Interfaith relations in the last few hundred years have been marked by volatility and often devastating conflicts. This is because the nature of interfaith peace has been fundamentally misconstrued, and its capacity for alleviating human suffering has been woefully neglected. The genesis of cooperative interfaith relations lies in the realization that it is possible to foster a relationship of mutual respect and empowerment without any dilution of the essence of one’s own faith. Interfaith dialogue synthesizes the most profound of human sentiments to produce modus vivendi between contrasting approaches to the human condition.
Interfaith dialogue, as distinct from debate, allows the confluence of different religious narratives. The objective of its participants is not to prevail upon others in theological dissension, but to forge bonds of social cohesion that weave across disparities. This requires dialogists to recognize other religious identities, appreciate their complexity and, to a certain extent, adopt their vocabulary, and thereby enable themselves to comprehend and converse with other faith groups without extremism, prejudice, intolerance or insensitivity.
It is the common aspiration of all religions to construct a society wherein adherents of a faith group can peacefully pursue their destiny, and work towards the achievement of worldly and eternal good, howsoever they may define it. Despite this shared ideal, deep fissures lacerate the modern world. Mistrust, fear and theological extremism threaten to sever all ties of common humanity.
In these perilous times, it may not be enough to reinforce the coercive politico-legal machinery of the social structure to secure peace, as it might drive the fissures even deeper at the societal level. It is only through an exploration of the commonalities shared by faiths that a sustainable equilibrium can be reached. It is crucial to realize that interfaith respect does not stem from a narcissistic validation process that weighs others’ claims to truth, but from the respect of others as human beings who possess equal rights to self-determination, regardless of their religious identity, or non-religiosity for that matter.
What has been dubbed the “netwar” of violent extremism can only be countered by as pervasive a web of solidarity among the faiths. Interfaith dialogue needs to be assimilated into a broader scheme for socio-political change. The intellectual and spiritual offerings of the rich cultural, economic and political traditions and the unique emotional and cognitive experiences of different faiths must be harnessed and developed into moderate narratives that are globally disseminated.
This sentiment of commitment without compromise is annually revived by The World Interfaith Harmony Week[i], which is presently being observed throughout this first week of February. This week invites reflection by faith leaders, governments and individuals and inspires us all to integrate the “Love of the Good, and Love of the Neighbor” in all conceptions of individual and societal progress. The peace and prosperity of this world hinges upon the deference, among believers and non-believers, to the common word that traverses all articulations of truth.