Welcome to January 2013 issue of Salaam.
Thanks for your encouragement and support.
Victor Edwin SJ managing editor
Hizmat Movement: A modern miracle! (Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ)
2. A Christian Visits Turkey (Dr Herman
3. The Best Things in Life are Free (Bob
4. We have a similar
dream, which is to create prosperity and peace in our country: Jesuits and
Madrasa students reflect together (Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ)
5. 'I know
you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me (Dr Samuel Packiam)
and India Friendship Forum (Joe Kalathil SJ)
Pilgrimage to Akbar’s Tomb (Victor Edwin SJ)
8. Trappist nuns in Azeir, a sign of
hope for Syria at war (Asia News)
Two centuries ago Lord Stanhope said that
tolerance was once sought as a favor and then demanded as a right, and that “a
time will come when it will be spurned as an insult.” The time has come that we
should move beyond the level of tolerance to the level of genuine rejoicing at
the tremendous enrichment that understanding and appreciation of the myriad
differences among our faiths and styles of life. When we reach this level of
celebration, we really are in dialogue with others. Chiara Lubich, the founder of
Focolare Movement said: Dialogue goes beyond just tolerating others. It means
profoundly respecting them, welcoming them, welcoming their different ideas and
discussing them in the light of our own, and above all, building a relationship
as in a true family.” True dialogue finds a place in your heart for the other.
The Turkish thinker and Muslim theologian
Fatehullah Gülen has sown the seeds of dialogue in fertile soil: in the heart
and minds of his followers. He taught them that the world is faced with three
evils: poverty, illiteracy and violence. He asked his followers to work against
these social evils with definite commitment towards promoting peace and
education for the wellbeing of all people. He emphasized that their work be
marked with a dimension of self sacrifice. The followers of Gülen live and work
in more than 100 nations. In the first two articles Tom Kunnunkal and Herman
Roborgh share their experiences with the members of this movement in Turkey.
Tom does not hesitate to call the movement a human miracle.
The next essay is from Bob McCahill, a
missioner working among Muslims in Bangladesh. He explains how privileged he is
to live among the poor sharing their lot. His main mission is to accompany them
to the hospitals and getting the needed medical help from doctors at the
government medical facilities. Billy Aryo Nugroho an
Indonesian Jesuit in his article narrates how Jesuit scholastics and madrasa students
share their dream for a peaceful and prosperous Nation.
In the next article Samuel Packiam, designated
to be the Director of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderabad
tell the interviewer that Christians and Muslims should build relationships
through common study, work, prayer and silence. We should do things together –
through servicing, witnessing, peace-making. The next is a beautiful narrative
of Joe Kalathil about his visit to Pakistan and his continuing effort to build
peace among people of different communities.
In the next essay,
Pilgrimage to Akbar’s tomb, Victor Edwin explains the familiarity with which
emperor Akbar related with the Jesuits and his patience with some intolerant
attitude of Jesuits who were in Akbar’s court. He suggests that everyone who is
interested in dialogue with Muslims should visit the tomb of Akbar who was a
model for dialogue in the 16th century. The final story that
appeared in the Asia News “Trappist
nuns in Azeir, a sign of hope for Syria at war”, tell us how these nuns remain
a symbol of peace amidst people who are devastated by war and violence. Their
work and prayer brings hope to the war ravaged nation. We wish all
the readers a peaceful new year 2013.
Hizmat Movement: A modern miracle!
Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ
Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ, the
President of Islamic Studies Association, was recently invited to go to Turkey
to meet the members of the Hizmat (Gülen) Movement. Here he shares his
experiences during this visit:
I must say that I was very happily
surprised by all that is connected to the Hizmat or Gülen Movement. Turkey,
whose population is 99% Muslim, presents a unique picture of Islam. It is a
very strongly secular State, so secular that it will not allow any teaching of
Islam in the school during school hours. Nor has it any Madarsa. Yet they are
very devout Muslims and keenly follow the Muslim faith practices and rayers. In
the famous Blue Mosque, it was inspiring to see the young, the old, the
ordinary and well off people all flocking to join in the namaz.
Sayyid Nursi had the vision of using the
power and strength of the Islamic faith to find practical solutions to deal
with the harsh realities affecting the wellness of society. He identified three
major issues affecting the world society: poverty, ignorance and disunity.
Fetullah Gulen followed it up and propagated the vision, by talking to persons
and through his writings. He invited his listeners to open schools and boarding
houses to educate students in Turkey as well as in other places. He motivated
them to add a personal sacrificial dimension to their work. Many internalized
the vision and new paradigm and then acted on it.
It felt so good to meet several Muslims in
Turkey who had been evangelized by this vision and were ready to act on it. To
cite one of several such experiences: we had one Mustafa, who is a well-todo
businessman, who found it possible to accompany us for a week. Normally
business people may make a car available for our use. But Mustafa personally
drove his BMW, whether to take us to the airport at 5 a.m. or to reach us back
near midnight to the hotel. All that was done with a smile all the time! It was
such a joy to meet several such beautiful Muslims.
We visited a couple of Gülen Schools and
two universities. I asked why there was no mention of Gülen or of his vision in
the school bulletin boards. The secular character of the Government forbids
this. Yet what I saw was a remarkable application of faith getting converted to
works. There is no central organization nor is there any central fund raising,
even though Gülen has now service institutions, like schools, colleges and
clinics in 142 countries. The schools and universities that we saw were of high
standard, and had national standing and recognition. Without any centralized
structure it works through persons motivated and powered by the vision of Gülen
to serve humanity. Individual Muslims make contributions to buy land, donate
money for construction and persons so energized by this vision run these
Gülen movement sounded like a fairy tale
until we saw them walk the talk and do so much It is indeed a modern miracle! I
asked myself: how does this happen? The only answer I could find is the
spiritual power firing the motivational cylinders of these persons. Their
approach to dialogue has a lot to teach all those involved in interreligious
dialogue. The major or almost exclusive emphasis in the Gülen movement is on
dialogue of life, dialogue in action. We were told that several students at the
school or university stage do imbibe the vision of Gülen and carry it into
their adult years.
What can we learn from the followers of Gülen
movement? Any movement is powered by an ideal, an ideology, a value frame. In
other words, the inner is driving the outer action. The gift of Jesus to us was
an invitation for an attitude revolution, and not another religion, with a new
set of rituals, prescriptions and practices. We have hundreds and thousands of
transformations brought about by Christians over the centuries.
What I increasingly find is that there are so
many, from other faith-traditions and ideologies - Muslims, Buddhists or others
- who are also actively engaged in ushering love, peace and unity into our
battered world. For us Christians, gradually the outer seems to have taken over
from the inner and what we see now is the over dominance of the outer. When
that takes place, necessarily much deterioration results, Values inspired by
faith die. Efforts to re-kindle the dying embers and to start the fire again is
Having a personal sense of mission and
responding to that call is a constituent part of the Christian mystery. Mere
efficiency, though necessary for our institutions, is lethal, if it is not
combined with values and principles. A life devoid of values is destroying
nations, religions and our humanity. If we get even a few people in various
walks of life energized and motivated - whether priests, religious or lay
persons who then pass it on to others, - then we will have started a multiplication
process. They must become Kingdom builders, who will contribute to build human
communities across physical and pshychological borders that presently divide us
and make us less and less human.
Christian Visits Turkey
Affinity Intercultural Association is a group of Muslims
living in Australia who seek to promote the understanding and integration of
the Muslim community in Australian society.
In October this year, I was invited by this group to join a “study-tour”
to Turkey together with ten other interested Australians. We spent about ten days travelling from one
major city to another, visiting city councils, educational institutions and TV
stations as well as other places of historical and cultural interest.
Most of the people we encountered in Turkey were
connected in some way or other with the Gulen movement. Fethullah Gulen (born in1941) is a Muslim
scholar from Turkey now living in the United States, who has inspired countless
Muslims throughout the world by his speeches and writings. He reminds Muslims that their Islamic faith
should stimulate them to be involved in society by contributing to human
welfare in one way or another such as by becoming active in education and the
social media. Besides performing the
normal religious duties of prayer and fasting, believing Muslims should build a
society in which all persons belonging to whatever group or religious
conviction are respected and cared for.
This vision has motivated Muslim believers in many countries throughout
the world to collaborate and to put the vision into action.
Turkey is one of the many countries in which people
inspired by the Gulen movement have opened schools to instill the values of
respect for human dignity and social harmony.
We visited TV channels and publishing houses, which were promoting the
ideas of Fethullah Gulen. Since
interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding have now become a condition
for world peace, the Gulen movement is a beacon of hope for people who seek to
collaborate across religious and cultural boundaries to work for universal
peace and harmony.
Society in Turkey has been visibly expanding socially and
economically since the AKP (Justice Party) government came into power in
2007. Cities are smart and clean. Everywhere there are parks and gardens. Education is available for more and more
children, though the need for facilities for higher education is a pressing
concern. The market places of the small towns and villages are gradually
vanishing and rows and rows of apartment buildings are taking their place. However, the huge influx of people from the
villages into the cities has put strains on the social infrastructure.
We visited several universities with impressive- looking
buildings and facilities. Our hosts at
these universities told us that the university accepted students from many
different countries and also provided scholarships for deserving students. Scholarships were available in high schools
and at tuition centres as well, which catered for young people who had dropped
out of formal education and were at risk of becoming radicalized by political
dissenters. At these centres they could
further their studies, be mentored by decent role models and have access to
recreation and skill-building activities.
Turkey is a modern republic that has inherited the
cultural and religious exchanges that have taken place in this part of the
world for centuries. The famous Silk
Road ran from ancient Constantinople (present day Istanbul) through the
south-eastern part of Turkey into Iran and China. Various peoples such as the Hittites, the
Greeks and the Arabs have lived in what today is modern Turkey and each group
has contributed something of its own civilizational skills. Different methods of making carpets, cloth,
ceramics and tiles have been brought to Turkey along this route and developed
further by subsequent generations of people.
