kindness and brotherhood. Dialogue and knowledge of other religions will free the common masses from the clutches of prejudices and misunderstandings. It is only through dialogue we can explore the common platforms and mutuality and draw attention to one simple common themes in all religious sculptures.
Religious leaders can wield Comprehensive interfaith dialogue as a common rostrum to condemn religious hatred, war and terrorism on one hand and to promulgate need for religious harmony and global peace on the other.
Religion is a noble sentiment yet we find it has been misused to divide people so bitterly. All religions preach love, kindness peace, mercy and brotherhood yet the world today is witnessing horrendous crimes in the name of religion. This is because vested interests have been deliberately and unscrupulously misinterpreting religious texts to the common people and dungeoning them into hatred, violence and murder in the name of religion.
The ISIS is literally destroying the Middle East with its venomous agenda and has put the whole idea of religion and humanity into jeopardy. A comprehensive religious dialogue can serve as a formidable moral force to formulate an effective strategy to counter organizations like the ISIS.
I believe the only means by which we can counter the menace of religious hatred and achieve global peace is through a comprehensive religious dialogue. It is only through a comprehensive religious dialogue that religion can be used as binding force to bring the whole of humanity together. In fact many countries have started using this method as an effective tool of foreign policy to achieve better relations. A recent example being that of India and Indonesia wherein both countries have agreed to organize an interfaith dialogue in October 2018 to promote pluralism and eradicate radicalism.
4. Basically how can we prevent extremism and extremist from penetrating in our mosques, temples, churches and synagogues?
Extremism mushrooms in an environment of ignorance and hatred. We cannot deny the fact that today every religious denomination is vulnerable to extremism, radicalism, and fundamentalism. What’s more is the fear that our mosques, churches, temples and synagogues are also not immune from this danger. We need to understand that a complete infiltration of extremism in our mosques, churches, temples and synagogues would be catastrophic for the world. Humanity simply cannot afford a third world war. Religion is a noble sentiment that inspires kindness, genorisity, mercy but the same religion is being misused to misguide and indoctrinate people to commit attrocities. No religion teaches violence, murder or war. The truth is extremist elements spread these lies in the name of religion to further their own interests.
We need to understand not religion but larger political and economic interests drive extremism. We need to immunize our mosques, temples, churches and synagogues from extremism by keeping them away from politics. There are examples of some religious leaders inciting hatred and violence from places of worship, action should be taken agaisnt such people. Such leaders are actually tarnishing their religion with their extremism.
Mosques. Temples, churches and synagogues need to unequivocally give the message that No war is holy! There can be no justification for violence, murder and destruction and all these are crimes against god himself.
The civil society can play a decisive role in engaging and educating young people and keeping them away from extremism. The government on its part should invigorate institutional mechanisms to deal with extremism and extremist and prevent radicalization of holy places.
We need a holistic approach when dealing with extremism. Emphasis should be given to augmenting education and enhancing employment opportunities. At the same time keeping a check on social media to prevent extremist elements from proliferating their propaganda. Instead civil society and governments should employ social media to counter extremist propaganda and reach out to people with positive messages.
However I believe the best armory to defend our holy places from extremism are our sacred scriptures. The Holy Quran, the Bhagvad Gita, the Bible and the Old Testament need to be taught in their true spirit and word. The impetus of challenging the abuse of religion in the name of extremism is on the religious leaders. They should exercise vigilance in holy places and should report any suspicious and radical activity and element at the earliest.