Prof. Andrea Riccardi, distinguished representatives of various faiths on the dais, esteemed participants in this conference, sisters and brothers,
It is an honour for me to be representing the Hindu faith in this inaugural session. I sincerely thank the Community of Sant’Egidio for this invitation.
I come from India, a land that respects, accepts and celebrates diversity of faiths.
My faith is Hinduism. The Vedas and Upanishads, which are the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism, teach us that the entire world is one common family – ‘VasudhaivaKutumbakam’.
This is because of our belief that our Creator, God Almighty, is One.
He is the Creator of all of us, irrespective of our race, religion, color, language and geography on this beautiful and bountiful planet, which is our common home.
Not only is the Creator One, but the Creator’s Law or Truth that governs this universe is also One.
The natural laws of science do not change from one country to another.
Similarly, the basic spiritual laws of mankind also do not change from one faith community to another.
This has been the timeless teaching of India’s ancient sages in Sanskrit: ‘Ekam Sat ViprahBahudhaVadanti’.
It means that “Truth is One. Wise people interpret it differently.”
In the human realm, to obey Truth is to follow the path of non-violence – non-violence in our emotions, thoughts, words and deeds.
Non-violence, love, care, compassion, cooperation and sacrifice, respect for diversity, promotion of harmony through diversity, equal value for every human life, and the essential oneness of mankind - these are commandments of God’s Law as articulated and taught to us by prophets, saints and sages from all around the world, from time to time.
In its long and intimate interaction with other faiths and cultures over several thousand years, Hinduism has influenced other faiths.
In turn, Hinduism has gladly welcomed the influence of other faiths on itself.
And this is how Indian civilisation has grown and blossomed, integrating various faiths and cultures within its warm and welcoming embrace.
Therefore, inter-faith dialogue and cooperation for the betterment of the human condition anywhere and everywhere in the world is a commandment for every true Hindu, and every true Indian.
Sisters and brothers,
Not that the various faith communities in India have always remained faithful to the fundamental ideals and values of our civilisation.
The Indian subcontinent has suffered many tragedies in the past, and is witnessing some at present, too.
Some of us have been making strenuous efforts aimed at harmonisation of relations among Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other faiths.
We have also been engaged in efforts aimed at normalisation of relations among India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other countries in the so-called family of SAARC or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
In terms of population, the South Asian subcontinent is the largest in the worldunited by a diverse and yet common civilisation. It is home to nearly 1.7 billion people.
We are also working towards peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations between India and our northern neighbor China.
By transforming itself into a zone of peace and progress for all, India and the rest of South Asia can make a huge contribution to a positive transformation of the entire world in the 21st century.
In this difficult effort, we would like to seek the cooperation of the Community of Sant’Egidio and other such organisations dedicated to inter-faith dialogue and conflict-resolution.
Esteemed participants in this conference,
Many of us had assembled in Antwerp last year.
The inter-faith meet in 2014 was special. It marked the 100 years of the beginning of World War I.
Our declaration had stated that mankind must never again witness what the 20th century witnessed in the form of two horrific World Wars.
How does the world look like now? In 2015?
Sadly, the international community has not learnt the right lessons.
QurratulainHyder, a renowned literary figure from India, once wrote:
“History is the name of mankind’s endless inability to learn lessons from the past.”
These words sound hauntingly true when we look at the deadly civil wars currently taking place in four Middle-Eastern countries – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
The effects of these wars are not limited to the countries ravaged by conflict.
The influx of refugees into Europe could produce the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the two World Wars.
But this is not the only crisis.
ISIS, which threatens to create an Islamic State all over the world, is committing a genocide on Muslims, Christians, other minorities and indeed on the priceless cultural-archeological heritage of the Middle-East.
The rest of the world is watching these crises helplessly.
When big powers play the cynical game of expanding and retaining their exclusive spheres of interest, they do so at the cost of the hapless and helpless people.
If the flames of these crises are not doused immediately through effective and cooperative international action, the fires will surely spread to other parts of the Middle-East, North Africa, Europe and even South Asia.
Therefore, our conference must lend its voice to the global outcry for an immediate end to the civil wars and other conflicts in the region.
I would also like to emphasise that the Muslim communities around the world should become more unitedly vocal and active in condemning and countering acts of extremism and terrorism being committed in the name of Islam.
Since Islam is indeed a religion of peace and universal brotherhood, Muslim religious leaders should reject the ideology of ISIS and other such groups from a sound theological perspective.
Those who indulge in mass killings must be deprived of the legitimacy of Islam for their crimes against humanity.