The Jews and the Christians brought their religious
values to the people of this region for centuries before the Muslims came. Haghia
Sophia was built as a church in the sixth century and stands as a monument
to the Christian faith of the period. It
became a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and is now a museum. The Ottomans
were remarkable for many things, including their own style of architecture. The Blue Mosque dominates the skyline of
modern Istanbul and is an expression of the strength and beauty of Islamic
faith and civilization.
Christians now form a minority group in Turkey. We saw evidence of their vibrant faith in the
cave churches of Cappadocia where, from the 9th century onwards,
Christians had worshipped in more than 30 deep caves whose walls are still
decorated with their Byzantine religious art.
In the south-eastern part of the country, we were impressed with the
efforts that the local government of Mardin was making to restore an ancient
monastery dedicated to St. Nicholas. A
community of monks had lived here in the early centuries of Christianity. The present generation of Muslims now living
in this area wants to remember and honor their religious heritage.
There is evidence that Nestorian Christians were
worshipping in another city called Diyarbakir in the second century. Armenian and the Greek Orthodox Churches can
be seen in various places throughout the region. Even today, Catholic and Orthodox churches
and monasteries are being used as places of worship throughout the country,
especially in the vicinity of Mardin.
One of these has a section for women (nuns) and a section for men
(monks), who devote their time to prayer and labor (ora et labora) while passing on the traditions of the Orthodox
Church to the younger generation. One young man recited the Lord’s Prayer for
us in Aramaic and told us he was making efforts to learn the language.
Another monastery is providing temporary shelter for
refugees from nearby Syria. In Ankara, the Jesuits care for a Catholic church
frequented by Armenian Orthodox Christians.
A Catholic church in Istanbul welcomes Syrian Orthodox Christians on a
regular basis to perform their liturgy because the Orthodox community does not
have a church of its own. Churches and
mosques can also be seen in close proximity to one another in the same
Even though Turkey was proclaimed a secular republic when
it came into being in 1923, the sense of the sacred has not been lost. Respect for the sacred wherever it appears
and in whichever shape it appears, which is so much part of Islam, is evident
among the people of modern Turkey. Signs
of religious faith can be seen not only in the structures of many fine mosques
but even more in the gracious courtesy and warm hospitality of the people. Simple gestures such as the religious
expressions of mash Allah (thanks be
to God) and insha Allah (if God so
wills) have not become a mere social custom without religious meaning. Readiness to waive the full payment for an
article in the marketplace expresses the awareness of God who always observes
how human beings behave and relate with one another.
There is an opportunity for dialogue between Muslims and
Christians in Turkey – not primarily the dialogue of theological exchange but
rather the dialogue of everyday life, which accepts a human person as first and
foremost a fellow human being. Both Islam
and Christianity share this conviction, which is rooted in our common faith in
God, the Creator of all. This awareness
must find expression in the attitude of Muslims towards the Christian minority
population and through their active care for non-Muslims in Turkey. The challenge for the Christians is to remain
true to their faith as disciples of Christ, who came not to win power but to
serve one’s neighbor in the spirit of the Gospel.
The Best Things in Life are Free
As I sat reading in the doorway of my
hut a neighbor carried Meeteela to see me. I stopped reading in order to elicit
a smile from the year old girl whom everybody likes to tote around. Instead of
smiling, however, Meeteela pulled back from me. This is not like her, thought
I. Her guardian informed me about Meeteela’s fear: “The spectacles you are
wearing scare her.” (In this neighborhood I alone wear eyeglasses). I removed
the specs from my face and the cap from my head, besides. The accessories
having been removed she rewarded me with a smile of her own. The best things in
life are free.
Outside the town’s post office on a
chilly morning two teenaged girls wearing face and body length veils stepped
into my path. Even though it is a public place they had the daring to initiate
a conversation. Their religious guides caution girls not to behave so boldly.
But these are Bengali Muslims, spontaneously sociable. The lasses” faces were
mostly covered, but laughing eyes revealed they were delighted by our meeting.
They told me they had once seen me bicycling in their far distant village. They
simply wanted me to know they recognized me.
Kookee, a disabled, middle-aged woman
who begs door to door to support herself and her mother, was newly returned
from making her daily rounds. She sat in the corner tea stall of our bazaar
counting the coins people had given her. Counting was difficult; her eyes are
bad. Finally she finished. Her day’s income amounted to 16 takas (20
cents U.S.) Then Kookee treated herself to a cup of tea – poured into a saucer
to make it easier to soak a small piece of hardened bread. It was both her
breakfast and a reward for successful Friday morning begging. Her livelihood
depends on one of the five pillars of Islam: almsgiving.
