and Netherlands. Moreover, the models of religious peace-building in Northern Ireland, Mozambique, Uganda and Philippines also suggest that religious dispute resolution is an important option or entry point for peace-building. One can argue, however, that those disputes in the area of religious identity were settled in the political arena and therefore it was not precisely interfaith dialogue. Dialogue was perhaps a small component. The inference here would be that interreligious dialogue and dispute resolution can be about other areas of life such as the political, economic and cultural wellbeing of faith communities.
Some incidents show that religious peace-building or dialogue has not worked so well in Pakistan. Yet it is also true that social hostility here has been whipped up by extremism that camouflaged its agenda behind the ideological narrative of the state. The polarised inter-faith and inter-sect relations prove again that sharing religious content does not always mean effective connectivity. Religious traditions also maintain stark differences particularly in their practices.
Yet we can perhaps tackle the constraints in interfaith relations by dialogue if we can spell them out clearly. First, interfaith dialogue is constrained by doctrines developed over centuries that have made each religious tradition irreconcilable easily with the other, despite the fact that different faith groups have lived side by side in relative peace all this time. So the doctrinal baggage has to be either set aside or cured.
Second, the term ‘dialogue between faiths’ literally and ostensibly means dialogue of clerics of different religions which inevitably becomes elitist in practice, carrying a symbolic value. Adopting another name or an angle using common social grounds may be necessary.
Third, not the entire clerical class has stakes in dialogue and good relations. There are clerics and outfits that owe their existence to religious differences and active religious intolerance. These elements can derail dialogue tremendously until the state takes steps to dissipate their negative influence.
Furthermore, dialogue among unequal groups cannot succeed unless their legal, political or social worth is made equal by affirmative action. For instance, by enhancing representation of marginalised groups in dialogue or choosing a neutral meeting place or allowing more time to speak or making special institutions to create balance in public policy and law.
Lastly, interfaith dialogue cannot be alienated from the globalised communication business, but corporate interests do not always regard interfaith relations in the same way. Free thought and expression is exercised sometimes disregarding religious opinions, and they can destabilise peaceful relations unexpectedly. Therefore, a motivational response needs to be offered when the communication business ignores religious sensitivities.
The practitioners of interfaith dialogue expanded it by using a ‘dialogue of life’ approach rather than merely religious dialogue that addresses constraints attached to doctrinal inflexibility. Thus the exchange of the gifts of life can continue between civilisations, cultures and religions putting dogmatic differences or doctrinal baggage aside and using common grounds like democratic governance and human rights.
The Ministry for Religious Affairs is reportedly working on what would be called the federal government’s ‘policy for interfaith harmony’. I wish them every success in this mammoth challenge and recommend that the ministry also map out both the constraints to and enablers of interfaith dialogue.
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