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Pope's UAE trip inspires India's religions to plot peace

Christian, Muslim hierarchy take lessons from pontiff's 'Human Fraternity' document

Rita Joseph, New Delhi

Rita Joseph, New Delhi

Published: April 02, 2019 09:42 AM GMT

Updated: April 03, 2019 02:38 AM GMT

Pope's UAE trip inspires India's religions to plot peace

Christian and Muslim leaders pose for a photograph in New Delhi in March after discussing a document released during Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United Arab Emirates in early February. (Photo by Rita Joseph/ucanews.com)

Muslims and Christians in India are working to popularize a document on human fraternity released during Pope Francis' historic visit to the United Arab Emirates in February.

The "Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together" focuses on religious tolerance, cross-faith dialogue and world peace, and it transcends all faiths, Delhi Minority Commission chair Zafarul-Islam Khan said at a conference in the Indian capital on March 29.

"It talks about brotherhood, love, peace, women's and children's rights, and the futility of war and terrorism. [It contains] words of wisdom from the highest level," he said. However, "very few people know about it, so we want to give it more publicity."

The Jesuit-run Islamic Studies Association joined New Delhi's Minorities Commission in consulting on the paper penned by Vatican and Muslim scholars.

The Jesuit organization works to build Christian-Muslim relations in South Asia, while the state commissions are tasked with caring for the interests of these and other religious minorities.

Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, signed the document at an interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4 which was also attended by 500 religious leaders, scholars and diplomats.

Akhtarul Wasey, an Islamic scholar and vice chancellor of Maulana Azad University in Jodhpur, said it has come at a time when people are talking about a "clash of civilizations."

But the paper "negates such thinking and pronounces something positive," he said.

The Islamic scholar said that despite theological disagreements, Christians and Muslims have much in common.

"Religious and theological differences are not inter-religious but intra-religious and a reflection of internal democracy. This should not be construed as a weakness," Wasey said.

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"If religious pluralism exists, then it is God's will. Our work is to propagate the truth. Prophets were sent to communicate, not convert." 

Father Poulose Mangai from the Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi said the Catholic Church only started opening up to other religions after the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis' visit to Gulf, the first of its kind by any pope, also coincided with the 800th anniversary of another historic meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al Kamil of Egypt.

That is credited with paving the way for improved Muslim-Christian relations despite the bitter memories of the Crusades.

"The world's religions should serve as warnings to humanity to act against injustice and never be resigned to the tragedies of the world," Wasey said.

A minute's silence was observed before the start of the conference in memory of those slain in the twin terror attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15.

"There is no alternative. We either build the future together or there will be no future," Father Mangai, editor of the Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflections, quoted Pope Francis as saying.

Jesuit Father Victor Edwin said the pontiff had lit the way by communicating so openly with other religions.

"This document gives us an alternative vision, a vision that looks to peace and reconciliation, which is deeply rooted in religion, deeply rooted in humanity," said the Jesuit, who has run the Islamic Studies Association since 1979.

He warned that "unauthentic, politicized religions" were spreading hatred and violence.

Basit Jamal, who popularizes Islamic values via parables told at schools, said the Quran exhorts Muslims to pursue good relations with those who do not fight or persecute Muslims.

Khurshid Khan of Delhi University said the document considers everyone to be equal, with no one granted majority or minority status. She said respect and love for all religions should begin at home.

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