One of my Sri Lankan friends emailed yesterday- “Evil is released on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Three churches and two hotels have been bombed on Easter Sunday while people were worshiping in the churches. The Churches in Sri Lanka mostly worked for peace and harmony. The recent outbreaks of religious extremism in the post war situation have turned vicious. In the context of political coups, conflicting geopolitical interests, and the violent mindset of the organized groups and individuals, all this has happened.”
This heinous crime committed against a particular religious community killed more than 300 people and nearly 500 were injured. This attack is not an assault only on the Christians or the people of Sri Lanka, it is an attack on humanity. We express our solidarity with victims’, their families, and the people of Sri Lanka at this time of grief and sorrow.
In Bangladesh also we have seen how the BNP and its alliance partner Jamat-e-Islam promoted the Islamic bigots and extremists like Bangla Bhai, Abdur Rahman Saekh and the state patronized killing of minorities in the name of Islam. On the other hand targeted mob violence against religious minorities and religious places shows the growing intolerance beneath the apparent fabric of a long surviving religious pluralism and co-existence. For example, the local Muslims of Ramu at Cox’s Bazar vandalized Buddhist temples in 2012 and a rumor turned some Muslim people of Rangpur into crazy a mob that burnt a Hindu settlement to the ground in 2017. We have witnessed how extremists slaughtered innocent people in a restaurant, how they bombed cultural programs and how they attacked clergies and writers. Such intolerance shows how deep communalism has reached and this offers a ground for the extremists to facilitate home grown fundamentalism and enables them to recruit locals for extremist actions both in Bangladesh and abroad. Profiles of the recently investigated terrorists like Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Neo JMB confirm the strength of home grown fundamentalism and its international connection.
There is no doubt political use of religion promotes organized crime, communalism and extremism. At the same time the misinterpretation of religion and no respect for other religions, also helps communalism and extremism. We have noticed in the past as well how religions and religious cultures of the world are misused and the ideals of Holy Scriptures of all the faiths misunderstood and distorted, which caused conflicts and animosities among the followers of different faiths in different parts of the world. In recent time, we have noticed how interfaith harmony and tolerance in Bangladesh is weakening within the society thereby creating space for religious fundamentalists and extremists. Unless we address this issue seriously and create an environment of tolerance and acceptance of other religious faiths, we are bound to lose the diverse plurality that we have possessed for centuries.
Referring to the present context where communal harmony is threatened and the spirit of tolerance for and the acceptance of all religious traditions are not respected, a dialogue among religious communities is necessary to avoid confrontation and to establish peace. This dialogue among religions is necessary more than ever before to combat the misunderstanding between religions. In all religious traditions, the normal temptation is to maintain that one's conviction is the only correct one, that one's own religion is the best one and has absolute validity, which means denying the validity of all others. To claim sole possession of truth can be considered a sort of religious arrogance, given that we consider God is one and therefore all his creations are worthy of same respect and dignity. This claim of superiority also causes conflict- therefore to attain peace, one has to accept the plurality of faiths and traditions.
The aim of dialogue is never to criticize any religion or faith but to acknowledge that the mystery and truth of god are endlessly rich and deep which cannot be contained completely but any single religion or spiritual tradition. Dialogues are to be held in such a way where participants should be able to learn from other’s religious experiences and good practices and also shall develop an amount of basic trust in each other, so that one must see the other essentially as good who is trying to be faithful to his or her traditions. This sort of interfaith dialogue can create space for the unity of different faiths, as Swami Vivekanada said, “We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Quran, yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Vedas, the Bible and the Quran.”
If we can achieve such unity among all religious faiths and communities we can combat communalism and extremism and can achieve peace, harmony, we can retain humanity.
A barrister by training, Farzana Begum is the executive director of rights body Bangladesh Manobadhikar O Poribesh Andolon.