Purpose Statement by Azeem
Oh you people! Surely we have created you from a man and a woman and made you peoples and tribes, so that you might come to know one another
Qur’an Surah al-Hujurat 49:13 (trans. by Shaykh Noorudeen Durkee)
We belong to the same parents,
Then why this difference?
Let the Hindus and Muslims worship God alone.
We came to this world like partners.
We should have shared our joys and sorrows together.
Nooruddin Wali (Nund Rishi) of Kashmir
This blog emerged quite spontaneously from my longtime friendship with Ravi, someone I have always considered a dear spiritual brother. Is it so peculiar for a devout Muslim and a devout Hindu to connect through their religions? We have never felt strange about sharing and encouraging each other in our spiritual paths, nor have we felt that this has compromised our adherence to Hinduism or Islam. We are both unapologetically devoted to our religions, yet open to truth and wisdom in whatever forms it may come. Given the exclusivist, supremacist language heard from certain Hindu and Muslim quarters, to many what our friendship represents, and what we intend now to embark upon, may appear as a deluded endeavor. As both a gesture of religious unity, and as a force to counter divisive rhetoric and violence, there is a pressing need for people of all faiths to step outside of their comfort zones and challenge preconceptions about the religious “other”.
Without claiming to speak for Islam (an impossibility given the rich diversity within the faith), I can say without hesitation that Islam propels me to connect deeply with all humanity without discrimination. As in the Qur’anic verse quoted above, we are charged with “knowing” those around us. There is a mysterious wisdom in the fact that the Divine created diversity on this earth, and that instead of closing our minds and hearts to other communities, we are told to get to know them-not simply superficially tolerate them while holding onto prejudices and misunderstandings. In the second quote listed above, the famous Kashmiri Muslim Nund Rishi expands on this same theme, bringing the Qur’anic passage into a South Asian context. Hindus and Muslims are siblings both materially and spiritually, as both our humanity and souls are inexpiably connected. Both also deal with the same challenges, struggling and finding joy in the complexity of our lives. Unfortunately, many have instead taken the destructive route of only speaking of differences, and dehumanizing those from the other community.
We are genuinely troubled by the fact that the most visible voices in both modern Hinduism and Islam are often the most ignorant, divisive and arrogant. There is an urgency for other voices to emerge to create an alternative to the rising level of fundamentalism across the world. Though we do not claim to represent our faiths in total, or speak as religious leaders, we do hope that adding our voices to the fray together might serve as an antidote to those that think Islam and Hinduism are so inextricably separate, almost opposite in orientation. The history of religious interaction has been far more complex than the skewed scholarship offered by fundamentalists and orientalists alike. There have been examples historically of Hindu-Muslim interaction at a very profound level, most notably in the meeting of various strands of the Bhakti and Sufi traditions exemplified in a figure such as Kabir. We do not mean to romanticize South Asian history, but it is a simplistic notion that all its problems can be reduced down to religious conflict without understanding other social factors. History aside, our approach will be largely highlighting our own interpretations of common religious notions and practices found in both Hinduism and Islam, highlighting that which bonds us together.
This blog is not intended to be an exercise in superficial inter-faith dialogue. The goal of creating this space to bring together these great faiths is not to neatly state our own view and move on, but to be challenged and to learn with an open mind. There is no contest to find out who is “right”, and there is absolutely no covert intention at converting anyone to another faith. We both begin at the point of respect and sincerity and only from there do we venture onto this path into the unknown. In the end any serious differences between our faiths must be understood as differences created by the Divine. And of course there will be a healthy amount of disagreement to some degree.
Peeling away points of divergence, more often than not, especially when it comes to acts of devotion and calls to enact social justice in the world, Islam and Hinduism are in agreement. Both faiths are centered on uplifting the poor, standing with the marginalized and loving all lives as our own. At times such as the one we live in there is a pressing need to put aside prejudices, no matter how deep seated they are, and find a way to live in harmony. A wise Muslim elder in my community outside of Chicago once rightly told me that tolerance is not enough. Tolerating someone means that inwardly you do not really care for him or her, but are grudgingly showing some sort of acceptance. Instead, he told me that it is a time for love that does not know any boundaries. This blog was created not to promote tolerance but to spread genuine love.