“Of the 99 names of Allah, none stands for force and violence…. the first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem”.
These words were a part of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s momentous speech, given on Thursday, during the inauguration of a four-day World Sufi Forum in New Delhi.
“Terrorism divides and destroys us…Those who spread terror in the name of religion are anti-religion,” he said, and termed all those who use Islam for terroristic activities as simply “not being Muslims at all”.
Modi said over 90 countries experienced terrorist attacks last year alone. Parents in 100 countries live with the daily pain of their children lost to the battlefields of Syria. Every year we spend over 100 billion dollar on securing the world from terrorism, money that should have been spend on building lives of the poor.
Modi declared: “Terrorists distort a religion whose cause they profess to support.Let us remember the teaching of the Holy Quran that if anyone slew one innocent person, it would be as if he slew a whole people.”
The All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board founder president Syed Mohammad Ashraf, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, Shaykh Hashimuddin al-Gaylani from Baghdad, Syed Minhaj Ur Rahman from Bangladesh and Dewan Ahmed Masood Chishti from Pakistan, were among more than 200 global religious leaders, scholars and academicians present at this rare historic forum.
The significance of Prime Minister Modi’s words cannot be understated when we consider the current mood of his opponents in India.
A mood which is – partly – of anger, especially from minorities like Muslims and Christians, accusing his government of intolerance towards them.
The appreciation of Islam by Prime Minister Modi is therefore a noteworthy event. It, once again, reflects his extension of a hand of friendship towards the community of Muslims.
Many people have been blaming him for the radicalisation of Hinduism, and condemning him for his ‘unmoved’ silence during a few religious attacks on Muslims.
His political party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is, in fact, more secular than what many people think. And, I feel, the attacks are actually the handiwork of some radical Hindu groups – very loosely allied to BJP – which are sadly giving him and his party a negative image.
Some of these groups seem to have a narrow vision of nationalism – looking mostly from a Hindu perspective – considering anyone who does not share their vision, as “anti-national”.
Prime Minister Modi has now cleared the air once again, on this matter.
“All our people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, the micro-minority of Parsis, believers, non-believers, are an integral part of India”.
By saying these words, he once again highlighted the essence of Indian constitution which gives people of all religions the same freedom – to profess, practise and propagate their beliefs, without fear.
After Modi’s speech Mohammad Babar Ashraf, the organiser of the programme, immediately said, “Indian Muslims have full faith in the Constitution. Whenever we will be called upon, we will rush to serve our country.”
That is a clear indication of the tremendous impact the speech had had on the audience.
“Sufism” may not be mainstream Islam. But this mystical Islamic belief and practice through which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God, has a long history in India.
In fact, over the centuries, ‘Sufism’ embraced free thinkers and people concerned with human development from many cultures throughout history. Several famous poets, scientists and politicians – have been Sufis.
The poems and stories of classical Sufis in the Islamic world, such as those of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Fariduddin Attar were even used by English literary giants like Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Richard Francis Burton.
So, at this World Sufi Forum, when Modi called Sufism “a celebration of diversity and pluralism” it was, needless to say, very well received.
What I particularly liked was the way he talked about Holy Quran’s teaching that “all mankind was one community, and then they differed among themselves” and connected it with the Indian ethos of an abiding belief in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which means “the world is one family”.
It is only when we think of ourselves as global citizens, as one large family, that our yearning for a harmonious cohabitation with people of various faiths becomes possible.
With extensive quotations from great Sufi saints like Amir Khusro, Khawja Moinuddin Chishti, Rumi, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Sheikh Saadi Shirrazi, and Bulleh Shah, his speech was indeed a delight to hear, and an inspiration to follow.
With his enjoyment of listening to Quawwali music from Pakistan, and watching Whirling Dervishes’ dancing from Turkey, and with his appreciation for Islam that embraced diversity and pluralism, he showed yet again the sagacity of a visionary and the acumen of a leader.
(The text and video of speech can be found at: http://www.narendramodi.in/pm-modi-at-the-world-islamic-sufi-conference-in-new-delhi-428276 )