In village Shingbasha a wind and rain
storm struck with force prompting me to knock urgently on a farmer’s door to
request shelter for myself and bicycle. The storm. I swerved in the nick of
time. The elated look on my benefactor’s face expressed what he did not say:
The reason I am so happy is I just did something gallant. I saved you.
We were seated in our assigned seats on
the fast moving Ekota Express train when it made an unscheduled stop to take on
military personnel. The entire 70-seater railcar was swiftly evacuated to make
space for the soldiers, except for the four of us. Ashraf, age 6, released that
day from a hospital, his grandmother, uncle, and me. Though a soldier browbeat
me to leave, I declined, and beseeched my companions to stay put. Later on, the
officer in charge of the soldiers invited me to sit with him. Major Naim, a
former U.N. Peacekeeper in Sudan, was born in 1976. I came to Bangladesh in
1975. Bengalis respect age and I had seniority.
While visiting the home of Ain Uddin he
complained to me of weakness. Ain is diabetic so I urged him to do the
exercises which will help control his condition. “I do exercise!” Ain
protested. I know the man not to be the energetic type and was skeptical of his
claim. “What exercises do you do?” I inquired. “I do my prayers five times
daily!” Ritual prayer requires standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting on
one’s legs and ankles. It is exercise, true, but may be not the kind needed to
One afternoon friendly store owner
Probir greeted me warmly and clarified for me the reason for the long red paste
mark down the center of his forehead. He spoke of Krishna and that Hindu god’s
relevance for his life. We both rejoice in the freedom we share to speak of
what and who is meaningful to us. Probir was not preaching to me. He was
felicitating me, sharing with me the encouragement he feels from his faith.
Won’t it be splendid when we all – Muslims, Hindus, Christians, all – can speak
and listen to others explain what inspires us without quarreling about it?
Shaheen and recently returned from a
month away in Saudi Arabia, on pilgrimage. “How was the experience?” I asked.
Shaheen spoke of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered in one place, of
the heat at noonday when pilgrims left their air-conditioned rooms to go for
prayer, and of eating camel’s meat. “Are you glad you went?” I asked.
“Definitely!” my businessman friend exclaimed. “Did you make any resolutions
there, such as to read the Qur’an more regularly?” I queried. “No”, he easily
admitted, for the pilgrimage is not a retreat but, rather, a duty. Having
fulfilled that duty Shaheen feels spiritual security.
Early in the morning I bicycled to Shawk
Darap village through intermittent rainfall. There I wished to notify Sumi and
Tara, her auntie, of our impending trip to the hospital. At their broken-down,
mud-walled home Sumi and her family came out to meet me. They were embarrassed
not to have any food to offer me – especially because it was the week of their
grandest Islamic festival, Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid is a time for heightened
hospitality which, in Bangladesh, always involves food. Their inability to
place a snack in front of me assures me how favored I am by God to be able to
serve truly needy families. Indeed, the best things in life are free.
We have a similar dream, which is to create prosperity and
peace in our country: Jesuits and Madrasa students reflect together
Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ
In June, a group of Jesuit scholastics
and priests spent a week in a Islamic boarding school in East Java, as part of
the Indonesian Province’s efforts against religious radicalism, one of three
concerns the Province has made a priority. Scholastic Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ
recounts his experience.
From June 17 to 23, 16 Jesuit scholastics and
two priests lived in Islamic boarding school, pesantren in Indonesia. The
pesantren was named “Tebu Ireng” and is located in Jombang, East Java.
The stay in the pesantren is a programme of the Indonesian Province that addresses
one of its major concerns, religious radicalism. The other two priority
concerns of the Indonesian Province are poverty and environmental damage. The
concern around religious radicalism is also confirmed in the documents of the
Society of Jesus, particularly during the 35th General Congregation.
We hope that this programme can be a significant
contribution to our country, which is now threatened by religious radicalism.
We also hope that this programme will help Jesuits in formation to embrace the
spirit of religious dialogue. Indonesia is a Moslem-majority country therefore
a dialogue with Moslem people is indispensable.
We were accompanied by two Jesuit priests who
have worked in this area for some time - Fr Heru Prakosa SJ and Fr Greg Soetomo
SJ. Fr Heru is an Ad Hoc Coordinator for Moslem-Christian Dialogue for the
Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, while Fr Greg is a coordinator of the
Justice and Peace Commission in the Indonesian Province.
During this programme, we lived together with
the pesantren’s students who are called santri. Unfortunately, when we were
there, it was the holiday period for santris so few of them were there.
Nevertheless, we did not lose our passion to live together with them.
The interesting activity during our time with
them was having philosophical and theological discussions. We discussed
influential figures from both our religions. We Jesuits spoke of Thomas Aquinas
(1225-1274), a great philosopher and theologian, while the santris told us
about Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), also a great philosopher and theologian. The
discussion enriched our knowledge of each other.
