Recently a friend of mine lost her mother. The ‘chautha’ meeting was atypical of a Hindu-family prayer meeting.
There was a Muslim muezzin, a Sikh granthi, a Hindu bhajan singer and a Catholic priest, each of whom delivered a beautiful chant and sermon to honor the dead.
It was the most heartwarming and beautiful prayer meeting I had ever been to.
And it got me thinking: Where else in the world but in India would one see this? Four religious sermons in one place in one hour–each sung to a different God but each reminding us of this little wonder that brings us all together –life.
Can something like this not be done at the disputed site of the Ram temple and the Babri Masjid? Instead of fighting over which religion has the right to display its dominance is it not possible to build a non-denominational multi-ethnic center for people of all faiths?
A site dedicated to humanity instead of religion–a multicultural, multi-faith center that truly represents India, a country that will never have the discipline of the Japanese, nor the GDP of the US, or the work ethic of the Germans. But a country like no other, unique in human history because of its religious diversity.
India is the only country that has the spiritual intellect of the Hindus, the artistic skills of the Muslims, the gallantry of the Sikhs, the serenity of the Buddhists, the dynamism of the Parsis, the nonviolence of the Jains, and the sacrifice of the Christians.
And it this diversity that is India, and it is this that we must celebrate at the disputed site.
And what better way to do this than by building a nondenominational center at the site of the Ram Mandir and Babri Masjid. A monument that proudly says: It does not matter who your God, or what your religious book, it matters only that you come here as people of faith.
Let us build a monument to humanity instead of a temple for Ram or a masjid for Mohammed. Would Ram ever have denied Mohammed a place to find peace in his temple? Or would Mohammed ever have denied Ram a place to meditate in his masjid?
Clearly not. Religion is a force of positive change. But it is us humans who have distorted the message of peace, equality, and tolerance that these men so arduously preached. And sadly, it is us humans that proselytize ignorance in the name of religion.
If ever India is to find its place in the nations of the world it will not be for its Swacch Bharat or Make in India. This country will never be as clean as Sweden or chic as France, or as universally educated as Denmark, or powerful as American. India’s place in the league of nations will be that of a beacon of religious tolerance.
And the best way to symbolize that is by building the largest multi-faith center in the world where free men of all religions can come in peace and pursue whatever faith that brings them this peace. Let India show the world that a place where Ram was worshipped as devoutly as Allah is now a place where all faiths are welcome.
We live in an interconnected world dominated by economic problems and conflicts. It is vital, therefore, that at this critical time in the history of humanity that differences in belief systems not contribute to even more problems. And so the question arises: How can we avoid disputes, conflicts, and misunderstandings that arise because of different belief systems?
The basis for religious harmony is education and knowledge about each other’s beliefs. And that is precisely the role this center could play by bringing in the leading spiritual leaders of the world –people of faith like the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Iman, the supreme Rabbi, and Sadhguru, to dispel ignorance about each other’s beliefs. Because without this knowledge our beliefs can easily denigrate into what is often referred to as a “ football team” mentality in which our football team is better than others and we must win at all cost. This is the belief that “my religion is the best and we are better than others.”
The Dalai Lama was once asked, “ What is the best religion?”, to which he replied, “ The best religion in the world is the one that helps you become a kinder person.” It is not hard to imagine what a profound effect a discourse like this at the multifaith center would have on the people present. Imagine the Pope telling people that despite our different religious beliefs there are a set of basic human values that we all share. These values are based on the recognition that we are all equal, that everyone wants to be happy, and that we all have pride in our background and culture that can exist separately from our respect for each other.
Too much blood has already been shed in the name of religion. Making a Ram mandir or a Babri Masjid will only deepen the “ football team” mentality and needlessly aggravate conflict.
Building the world’s largest non-denominational multicultural and multi-faith center on the “ disputed land” would be the most logical and human thing to do. It would be India’s most enduring contribution to the world.