Common Concern

Christians and Muslim Indian join hands to fight bigotry to
Dalits

New Delhi (Ecumenical News International). Defying some perceptions of widening divisions
between Christians and followers of Islam, hundreds of Muslims
have joined a sit-in in the Indian capital organized by Christian
groups fighting discrimination meted out to Dalits, considered by
many in the country still to be “untouchable” citizens. “Give us
equal rights,” shouted the protesters including senior church
leaders and Muslim activists at the sit-in demanding and end to
the discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits. [ENI-07-0193]

The urgent need for good interfaith relations is most clearly demonstrated when there is a community crisis. The “September 11” event, for example, brought religious and political leaders into contact with Muslim communities as never before. The best in these relationships has been drawn upon as other crises have unfolded, the “Bali Bombings”, the “Boxing Day Tsunami” for example.

In quieter but more sustained ways, support for refugees, in the face of inhumane treatment by the Australian Government, has brought many compassionate Australians into contact with people of other religions. Unheralded growth in respect and friendship between people of different faiths continues in the workplace, haphazardly or by intention. Did I notice a hijabed lawyer assisting a Jewish judge recently, as a member of his staff, or was that in a dream? Did I hear of an Indigenous leader establish an “Afghan Room” in her house, as a compassionate gesture toward her hospitality of Afghani refugees?

Those who are sensitve to prejudice and injustice seem to be the ones who are bringing greater interfaith understanding. Whereas I would have expected, seeing we are talking about religious differences, that religious leaders would be at the forefront of developing religious healing and harmony among the different religions per se.

Sensitivity to prejudice and injustice and the motivation to confront it might be expected from those of faith, but not necessarily so. Just as the Howard Government seems to have reduced politics (how we organise our society) to the material and economic, so it seems that much of the vision of religious politics (how religious instituions prioritise and organise) seems to have narrowed to self-preservation.

This is not to discount some outstanding efforts to educate and dialogue among the religions. The initiative by the Muslim and Jewish communities to come together in Adelaide in 2003 as Project Abraham has been very fruitful.
( http://www.eoc.sa.gov.au/public/download.jsp?id=13509& page=/site/eo_resources/publications.jsp ) The project continues nationally, now including the Christians. There has been Jewish-Christian dialogue for many years, through the Council for Christians and Jews. And there have been numerous services, meetings and observances over the last 5 years in particular, where people of other faiths have been invited to share something of their faith. There is nothing quite like face-to-face encounter to transform prejudice and build trust, provided it is done in the right spirit.

It should not be surpising to read the above report from India, seeing people of different faiths have lived side by side for so long, that Christian and Muslim seem to have come together in this way over a common injustice. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to read a report that Australian religious communities have come together to protest a common injustice beyond their own self-interest, the treatment of Indigenous Australians, for example?

Then interfaith dialogue would take a giant leap forward to multifaith action.

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