At a time when a conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran threaten to not only plunge West Asia into a deep turmoil but also let loose economic chaos in the wider world, the Muslim community of the tiny Himalayan region of Ladakh held a conference in Delhi on Saturday titled “Celebrating Diversity in the Muslim World”.
The conference’s main agenda was how to initiate dialogue among Muslims in South Asia at a time when the schism in the community is not only deepening but also posing an existential crisis.
However, what set this meeting apart from others is that the idea for the conference came not from any Muslim community leader, but from the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.
During one of his annual sojourns in Ladakh a couple of years ago, Dalai Lama mooted the idea after seeing the unity displayed by the tiny Muslim population in hilly region.
“Time has come to show to the outside world that there exists harmony among different religions and the same harmony within the Muslim society”, Dalai Lama said in his inaugural address to the conference, which was attended by leading theologians and practitioners of Islam belonging to Shia, Sunni, Ahmadiya and Bohra communities.
The Tibetan leader said that Islam has been integral to the Tibetan culture and his home town in Tibet was an epitome of diversity with many Muslims.
The conference saw the presence of people from other faiths also, besides Muslims from Ladakh. The Himalayan territory has more than 100,000 Muslim population constituting about 52% of the total population of the whole Laddakh district.
“Diversity has devolved within and between religious traditions, to become divergence; divergence to become opposition and opposition to become antagonism.This conference is intended as a small step in swimming against this trend”, says Professor Siddiq Wahid, a prominent Kashmiri scholar and one of the main brains behind organizing the conference.
Wahid, from Ladakh, is the mind behind turning Dalai Lama’s idea into a reality.
“The conference is an effort to build awareness amongst ourselves in Ladakh and to initiate a dialogue on the importance of recognizing it amongst Muslims in our state and the country,” says Wahid.
He hopes that “in time, this dialogue can be expanded beyond South Asia to include the Middle East, where Islam was born, West Asia and Central Asia”.
Participating in the discussion, Maulana Abdul Qadir Nooruddin, a Bohra community cleric, said that “there should not only be internal tolerance among Muslim community but also with other religions”.
Shia cleric Maulana Syed Ali Naqavi said that Muslims in the modern world have deviated from the teachings of Islam which says that Muslim have been created to help others, not themselves.
“Jehad is lighting the candle in the darkness, but today, in the name of Jehad, all wrongs are being committed by Muslims”, says Naqavi.
He said that “a non-Muslim is telling us that Muslims should should not fight among themselves”.
Maulana Mahmoud Madani, secretary of Jamiat Ulamma I Hind, said that “the conflict taking place anywhere in the world is not because of religion, but because of politics”,
The organizers said that this is not a one-off event, but a long-term project. Next year’s conference will be organized in Jordan.