However, the most memorable experience was our
meeting with the chief of this pesantren, Salahuddin Wahid, usually called Gus
Sholah, whose father had founded the pesantren. During that meeting, Gus Sholah
shared with us some inspiring thoughts. He said, “We have a similar dream,
which is to create prosperity and peace in our country.” He wanted us to
collaborate to make this dream come true. What a beautiful thought. We are
united by the same dream. By this experience, we can simply say that humanity
unites all people, regardless of their gender, race or religion. Indeed, it is
our great duty to accomplish this and this duty can be realized only by
After experiencing this programme, we are
optimistic that there is promise and hope to build a prosperous and peaceful
country where there is religious tolerance, since we believe that we are not
striving alone. One thing that we can learn from this experience is that
humanity unites all and inspires all to spread the benefits of humanity itself
among other people around us
you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me
Samuel Packiam is an ordained minister of the Church of South India,
Tirunelveli Diocese who completed his PhD in Christian Muslim Relations from
Westminster College, Oxford. He is presently on deputation to the Interfaith
Coalition for Peace, New Delhi. He has also been designated to be the director
of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies at Hyderabad. He spoke to Victor Edwin SJ on the status of
Christian-Muslim relations in India.
Edwin: Rev Samuel,
kindly tell us how you got interested in studying Christian Muslim Relations?
Samuel: My passion
for bridging religious differences has been shaped not only by my spiritual
connection to the Christian tradition, which promotes striving towards the
common good, but also by my upbringing. As a youth, I was privileged enough
to travel to many places as part of the gospel team. Thus I was exposed at a
young age to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as introduced to
people of various faiths.
As an undergraduate I studied theology at Leonard
Theological College, Jabalpur. During this time I became interested in
early heresy in the Christian Church. As I studied, I began to realize that the
understanding of Jesus Christ in some of these instances, such as the Nestorian
interpretation, was very similar to the Islamic understanding of Jesus
presented in the Quran. The Islamic interpretation of Jesus and Christianity is
not far off from the former beliefs of past Christians. After finishing my
first degree, I went on to work with the Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad as a
Junior staff member and complete my Master’s in Islamic studies. I started
looking at Islamic interpretations of Christianity, especially at how
Christians are viewed as People of the Book in Muslim society. I wrote a
graduate paper on The Status of the Muslim in a Religiously Plural Society.
This paper convinced me of the need for education in Islamic Studies, and
sparked my interest in educating Indian Christians and Muslims on the need for
understanding. I gave a presentation on these issues, and have continued to
present this discussion throughout my career. Through my education, I realized
I was called to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Muslims.
A Muslim is not someone to hate, but rather someone to love. A Muslim is not
someone I should hate, but a believer in Jesus, just from a different
perspective. I developed a passion for educating my Christian colleagues about
Islam and the Muslim identity. We need to promote understanding, and with
understanding and grace, we should be able to live together in peace.
Edwin: You have had
a lot of good experiences in working with Muslims; kindly tell us something
which is deeply etched in your memory?
experiences and insights gained from working together with religious people who
are firmly rooted in the faith and teachings of their religions never need to
become enemies, even if they are at odds in terms of their communal
interests. Religious community leaders often share the same pastoral
concerns, whether they be Muslim or Christian. Pastors and Muslim leaders
from Saharanpur setting up a monthly “fraternal” in which many issues of a
theological, pastoral, social and political nature have been discussed and
joint action has been taken. Initially these meetings consisted of such topics
as “How do we celebrate our festivals and what do they mean to us?” then moved
on to “How can we best educate our children in their faith?” before tackling
such questions as, “How do we see God?” and “What can we say of the salvation
of the other?” There are ups and downs in such a relationship, but persistence
and commitment on both sides have seen that we survive for a commendable number
Edwin: You are
designated to be the director of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies? How
do you plan to carry forward the wonderful work done by HMI?
Samuel: Over the
last few years, there have been all kinds of ideas emerging about the Church,
about different faith communities, which I have longed to explore and write up
a bit. So I’m hoping for more space to write and think in that way.
I’m certainly looking forward to being part of an academic community with a
open and assertive exchange of ideas, and to the challenges of helping that
community to work, which is part of the job of the head of an Institute.
And I think it’s not a million miles away from trying to make the community of
the interfaith family work. But essentially, I believe, you bring to the
office who you are, under God.
Edwin: What is the
importance of theological dialogue in today's context?
history, people of different religious traditions have encountered one another
in a variety of situations. In some instances, representatives of these
traditions have been enriched through sharing in one another’s experiences and
expressions of faith. In other situations members of these traditions have
either withdrawn within the “secure” parameters they have inherited or set
themselves, or embarked on discussions from dogmatically determined positions
not only as regards their own tradition, but also that of the “other.”
The importance of theological dialogue from an
ecumenical, inter-religious, global context should encourage all to move beyond
prejudice and bias, be it historical, cultural, social, or theological, in order
to cooperate wholeheartedly with all men and women of goodwill in promoting
peace, justice, harmony, human rights, and respect for all of God’s creation.
