In these troubled times, it is not often that a news story lifts the heart but when I read about the Aman ki Asha quest for peace between India and Pakistan I felt that there was new hope for our world. This grassroots movement, which seeks to change the conversation, get beneath the discourse of politics, finance and self-interest and break through the barriers to a long and lasting peace, is in touch with some of the deepest needs and currents of our age, because unless we learn to live together, we are unlikely to have a viable world to hand on to the next generation. The authors of this initiative are to be congratulated for their courage and vision.
If any truth has emerged during the first decade of the 21st century, it is that we cannot live without the other. Even though the world is so dangerously polarised, we are bound together more closely than ever before - financially, politically, economically and electronically. If stocks plummet in one country, there is a domino effect throughout the world. What happens in Iraq or Gaza today is likely to have repercussions in London or New York tomorrow. And India and Pakistan, two halves of a single whole, are profoundly affected by each other. What happens between them will affect the future of the world. It is also true that we British, who presided over the partition of India, must always carry a large measure of responsibility for the tragic conflict that has ensued and are involved in it.
Unless we learn to appreciate our profound interdependence, we will fail the test of our time. The authors of the Aman Ki Asha initiative have understood this. They are right to point to the teachings of the Sufis and the Bhakts, who insisted on the importance of love and inclusion. Whatever our beliefs, we need a spiritual revolution that emphasises the importance of compassion, the ability to experience with the other and put ourselves reflexively into one another's shoes, if we are to build a just and equal society, where all peoples can live together in harmony and respect.
As a religious historian, I have been struck by the fact that every single one of the major world faiths has developed its own version of what has sometimes been called the Golden Rule - always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself - and has insisted that this is the test of true spirituality and will bring us into relationship with the ultimate. It summons us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then to refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict this pain upon anybody else. They have also pointed out that it is not sufficient to confine our benevolence to our own ethnic, national or ideological group - we have to honour the stranger, love even our enemies, and reach out to all tribes and nations.
The fact that the great traditions, working quite independently of one another, have all placed the compassionate ethos at the core of faith tells us something very important about the nature and structure of our humanity. This is how human beings work. The practice of compassion cannot simply be a matter of transient feeling or emotional bonhomie. It is a principled determination to make a space for the other in our minds and hearts - not just on an occasional basis but "all day and every day," as Confucius prescribed. Compassion practised in this way enables us to break out of the prism of the personal and national egotism that impedes our development and experience the transcendence that we call God, Nirvana, Brahman or Dao.
The authors of Aman ki Asha have understood that it is no use waiting for the politicians and leaders to act; ordinary men, women and children must make their wishes known. In rather the same way, the Charter for Compassion, which we launched in November last year, is a grassroots, global movement that seeks to restore compassion and disciplined empathy to the centre of spiritual, religious and ethical life. The Charter was composed by hundreds of thousands of people on line on a multi-lingual website and drafted by a team of men and women from six major world faiths. In a time when the religions seem to be at loggerheads, the Charter is an expression of religious cooperation. You can read and affirm the Charter at www.charterforcompassion.org.
If there is anything that those of us who are working for the Charter can do to help and encourage Aman ki Asha, please let us know. It seems to me that we have a great deal in common, as we work to overcome the barriers that divide us from one another, to cross the borders that we erect in our minds and hearts, and learn to appreciate our deep and inescapable interdependence.
It may be that the Charter and Aman ki Asha are just two expressions of a profound, subterranean shift in the consciousness of our time.
The first decade of the 21st century has been one of war, enmity and violence - and India and Pakistan have both been in the eye of the storm. It seems that so many of our policies - environmental, political, and financial - are no longer sustainable. Of course the obstacles to a peaceful world - and to peaceful relations between India and Pakistan - are immense. But we have the power to take our destiny into our own hands, work together energetically for the wellbeing of our neighbours, and counter the despairing egotism that is rife all over the world. Many of us have experienced the power of compassion in our own lives. We know how a single act of kindness can turn a life around. History also shows that the dedicated action of just a few individuals, often decried by their contemporaries as impractical dreamers, can make all the difference. In a world that seems so often to be spinning out of control, we need such action now.
Well known religious historian Karen Armstrong is the author of over 20 books on the commonalities of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. She sees fundamentalism in a historical context, as an outgrowth of modern culture. Huffingtonpost.com has selected her as one of the ten most influential leaders in the world of religion in 2010.
Saturday, January 01, 2011
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Ashfaq Husain is a Canadian national of Pakistani origin and is considered an authority on Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Essentially a poet who migrated from P .....more
Every war is followed by hopes of peace. Aman ki Asha is an effort for peace that provides such a hope, that will help ease tensions an .....more
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw