Prof M A Siddiqui, Faculty of Education, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

International Conference on Promoting Interfaith Dialogue, CMS, Lucknow,

14-16 July, 2011

Enormous development s in science and technology coupled with liberalization of international trade policies by all countries during the last few decades have brought the nations of the world and their communities very close to each other. Today we tend to consider the peoples of the world as global citizens.

Attempts are being made to see that all nations become truly one world despite their cultural and religious variations.  However, one world cannot be built on the foundations of science and technology and media nor on the foundations of liberal trade and investment policies.  It can also not be built on the foundations of fear and suspicion and exclusivity and superiority professed by one community or faith over the others.  One world which enjoys social justice, harmony and peace across nations can perhaps be built only on the foundations of mutual respect, understanding and trust by building such relationships between different faith communities that can sustain both agreements and disagreements in a cordial environment.

In today’s heavily materialized world which is full of economic  disparities and deprivations of all sorts, interfaith and intercommunity harmony  has emerged as a major need and lack of it as a major challenge for the optimal and sustained development of all societies.  Interfaith and intercommunity harmony demands building of bridges of understanding between faith communities and removal of mutual misunderstandings that are often a major source of inter community conflicts.  Religious pluralism which is an essential social reality would be strengthened if varied faiths are understood and tolerated rather than misunderstood and confronted. Interfaith understanding and respect for diversity in faith and culture as also for religious freedom can be brought through the process of inter community and inter faith dialogue.  Interfaith dialogue is a collaborative, serious and indeed a natural method of relating to people of other faiths.  Through dialogue each group is able to present its own views without hindrance and hesitation which helps both the parties in dialogue to understand each  other dispassionately.  Thus in the process, ignorance, misunderstandings and prejudices that often give rise to hatred and conflicts are removed and an environment of mutual respect, trust and harmony is maintained.  Dialogue also makes them understand better their common heritage which also helps them bring closer to each other.  Interfaith dialogue has moved away from being a “therapeutic dialogue”  aimed at healing the wounds of centuries of disrespect and violence to being a dialogue focused on strengthening common values enshrined in each faith and culture and taking concrete action together.  Thus interfaith dialogue is very much a socio-political exercise for it entails important socio-economic and political implications and consequences. Its promotion strengthens the institution of democracy as essence of democracy lies in the culture of dialogue.  Dialogue can provide a theological and philosophical basis for people of faith to cooperate and collaborate in building a more just and peaceful world for all and can bring out large chunks of people  from drudgery of ignorance based exploitation heaped on them by vested interests.  Propagation of half truths about other faiths and their communities and ridiculing in public their faith, follwers or practices both in historical as well contemporary contexts by other faith followers/leaders or vested interests creates an artificial void between two faith communities and is always prone to exploitation. Every day we see examples of such exploitation and conflicts based on it not only between faith groups but also within different faith communities.

Undoubtedly, interfaith dialogue can best be promoted through education not merely by way of inculcating knowledge of diverse faiths in future citizens rather through reorienting the curicular content and process of education in a manner that children from  early stages of their education learn to appreciate faith diversity around them and common concerns of all faiths and religions, and imbibe values of interfaith  respect and understanding  and peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue in all situations to come.  Dialogue has to be learnt by them as a way of life as they move up on the ladder of education which should ultimately be reflected in their daily life practices in the later part of their life.  The International Commission on Education (1996) in this regard has rightly emphasized that to help adolescents face the challenges of the globalizing world societies the education systems  would have to help them ‘ to learn to live together  by developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and spiritual values, and on this basis, creating a new spirit  which , guided by recognition of our growing interdependence and a common analysis of the risks and challenges of the future, would induce people to implement common projects or to manage the inevitable conflicts in an intelligent and peaceful way.’ However, in a multi-faith society, which now everyone is, every individual must have a basic and correct knowledge of one’s own faith both to safeguard him/her from being misled and exploited by the vested interests and to facilitate him/her to enter into an informed dialogue with others.