This is to be done especially through dialogue with those who are inspired by
religious commitment, or those who share a sense of transcendence that opens
them to universal values.
Pope John Paul II repeatedly urged we should make
inter-religious dialogue an “apostolic priority” for the third millennium. In a
world characterized by religious pluralism, a positive relationship with
faithful persons from all the world religions is a requirement in order to
achieve global peace and the goal of full dignity and justice for all human
Edwin: Are Indian
churches adequately interested in dialogue with Islam and Muslims?
Samuel: The Indian
Churches have traditionally maintained an ecclesiology that sees it as having a
pastoral concern for all people who live within the territory of the parish,
diocese or nation. This might be exemplified by the fact that all people who
live in a parish have the right to be married in the parish church and to be
buried from it even if they are not members of the Church or even Christians.
This applies also to members of other faith traditions, who have an equal right
to the services of the church. This pastoral concern can be seen in the
disposition of Christian schools in India. Like the parish church,
traditionally every person who lived in a parish had a right to have their
children educated in the parish school and so a Church school has more the
self-understanding of a “community school” rather than a “school for church
members.” In the recent past, religious communities have concentrated on
establishing and building up their own communities. Now the task of the future begins,
that is, to draw from the riches of these faith traditions to create a better
society. In this society all people, of any faith or none, can live truly
respecting the diversity of human values and allowing each other to grow to
their full potential.
Edwin: Often we
hear that only Christians are interested in dialogue, Muslims are not. How do
you see the statements like this?
Samuel: In a
middle-class commuter area of the New Delhi live a growing number of Muslim
professionals who have formed a Muslim Community Association. This group took
the initiative of contacting local Christians with a view to a monthly meeting
to discuss topics of mutual interest. This dialogue group is remarkable
in that the number of Muslims far outweighs the number of Christians. The
general format of an evening is that there will be a Christian and a Muslim
presentation around a set theme, which will be followed by a lengthy period of
questions and discussion.
Two interesting observations from this dialogue can be
made: first, the Muslim presentation consists of reading a number of passages
from the Qur’an with limited comments or acknowledgement of the associated body
of scholarship; second, while there are often diverse Christian voices showing
the range of such opinion, the Muslim voice is more monolithic, thus prompting
that impression of Islam. One difficulty thus exemplified is that there are few
Muslim scholars, who are deeply versed in the Islamic sciences, who take part
in such discussions. Participants tend to be educated in other disciplines and
have pursued limited private Islamic study. This can lead to a somewhat
truncated portrayal of Islam.
Edwin: Is there any
Islamic organisation that work for the welfare of Christian community in India?
Samuel: Yes, the Zakat
Foundation of India (ZFI) helps Christian students to compete in UPSC by
facilitating them to get the finest coaching in the esteemed coaching centres
in Delhi by financially supporting them annually to the rate of Rs.
2,00,000/-. In the 2012-13 school year there are 18 Christian
students getting their support through this scheme. The ZFI Fellowship
aims to alleviate the lack of Christian representation in the Civil Services,
via a merit-based approach.
The Zakat Foundation of India was established in 1997
as a grassroots level organization by concerned residents of New Delhi. It is a
Non-Governmental/Non-Profit Organization which collects and utilizes ‘zakat’ or
charity for socially beneficial projects in a transparent and organized manner.
Their projects include running an orphanage, charitable hospital, providing
stipends to widows, micro credit etc.
Edwin: What are the
areas of common interest between Muslims and Christians in India?
importance of societal dialogue is obvious in light of the fact that today
almost all societies are plural. This calls for a common understanding of basic
values, norms and orientations which are verified, accepted and implemented by
all groups in the society. One of the basic characteristics of a modern and
civilized society is that no group should be marginalized or eliminated for
cultural, ethnic, religious, social or other reasons. The possibility to
participate in every field of social activity invites people to contribute to
the common welfare whatever treasures they have developed in their traditions
including social-ethical or spiritual values. The sharing of such values
undoubtedly strengthens mutual trust and respect among adherents of different
The teachings of most living religions reject acts of
violence, torture, vandalism or terror capable of destroying human life. These
are perpetrated by individuals as well as government policies that cultivate
injustice, , oppression, exploitation and discrimination., . Opposition to and
resistance against them should therefore be the natural and uncompromising
answer of all religious people, and the strategy of their actions should be a
united one, designed also in a societal dialogue.
Edwin: What can we
learn from the long interaction between Christians and Muslims in India?
our lives we continue learning and understanding, thus developing and
completing our identity and our perception of ourselves. This process may be
hampered whenever we are lacking the right motivation for further
investigation. Therefore, such a mutually stimulating encounter may be
described as a walking together on a path, rather like the disciples on their
way to Emmaus. While realizing our limited ability to understand perfectly, we
help each other to deepen our insights by reflecting also on the contributions
of the other one. In the course of such a walking, searching or even wrestling
together with the same or similar questions of meaning and truth, a deep mutual
appreciation or even friendship may develop despite the difference of religion
which remains a wound in our human relationships. Mutual trust needs to have
been established in order to stimulate each other through inter-religious
dialogue to come to more profound and comprehensive insights. The way to such
new and dynamic relationships is a long one, and those who stand aside merely
watching or theorizing – and not to mention those who are just criticizing –
will not be able to grasp what is really going on. We will therefore reflect on
the “long march” toward this new approach to dialogue.
