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Who Should Read the Work and Why?

    The present work is addressed to all those who desire to build bridges between minds and hearts that really care for unity in diversity and diversity in unity (in an equal measure) and also care to be sure of their facts before they venture to judge themselves or others.  

    The origin, growth and end of any living organism and the cosmos as such is shrouded in mystery. When human consciousness dawns, experience and reason grow, and the thirst for knowledge and for love and immortality emerge. But when, how and why does all this happen? This is the inscrutable mystery that is as baffling today in the age of space travel and the computer as it ever was in the past millennia. One core function of all religions is to quench (as far as possible) the human thirst for the one true answer to the enigma of life and death in order to overcome the existential human anxiety and uncertainty of the future embedded in the depths of consciousness in the face of the immense vastness of the cosmos.

A religion remains alive only as long as it fulfills the above need. The moment the ‘answer to the enigma’ the religious tradition provides loses on its ‘existential appeal’ or its power of assurance and consolation to the believer it begins to decline, even though its votaries may continue, by sheer force of convention and habit, to use the same old words and observe the same rituals. As is well known, the major religious traditions of the human family well performed and still do (in varying degrees) the above function. However, due to the immense power of ever growing technology, votaries of different religions have to jostle with each other in multi-cultural work places and societies all enmeshed in a global economic system. The ancient and medieval separation of different cultures and religions has almost become a fairy tale.

The needs and demands of the present multi-cultural sovereign states are now powerfully motivating the relatively, more aware believers, to distill the essential core of their faith from the total historical mix of secondary beliefs, myths, and customs of their respective groups. The objective is to reach the core of the faith and the spiritual and moral values of the tradition and to make them the focus of the believer’s loyalty and adherence instead of his having to carry the entire baggage or social cultural ‘padding’ of one’s tradition. This gives hitherto, adversarial groups the democratic freedom to forge a consensus on secondary issues - social, economic, cultural, and to enjoy equal rights and opportunities and yet preserve their religious and cultural identity in a mixed free society.

The progress is slow due to the clash of vested interests of different groups. Meanwhile (in the case of Muslims) the conventional insistence of the Islamic scholar jurists that Islam is a complete code of conduct binding on the believer in every sphere of life, together with their great pride in their glorious past, pushes them into an increasing concern for preserving outward symbols of dress, ‘halaal’ food and the horror of inter- marriage. However, to my mind, the invisible deeper concern to reach the essential core of one’s spiritual and cultural values would gradually outweigh and marginalize the current concern for outward symbols. Different wings of the human family are bound to get better acquainted with the essential sameness of each other and come to realize that tensions and conflicts in the past (as well as present) were caused more by the struggle for power and control over natural resources rather than by matters of creed or faith. This crucial insight brings about a momentous change in the human situation.

The emergence of the so-called Islamic terrorism is an understandable negative response of some well organized and well funded activists of the larger bewildered Muslim world that finds itself out-distanced and marginalized. Western Realpolitik even at the highest level at the UN makes them apprehensive rather than optimistic about their future. The enormous economic and military superiority of North America to the rest of the world does not allow any other nation or group of nations to challenge America’s presently rather one-sided perception of the international situation and its strategy to usher in a new world order under its hegemony. However, behind the blood and tears of an agonized Asia and Africa the process of slow learning through suffering is going on both in the downtrodden East and the affluent West. A new more equitable balance of power and a new inter-faith movement is being born. No territorial nation and no religious community may presume that it is Divinely destined to preside over humanity for ever.

Through the travails of the ongoing terrorist violence and counter-violence the soil is being prepared wherein the peoples of the East and the West, the North and the South, irrespective of religious ideology, are waking to the sordid facts of Realpolitik down the ages. The heat and dust raised by the ‘will to power’ almost always blocks the vision of the participants and their supporters. This is how a substantial section of Muslims even today are hardly able to see and admire the genuine and enduring ideals of the modern West – free enquiry, spiritual autonomy with inner responsibility, freedom of expression and of association, tolerance of dissent, gender equality, cultural pluralism, affirmative action without appeasement, international cooperation without hegemony, and so on. This is also how a section of Jews are unable to admire the prolonged Jewish-Arab cultural efflorescence and fraternity in southern Europe and north Africa for centuries past. This is also how a very large number of modern Christians and other non-Muslims lack the faintest idea of the magnificent contribution of medieval Islam, in its creative period, to world culture. But how long can continue the mutual alienation between the East and West? The death cry of a near collapsing natural environment due to spiraling industrial pollution and irresponsible consumerism has begun to blast the illusion of permanent security and superiority of one tribe, nation or religion to the other.

The present affluent overlords of the earth can no longer pretend that all is well at the banquet table and the wine and music will ever go on if they just distribute some cake and coke among the deprived quarters of the old world. No serious and informed well-wisher of the human family can evade the truth that if humans are to survive there must be genuine and total international cooperation and inter-religious understanding (at all levels in all quarters) to resolve all contentious issues between different wings of the human family. Due to obvious reasons North America is, indeed, well qualified to play a responsible leadership role in this tremendous task. But it would be disastrous if the leader behaves like a boss, not only towards developing Asian and African countries but even while dealing with Britain and the ‘old’ Europe. Is not the ‘new world’ the progeny of the ‘old world’, and shall not the young respect the old, and the old admire the young and find themselves renewed in the great chain of being and loving and serving some inscrutable Reality that is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden (according to the Quran)?

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