Religious leaders can promote tolerance by interacting with representatives of other faiths
Life has been serene and full of harmony among various faith groups, living as neighbours in villages and towns, since time immemorial. We remember our childhood days where we never bothered about our differences based on religion.
If it had been a puja, we had gone over to our friends to say hello or if it had been a mela on the occasion of Chaitra Sankranti, the villagers all participated, and had fun irrespective of their faith.
In 1971, we foiled a treacherous game of befooling us in the name of religion during our War of Liberation. We have seen many Hindu families seeking shelter with very pious Muslims. Their safety was ensured against all kinds of provocations.
We never did need to be educated on communal harmony. Even today in Bangladesh, if we go by religious identity, citizens belonging to religions other than Islam are very well represented in all strata of society.
But unfortunately, there are incidents these days where Hindu idols have been desecrated and Hindu houses are being vandalized. There are also incidents of hatred towards the Ahmadiyya community. There are instances of provocative sermons on various platforms.
These are very disturbing developments for a society where we would like to uphold a policy of non-discrimination based on religion, caste, or creed.
We have seen the Mamunul Haque incident, and how he has been dealt with by the law enforcers. We hope to see proper investigation into all vandalism carried out, regardless of their faith.
We don’t care if somebody was dressed in “sunnati lebas” or was in jeans and a t-shirt. Anybody trying to destabilize social harmony by such acts must be identified and dealt with by the law of the land.
Now, government agencies cannot reach out to all such venues or spots instantly. It has to be the local community reaching out. Aren’t there mosques around places where such desecration of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses took place? Aren’t these being run by committees of people of the locality?
The imams of such mosques have a responsibility to sermonize in favour of maintaining and promoting communal harmony. Why don’t they utilize the Friday sermons in making sure that people are imbued with the correct ideals of Islam?
We are to live in harmony with all our fellow human beings, and we have not been sent to create mischief on Earth. Imams need to mingle with the leaders of other religions in the locality -- the Buddhist monk, the Hindu purohit, and the Christian padri to demonstrate to the people that despite our differences in our faith and beliefs, we can live together in peace and harmony.
When we consider teaching children about other religions, we need to decide how much we need to dish out. As we practice our religion, there are many others around us and elsewhere in the world who practice many other forms of beliefs. There are many who even may not believe in any kind of God -- and that too is OK.
I think we cannot leave everything up to the school. The parents and family members have a responsibility in ensuring that our children get the correct orientation from their childhood, to respect every human being. We must train ourselves to care and not hurt anybody through our words and deeds.
Finally, if we really mean to live in harmony in society, then there is a serious need for integration and interfaith harmony. This cannot be developed leaving aside the major religions in a community. If we turn it into an “us and them” affair, it certainly is not going to work. In fact, it may further breed disharmony and tension.
We need to be in a procession where, the saffron-clad monk, the dhoti-clad purohit, the cross-bearing padri, and the lebas wearing imam all have to walk in clasped hands and in step, together.
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]