Edwin: What do you
think that the world at large can learn from Indian experience?
willingness to build relationships through common study and sometimes through
common silence. We may not pray publicly together, for many reasons. Prayer
follows conviction. But we can sometimes keep silence together. We can
certainly look together at the sacred texts of different traditions. We can
watch how other people handle their sacred texts and their rituals and learn from that. And in that process we become able to
recognise some kind of integrity and some kind of depth in one another. It
doesn't mean I say, 'Oh well, you must be right.' But I can at least say, 'I
know you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me – the recognition of the
serious. And therefore if we find we can do things together -- in servicing,
witnessing, peace-making, then it will come out of depths, not shallows.
and India Friendship Forum
Fr. Joe Kalathil’s beautiful faith-based
narrative is the story of an initiative to build Social Capital to bond the
peoples of Pakistan and India with the aim to bring union of minds and hearts
among the people.
The Present Pakistan and Hindustan together were once a
powerful and resourceful country known as United India not so long ago. The two
peoples were culturally knit together as one family of a deeply God-fearing
people. We struggled together until we achieved independence from the British.
Then came the sad division and political compulsions have kept us separate as
two inimical nations. The division of the once united God-fearing people was a
God- less act done by God-less people in the name of God, for their own vested
interests. This division resulted in the
cutting off of connections of thousands
of united families all along the border stretching out to nearly a thousand
kilometers. Many of them long to meet each other and to be united, but cannot
even make a telephone call, even after 65 years of painful separation.
Therefore, the great challenge before us is make a
deliberate and firm ‘choice’ to once again humanize our two peoples. The
question we must ask:
Can’t we ‘humans’, so richly endowed, correct such a
‘human error’? When will we do it? The answer I received from the enthusiastic
young, middle aged and elderly men and women of Lahore in Pakistan was a
determined “ ‘I’ will do it and ‘I’ will begin it ‘Now’ ”.
I am deeply convinced that we can, with the help of the ‘divine’ grace, enter into this peace and
friendship-building initiative. Such a conviction and determination will come
from an ‘act of faith’ by both the peoples of India and Pakistan. Through such an ‘act of faith’ we, both
peoples, will develop union of minds and hearts and grow to become more human,
even while we keep our cultural and religious diversities, as dreamt by Mahatma
Gandhi. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable fire in
their mission can alter the course of history” This will result is great progress for both the peoples of both
Let me narrate the story of how it all happened. It began
on the 18th of March, 2011. I was called to Jammu by Bishop Peter Celestine
O.F.M.Cap for a meeting. With a firm resolve to help Bishop Peter Celestine, the
Jammu-Srinagar Diocese and the people of J&K, in whatever way I could, I
reached Jammu. The proposed meeting was to be in the Pastoral Centre, Smailpur
at 10.30 a.m on 18th of March. Immediately after the breakfast at about 8.30
a.m., Bishop Peter Celestine and Fr. Frederick D’Souza, the then Asst. Director
of Caritas India, told me about their very noble vision to establish ‘peace
between Pakistan and India’. Their search was for a person who will carry it
During the meeting,
the ‘baby’ was passed on to me. Initially it gave me a shock since I
could well imagine what it takes to establish ‘peace between Pakistan and
Hindustan. The enormity of the mission and my limitations and weakness along
with my advancing age flashed through my mind. Soon I began to see this as an
‘opportunity’ for me to surrender myself into the hands of God with a strong
conviction that ‘nothing is impossible to
God’. From that very moment, God’s active presence has very tangibly
been felt by me. The work was started in Jammu and in R.S.Pura area with
A year went on and the work was satisfactory which was an
encouraging experience and everyone was convinced that time had come to go to
Pakistan to launch the same work there too. Only then can it be called ‘Cross
Border Peace Initiative’ (CBPI). The first time I went to Pakistan High
Commission in New Delhi to get a visa to go to Pakistan was in March 2012. The
first question asked by the man at the counter was: ‘Do you have any relative
in Pakistan? My reply was negative and the response from the other side was
very definite and decisive : ‘you will not be given a visa to visit
Pakistan’. I returned with a heavy
heart. I looked for another opportune time to make the next attempt to request
for a visa to visit Pakistan. On 17th of October, to everyone’s surprise, a
visa to visit Lahore, Pakistan for fifteen days was handed over to me. God’s
ways are mysterious! God’s hand is stronger than any other!
