OP-ED: Can religious leaders do more to foster community harmony?


The road to peaceful and mutually enriching coexistence

A seemingly insignificant piece of news caught my eye, published in the prestigious Anandabazar Patrika in Kolkata last week. The news in brief is that a group of Muslims in Delhi had gone to the Delhi High Court to protect a mandir from grabbers and stop its expulsion or demolition.

The relevant Delhi High Court court had taken cognizance of it and ordered the Delhi police to take appropriate action to stop the deportation and ensure that no damage was done to the mandir.

In a country with an overwhelming Hindu majority, this insignificant group of Muslims have done a tremendous job fulfilling their social obligations and showing empathy to their neighbors belonging to another faith group. Their idea was to protect a place of worship and thus promote and maintain community harmony and peace.

It is a beautiful example that can be replicated not only in India but also in Bangladesh to enable people to live in peace and quiet, while nurturing and following their own faith and culture.

It can be said that in Bangladesh we live more or less in harmony, barring unfortunate incidents. There have sometimes been incidents of vandalism of places of worship, idols and even attacks against people of faiths other than the dominant religion. Such developments, however errant and rare, are very sensitive and deserve to be treated with the greatest care. Their ripple effect has the disturbing potential to disrupt existing peace and harmony.

Responsibility generally rests with the majority of society whenever a disruption occurs; it is an undeniable fact that the majority is responsible and has the capacity to act decisively. Incidents of this nature can happen with the slightest provocation when the wrongdoers remain ready to take full advantage of them. Once such violence is unleashed, no legal action, no rehabilitation effort, or no compensation is enough to befriend those wronged. The scar becomes deep and haunts us forever.

People of all faiths have respect and trust in their religious leaders and tend to look to them for moral and ethical strength, sense of right and wrong, and advice on social behavior. Many would place them in prestigious positions as “men of God”. Our expectations of these reverends are considerably high. They are supposed to guide us in prayer, perform various rituals of our faith and guide us in the fight against the evils of society. But when it comes to maintaining interfaith harmony in society, these “men of God” need to step out of their comfort zone and mix with their counterparts from other faith groups. Here, the responsibility of the dominant faith group cannot be overstated. They need to make sure that they interact with others regularly and that none of their actions and words hurt or upset people’s feelings. These leaders need to be motivated and trained to be able to feel the psyche of the community and detect any apprehension that is brewing even before it manifests itself in some sort of problem.

It may not be easy to reach out to other faith groups. They will always be cautious and unwelcoming towards strangers, especially members of the dominant religion, due to their preconceived apprehension resulting from previous episodes in the locality or elsewhere in the country.

The first step forward is the most difficult, but it is still the most essential. It must be premeditated and well planned. This interreligious contact should be established during normal times when there is no tension that is conspicuously brewing. Once the contact is established, it must be nurtured and maintained in order to be able to provide an expected result in the face of real or potential difficulties. I find no problem in organizing such interreligious events in the courtyard of a mandir or a masjid for example, attracting an audience from all the religious groups around. But unfortunately, such practices are rare.

The best example given by the Muslims of Delhi has a lot of potential for us to replicate such examples of showing empathy for a group when it is needed. In Bangladesh, our imams and religious leaders need to be motivated and guided by government and other social agencies to realize the enormous potential of their role in conflict detection, prevention, management and resolution.

This is a complicated task that will consider successful integration into society, regular interaction with leaders and devotees from other faith groups, identifying their concerns and making plans to gain and maintain trust. from the community.

When an incident occurs, we eagerly await the intervention of the police. In our society, this hardly works because of our protracted legal system, among other obstacles. Therefore, proactive measures at the local community level to predict, detect and prevent such incidents are the only way to avoid them.

The Bangalis are traditionally known to maintain community peace and harmony. The iconic Bengali literary figure Sarat Chandra Chattapaddhay, in “A Cyclone in the Sea”, recounts his experience of traveling to Burma on a boat. Amid his vivid description of the trip, he mentions his interaction with a rural Muslim co-passenger who struggled to find a space to offer his evening prayer on the overcrowded deck.

The writer sacrificed himself by packing up his things to make room for his prayer. It won the heart of the simple peasant. The story, while very simple and mundane, conveys a message of profound magnitude about the interfaith trust and harmony that prevails among ordinary people and thus strengthens our social fabric.

Brigadier General Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (retired) is an independent collaborator. E-mail: [email protected]


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