Education for its psychological appeal and ability to train human intellect has the potential to successfully equip individuals with such knowledge, skills and attitudes that would help them resolve conflict situations rationally, compassionately and amicably through dialogue and understanding.  It is this social institution of education that gives a definite shape to the building blocks of peace namely, tolerance, justice, compassion, interfaith and intercultural understanding and civic responsibility.  Although the informal modes of education like media, family ,etc  may also play an important role in promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding among different communities yet, it is the formal system of education which has the best potential to impinge human mind in the desired direction in a time bound manner, provided its content and transaction strategies are suitably geared to this objective.  While harnessing the instrumentality of education emphasis should be on building learners’ capacity to adopt dialogic processes, first in the course of their studies and later, in their real life situations, to address issues involving others and to arrive at their amicable solutions and thus live together with them in harmony and peace and contribute their best in building the nation. Development of positive attitude and capacity for dialogue would depend on students appreciation of and adherence to the values related with harmony and peaceful co existence, like social justice, non violence , human rights, equality and non discrimination and non exploitation of the weak and those from a particular faith. This requires appropriate reforms in school curriculum particularly in the areas of social sciences and humanities. NCF 2005 has taken note of this need of the learners and recommended for appropriate curricular provisions in the school curriculum.

Role of educators in promoting interfaith dialogue

We all understand that no reform in education can succeed without the cooperation and active participation of teachers.  Their role particularly in the process of curriculum transaction is all too important. Their role effectiveness in the present context depends on their own deep understanding of and faith in the contribution of the dialogic processes in resolving conflicts and promoting interfaith understanding and harmony.  Application of dialogue as a part of teaching learning strategy also demands teachers’ command over its effective use in a manner that it not only helps in interfaith related value clarification but also in developing learners’ abilities to make use of such interactive dialogic methods in their own multicultural and multi religious contexts in real life situations. Teachers have to be conscious of the fact that today outside world is increasingly encroaching upon the school, particularly through the new communication and information media which considerably increases the demands on teachers.  Also the young students with whom the teacher has to deal, though receiving less parental or religious guidance, are now better informed. Teachers have also to take this new situation into account if they want to be heeded and understood and followed by the young people. In order to be effective in promoting interfaith dialogue and inculcating dialogue as a means to resolve differences and conflicts in general, the entire school should offer such an environment which does not really run counter to the spirit of peaceful coexistence and social justice.  Otherwise it will dilute the individual teacher’s efforts In this regard. Thus what is required to  be ensured is that the entire institutional environment is transformed in a manner that every experience of the learners while being on the campus, reinforces and refurbishes their  conviction in the intercultural and interfaith understanding and in the dialogue as an effective way to arrive at that understanding.  This clearly means that the school leaders also have to be simultaneously sensitized for promoting interfaith dialogue among students as well as teachers and other school workers and all of them will have to practice values of interfaith respect and understanding and resort to process of dialogue in case differences or conflicts arise among them in their own spheres of work. What is being emphasized is that teachers and their school leaders will have to ensure that their talks about interfaith understanding through dialogue should be accompanied by their deeds in the same direction.

Teachers effectiveness in promoting the interfaith understanding and dialogue is also inevitably linked with their social, cultural and material status which needs to be considered as a matter of priority. While on the one hand there is a need to put an end to teachers feeling of isolation by entering into dialogue between the society and teachers and between teacher unions and authorities, on the other there is an urgent need to subject them to improved  teacher education and continuous professional development programmes which should essentially  address multicultural,  interfaith and peace related values and pedagogies of their inculcation among young learners.

The existing initial teacher preparation  as well as  continuous professional development  programmes are grossly insufficient, in both content and methodology, to equip the teachers to deal with issues and methods of promoting  interfaith dialogue and understanding among young people.  The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (2009) very well addresses all such contemporary issues.  Teacher education institutions and universities have yet to adopt/adapt this framework to bring desired changes in their programmes. The process  which at present is rather slow needs to be expedited by all concerned in the states in the larger interest of better school education and national development.

City Montessori School at Lucknow with 42000 students enrolled in its 20 branches spread across the city faithfully follows such curricular and extra curricular practices in all its branches as would inculcate interfaith understanding among its students and can be seen as a model for others to follow.

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