I was born in Kerala in the united British India when the
present India and Pakistan were one and therefore, I do feel that Pakistan is
also my motherland. I have great admiration for the God-fearing wonderful
people of Pakistan. I have very pleasant memories of having some good contact
with some of the very hospitable ‘Pakistan Rangers’ posted in Huzainiwala
Border of Ferozepur who offered me pleasantries in the early 60s when there was
much feelings of brotherhood, peace and understanding between the leaders and
people of Pakistan and India.
After much effort and very special Providential support,
I received a visa to visit Lahore. But my real worry showed up: ‘After reaching
Lahore what to do? Where to go? How to go about? Whom to contact? Will anyone
support this move? I do not know anyone in Lahore and for that matter any one
in Pakistan.’ My feelings of total helplessness compelled me to put my whole
trust in the Lord and to ‘abandon’ myself as well as the ‘friendship mission of
CBPI’ completely and totally to God’s providential care. Slowly light started
illumining my mind. I gained clarity that ‘people to people contact’ will help
mitigate and slowly remove prejudices from our minds and hearts and that will help us to get closer to one
another. With such an insight, the following programmes were drawn up, which were
launched in Lahore in collaboration with the Apostolic Carmel Sisters (ACs),
the Jesuits, the youth and the some of the priests and Faithful of Lahore
Archdiocese with tacit approval of the Bishop of Lahore. In such a short time
of 11 days of which 4 were holidays, I addressed over 800 senior students of 7
schools, over 40 teachers and 100 catechists all of whom showed their very
encouraging and tremendous enthusiasm for building friendship and peace between
Pakistan and India and they assured me of their full support. When I went to
Lahore, I took with me 35 letters from the students of four schools and I
brought 90 letters from the students of Lahore. The Bishop Sebastian Shaw and
the Vicar General Fr. Andrew Ansari of Lahore Archdiocese, knowing what it
means to build friendship between Pakistan and India, were very happy to
welcome me with such a noble mission, assuring me of their full support. I also
met a few NGOs and a couple of trade unions and the Director of Caritas
Pakistan. All of them were very happy to hear about the move to build
friendship and peace between Pakistan and India. In a meeting with Dr. Allah
Bakhsh Malik, Secretary, Govt of Punjab Pakistan for Youth Affairs, Sports,
Archeology & Tourism Department, he expressed his great joy at this
initiative and assured me of his full support. I have no adequate words to
express the warm welcome, the love and the appreciation which I received from
all, especially from the youth group of Lahore.
The concern expressed by some the elderly well-wishers
and supporters in Lahore was about the continuity of the work of CBPI in
Pakistan after I return to India. We
believe in the insight of the world-renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of
thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only
thing that ever happened.”
A small body of Agents Of Peace (AOP) consisting of
Fr.Maria Antony, the former Jesuit Provincial of Srilanka as the convener,
Fr.Imran John the only Pakistani Jesuit Priest, Mr.Daniel Parvez Massih and Mr.
Shamiel Saleem as members, was formed before I left Lahore to see that this
movement is kept going. Fr.Maria Antony would induct a couple of Sisters and
few others including some priests into the ‘ad-hoc committee’. The programmes
which have been started during those 11 days are: (a)Peace Clubs (PC) in
schools; (b)Cross Border Student Contact (CBSC); (c) Cross Border Family/ Faith
Contact (CBFC). It has been also proposed to work on: (d)Student Exchange
Programme (SEP); (e) Health Care Support (HCS); (f) Educational Support (ES).
This small beginning of Peace and Friendship Building was a strong ‘Act of
Faith’ as a token of small contribution of the Church in Pakistan as well as
Church in India to the ‘Peace Loving’ people of Pakistan as well as to the
‘Peace Loving’ people of India. It may not be possible for ‘man’, but nothing
is impossible for God. God’s guidance and His providential hand could be
tangibly felt during the process of this small beginning of the great work. Lot
more of work has to be done in various levels and the progress will certainly
be slow. We need to be prepared to face many obstacles and some opposition also
to this initiative. As Fr.Thomas Kunnunkal S.J said: “no good work can be done
except at the cost of the one who does it”
When I was in Kerala I spoke to several people and all
were very happy and enthusiastic to support this movement. Five men have
already agreed to form support groups in different places: Mr.Leo in
Thiruvanandapuram, Mr.Jojo in Kollam, Mr.Dev Raj in Alapuzha, Mr. Saleem and
Mr.Jobin in Kochi and Mr.Shelly in Gothuruth. I keep in touch with them. Many
more support group needs to be formed and this work need to be expanded to the
Indo-Pakistan Inter National border areas in Indian side. Bishop Joseph
Karikkassery of Kottaapuram diocese was so taken up by this that he promised to
talk about this movement in the next CBCI meeting to be held in Velankanny in
February, 2013. This movement needs institutional support too. I am confident that
many institutions irrespective of any religion or social division will come
forward to give their full support to this initiative in every way. Together we
will grow in friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and the
beneficiaries of this will be ‘WE’ the people of Pakistan and India.
The same challenge faces us today. So I I ask you to
consider: If not this, then What? If not now, When?