By Syed Ali Mujtaba
n the context of Islam and inter-faith dialogue, there are three categories of people to deal with. First, are those who have the will and inclination to understand the fundamentals of Islamic faith. This category of people tries to read, learn and understand about Islam through various means. They buy books, magazine and talk to Muslim friends and improve their knowledge about Islam. In the age of internet their task has become easier as they can browse the websites on Islam and even hold inter-active sessions there to clarify their doubts.
The second category of people is those who have an allergy towards Islam. They have a closed mind, have fixed opinion about it, do not entertain invitations to know about it and nor do they not want to listen anything positive about this faith.
The third category of people is blank about Islam. Since positive voices of this religion hardly reach them, they are influenced by anti-Islamic propaganda and fall prey to many misconceptions about Islam. Though they have a non-friendly attitude but are open to positive ideas and thoughts of Islam.
The challenge before those working towards inter-faith dialogue between Islam and other religions in India is to engage all the three categories of people and reach out to them with the message of humanity and peaceful coexistence.
An Islamic academy in Karnataka’s Bhatkal district has taken a lead in this direction and is trying to reach out to people with the intention of starting an inter-faith dialogue between Islam and other religions. The academy has various projects running very successfully and their initiative needs to be emulated not only in other parts of the country but also other faiths too can a lesson or two from them.
The academy conducts regular college-level essay competitions, where students of non-Islamic faith are asked to write an essay on ‘Islam, a religion of peace’ and other such themes. It gives prizes to the three best essays of ` 50,000, ` 25,000 and ` 15,000 respectively. This competition is currently being conducted in Karnataka, Kerala, UP, Jharkhand and Bihar.
In the last competition it held, the academy received around 7000 entries. Some of the essays reflected deep understanding of Islam and quoted various Islamic sources to reflect their reading on Islam. The essays surprised the organisers as the articles forcefully articulated Islam as a religion of peace. Although the participants were asked to write a maximum ten-page essay, some of the participants wrote over 150 pages!
Seeing the success rate, the academy feels that this could be one of the many ways forward to promote inter-faith dialogue between Islam and other religions along-with reducing the misconceptions about this faith. By regularly changing the essays’ themes, the academy has set a target of 50,000 entries and plans to double the cash prize thereby reaching out to people all over the country.
Besides, the academy also prepares booklets based on stories from the Holy Quran that teach moral values. One such leaflet is based on stories of Abraham entitled ‘cold fire.’ It talks about how Abraham led a virtuous and pious life. Another is about Yusuf’s wonderful dreams. According to the Quran, Yusuf was a dream teller who used to interpret dreams and tell the people their future. The third booklet is about Noah Ark’s impossible voyage.
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