Saturday, May 18, 2013

Building Bridges of Friendship

The International Interfaith Dialogue India is propagating love and respect for all religions in society

Photo: Swami Shankaracharya Onkaranand Saraswathi at the Cheraman Mosque

By Shevlin Sebastian

When NR Pillai, a retired assistant general manager of the Reserve Bank of India, was accompanying His Holiness Swami Shankaracharya Onkaranand Saraswathi, the head of the Prayag Peeth, on a visit to the Lord Krishna temple in Guruvayur, he received a call on his mobile. Dr. Mohammed Syed, a trustee of the Cheraman Mosque, asked whether Swami Saraswathi would drop in at the mosque on the way back to Kochi. The Swamiji readily agreed.

And so, on a sunny afternoon, there were several people present, including the imam, VM Sulaiman Maulavi, to welcome the Swamiji when he arrived. “He was taken all over the mosque,” says Pillai. “Thankfully, there was one person present who could speak fluent Hindi and hence he was able to explain to Swamiji about the various aspects.” Thereafter, the Imam presented the Swamiji with an English version of the Quran.

This is the first time I am visiting a mosque,” said the Swamiji. “I am honoured to know that it is the oldest one in India .” The mosque was established in 629 AD in Kodungaloor.

The Delhi-based Swami Saraswathi had come to Kochi to attend a seminar on 'Religion and Human Values', organised by the International Interfaith Dialogue India (IIDI). The organisation was set up in April 2010. “Unless there is peace among the followers of different religions, there cannot be peace in the world,” says P.K. Shamsuddin, a former judge of the Kerala High Court, and a patron of IIDI. “Unfortunately, in the name of religion, many wars have been fought and much blood has been shed throughout history. Hence, there is a need to educate people about the common values shared by all the religions. That is the main purpose of the IIDI.”

So the IIDI conducts seminars and workshops and tries to sensitise the people to accept and respect all religions. “We invite people of various religions to come and speak,” says Shamsuddin. 

For the last meet, speakers included Prasanna Venkatachariar Chaturvedi Swamy, the founder of the Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust, Tamil Nadu, Fr. Albert Nambiaparambil, the Secretary General of the World Fellowship of Inter-Religious Councils, and Maulawi Jamaludeen Mankada, the Imam of the Palayam mosque, Thiruvanantapuram.

Holding a seminar makes a difference,” says Shamsuddin. “It builds bridges among the different religious groups. There is a lot of misunderstanding. People think that Islam propagates terror. On the other hand, Islam means peace. As a result, there is a lot of mistrust.”

Asked whether there is a rising mood of communalism in Indian society, Shamsuddin says, “I don't think so. Undoubtedly, there are extremists who are propagating division and are trying to mislead the people, but India 's soul is different. The country has always welcomed all types of people.”

In AD 52, when St. Thomas came to Kerala, he was received with open arms. As a result, many people embraced Christianity. Islam arrived through Malik Ibn Dinar, and a team of believers, who came from Saudi Arabia in the seventh century and set up the Cheraman Mosque. 

“The people of Kerala received them warmly and provided them with all facilities, to spread the message of Islam,” says Shamsuddin. “Throughout our history, people have always wanted peace, tolerance, and communal amity. That is our great heritage.”

KJ Yesudas, who is an Ambassador of Peace for the IIDI, since its inception, says, “Endeavors, like the IIDI, are the need of the hour. That is why I have given my full support to them.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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