The senseless carnage in Mumbai by terrorists hit me very hard. Mumbai is where I spent the first 22 years of my life. My school and college education was completed in Mumbai. My friends and relatives are all from Mumbai. Although I have been living in San Francisco Bay Area for the past 40 years, my love for Mumbai is still strong. I cannot come to terms with the carnage that devastated those very areas which were my favorite spots for recreation.
Hardly had my wounds healed when the news of Israeli war on Gaza became the front-page news in all newspapers. TV and the Internet were full of gruesome images of bloodshed of innocent people. All this further sickened me to my stomach.
In both cases Muslims were involved. In Mumbai, Muslim terrorists were the aggressors who brought on the carnage, and in Gaza, Muslims were the ones subjected to untold miseries because of war being unleashed by Israel.
The Israelis call it a defensive war and the world says it is an aggressive war with an overkill strategy.
My faith as a Muslim has been shaken to the core. I begin to question what is wrong with us. I feel a sense of guilt because I am also a Muslim. A sense of helplessness and grief has overtaken me and I have begun to lose faith in humanity. There is a sense of depression at the news of killing innocent people, especially women and children, getting targeted by the most sophisticated modern weaponry.
Suddenly I wake up at night, “Oh God, why did you give me birth? I did not ask to be born to see all this misery. Where are you, God? Why are you so silent about all this? I do not get any answer and the nights become more and more restless.
Wars and terrorism has taken on a more religious bend. Why is it that Muslims are involved in most of the conflicts that are happening in the world today?
I am reminded of the words of German theologian Hans Kung who said, “There will be no peace among nations without peace among the religions, and there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.”
This is what I firmly believe should be part of the global values and ethics. Dialogue among religions is a must.
The Indian Jain community is working exactly on these lines of communication, and in November 2008 they hosted an international conference, “Peace and Nonviolence.” They invited religious leaders from all over the world to participate in finding solutions to the stop the violence that has engulfed the world. We dined, talked, sang, and shared ideas with each other. The atmosphere was friendly, loving, and caring.
I would like to share with you some of the best ideas that came out of the conference:
1) Greed and lust for power are fed on the exploitation of humans and natural resources where maximization of profits is the sole aim of capitalism. This lust for power and money has no limits. It leads to wars and the control of human beings and resources to gain power.
2) An increase of awareness is needed so that people will question all philosophies that aim to destroy the natural life cycles of any organism.
3) Countries that are economically prosperous need to adopt nonviolent and life-sustaining economies in which desires are limited; and a philosophy of humanity and global ethics should be taught in all religious seminaries.
4) Every nation should aim to provide the basic necessities for its citizens. That means it must work to strengthen the family unit and provide food, clothing, and homes for its citizens.
5) Every nation must commit itself to solving crises through nonviolence, and deemphasize a war culture in which life is held in low esteem.
6) Terrorism and extremism are born out of desperation and deprivation of basic human rights. All nations should uphold human rights by adhering to the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.
I think the 21st century has to be about change—change in our thinking, change in our religious education, and change in the philosophy of glorifying simple living—not unbridled lust for power and consumerism.
Iftekhar Hai is president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance. He resides in South San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.