I should mention here one such courageous and commendable effort.
Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, a renowned Islamic scholar from Pakistan, has recently launched an Islamic Curriculum for Peace and Counter-Terrorism.
Five years ago, he had published a comprehensive Fatwa Against Terrorism and Suicide Bombings.
I have been working closely with Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri and his followers in India in spreading the true understanding about Islam.
My dear friends,
There is yet another genocide going on in our world, and it is not limited to ISIS or to the Middle-East.
It is the invisible genocidal violence that man is inflicting on Mother Nature in the reckless pursuit of the dogma of limitless economic growth and material prosperity.
The victims of this genocide – animals, plants and micro-organisms -- cannot become migrants and refugees like the Syrian refugees. Their plight does not become BREAKING NEWS on the global media.
Nevertheless, Mother Nature is reminding us that man has to pay the price for his violent behavior.
And mankind is indeed paying the price in so many ways – global warming, unpredictable changes in climate, natural disasters, etc.
Why is man’s violence against Mother Nature boomeranging on him?
Because, in the evolutionary journey of the Cosmos, God had created just the right conditions of gravitational force, temperature and water for life to be born and for life to evolve into multiple species of the higher order.
But when God created the species of the highest order, that is the human species, He also commanded that the strong among human beings should protect and care for the weak among his own species.
God also commanded human beings to realise that the resources of Nature are not for man’s exclusive, excessive and indiscriminate use.
The current paradigm of economic growth in almost all countries of the world completely runs counter to the warning sounded by Mahatma Gandhi, who said:
“Mother Nature has enough to satisfy every human being’s need, but not everyone’s greed.”
Here I would like to quote a few lines from an essay by Joseph Prabhu, a Professor of Philosophy at the California State University, Los Angeles.
"The modern form of homo sapiens emerged in the last 200,000 years. Human history has to be placed within the 14 billion years of the universe’s existence and the 4.5 billion years of the earth’s existence. Modern industrial civilization is a mere two hundred or so years old, and yet has managed to destroy in that short interval many of the life forms and much of the bio-diversity built up over the life span of the universe.”
Prof. Prabhu wrote this essay in response to a recent landmark initiative by His Holiness Pope Francis, who issued a 40,000-word Encyclical in May this year.
Through this Encyclical, instructively titled ‘On Care for Our Common Home’, the Pope has appealed to the collective conscience of the global economic and political elite to “integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”.
By cautioning against the clear and present danger of violence and mutual destruction, and by making a compelling case for a pro-poor and low-carbon reorientation of the global economy, the Pope has set the agenda for the crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris this December.
Our meeting here in Tirana should strongly endorse the Pope’s Encyclicaland urge world leaders to reach a new agreement aimed at stopping and reversing ecological destruction.
I would like to mention here that, in November,some of us in India are going to organise an Inter-Faith Conference on the Pope’s Encyclical ahead of the UN conference in Paris. With our common declaration, we hope to influence, at least, the Indian position on climate change.
I suggest that the Tirana meeting should call for similar inter-faith declarations on climate change to be issued from around the world.
Sisters and brothers,
What is the root of all the problems, conflicts and crises that we see around the world – in the past and also at present?
Why is it that the virus of violence is refusing to go away?
Why is this virus of violence proving to be immune to any effort, however strenuous and determined, to neutraliseit?
We should ponder over this question seriously.
The reason for this is not that the human species is doomed and destined to self-destruction, along with the destruction of other species of life.
Rather, in my limited and humble understanding, the reason lies in the failure of individuals, institutions, organisations, communities, nations and mankind as a whole to follow God’s Law.
It is a Law enacted and enforced by our Creator, and conveyed to us by all our religions.
Whenever mankind has heeded and acted as per the ethics of this Divine Law, it has made progress and reaped the rich fruits of peace.
But mankind has invariably suffered whenever any section of it has violated this Divine Law and fallen prey to injustice, intolerance, bigotry, exclusivism, extremism, greed, selfishness, exploitation and violent oppression of man by man.
Mankind has also suffered invariably whenever the existence of God was denied, and arrogant atheism was made state policy.
Albania under the long rule of communism and seclusion is a sobering example.
Therefore, all of us who have gathered here in Tirana, should pledge, once again, to work towards a re-awakening of mankind on the basis of the spiritual wisdom contained in all the religions and humanistic cultural traditions of the world.
Let us also pledge to work together, more strongly and sincerely than ever before.
In doing so, let us heed the profound advice of Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!
Peace on Earth.
Peace in the Universe.
Above all, Peace in our hearts.