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Forgiveness the key to end strife

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    Forgiveness the key to end strife

    Forgiveness the key to end strife
    ANDREAS D'Souza has seen enough to reach within himself to make becoming a peace broker his compelling mission in life.
    D'Souza, director of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderabad, India, was witness to sectarian Hindu-Muslim violence in 1990.

    Etched indelibly in his mind is the scene at the hospital. "It was like a battlefield with the dead, dying and badly injured everywhere."

    He saw a three-year old boy swathed in bandages from head to toe. Masked men had entered the child's home and killed his parents. He was then grabbed by his ankles, thrown against the wall and left for dead.

    He also saw an 80-year-old man brought in by his three sons. His stomach had been sliced open but there was nothing anybody could do as he was already dead.

    One of the sons, overcome with grief and anger, sought to assault a woman volunteer helper perceived to be from the opposing side.

    It took six jawans (policemen) to restrain him.

    The whole scene showed to what level humans could descend. The saving grace was it served to bring out the best in others.

    Armed with curfew passes D'Souza led a group of volunteers to help the poor most hit by the curfew that had been imposed in the old quarter of the city separated by a river.

    However, they were stopped by soldiers from going across. The soldiers said they could not guarantee safety.

    D'Souza looked at his volunteers and one of them said: "It is all right for us to die because there are so many dying."

    To him it was the "boldest statement to come from a group who had broken out of their "boxes" of Muslim, Christian and Hindu faiths they had grown accustomed to and operated from. The soldiers let them through.

    Once in the "old" city danger came, not from crazed men (the curfew forced them to stay indoors), but the crush of women who were allowed to emerge to collect whatever supplies of food they could get from the volunteers.

    As they made their retreat after running out of supplies they came to face with thousands of children. It was heartrending not being able to give them anything.

    When the authorities began to gain control and restore an uneasy calm, D'Souza and his volunteers sought to heal the wounds.

    They tried to bring the warring factions together through prayer meetings and exhortations for them to forgive and forget.

    "But in the immediate aftermath, to speak about healing and reconciliation, it is so difficult."

    One distraught woman who had lost her son asked: "With whom shall I reconcile?"

    But struggle they did. They now have a women"s centre (half Hindu, half Muslim) to empower women for controlling their home environment.

    A school has also been set up to teach languages (Urdu and Telugu) and culture for better communication and understanding. Technical training to impart skills for earning a living is also being undertaken.

    Children are being instilled with a sense of acceptance, cleanliness and Godliness.

    "The ultimate purpose is to bring the two communities together."

    Heart-warming stories have emerged. A Hindu girl expressed her desire to learn Urdu. Why? "Muslim sisters are learning my language (Telegu) and I want to learn theirs."

    It is a slow, painstaking process but success in the enclave of Sultan Shah, one of 600 slums in the area, has given encouragement for spreading the mood to other cities facing the same sectarian difficulties, such as in Bihar and Orissa.

    The Henry Martyn Institute set up in the 1930s to spearhead Christian evangelism and conversions has changed course.

    It now focuses on inter-faith promotion that rises above religiosity and dwells on the spirituality within to bring about acceptance of God.

    The institute had six people in 1990, today it has 36, of which two- thirds are Hindus and Muslims.

    Reconciliation is the word to bring together people estranged by the reality of the have and the have-nots and the politics of divide and rule.

    "It is about deep peace, not the superficial kind. The basis of real peace is to be found in spirituality or the spirit of God.

    "Basis of reconciliation is realising that my God is your God and your God is my God," said D'Souza at a talk organised by Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship (Insaf) recently at the Pure Life Society in Kuala Lumpur.

    Reason for the enmity, he said, is the "violence within each and everyone of us". How often have we taken our anger and frustrations on the people nearest us, the people we love?"

    It is be seen on the roads, in the way we react when another motorist does something we don't approve of.

    We have to control the violence within us, only then will we be able to control violence in the home and in society as a whole.

    Anger and violence is like a stone thrown into a quiet lake. It causes ripples in ever widening circles.

    Transformation of relations and structures are far from easy. In India, the caste system is deeply entrenched that rooting it out has been slow and painful.

    Oppressors need our compassion as well. Forgiveness is the key, easy to say but difficult to practise.

    But hope springs eternal in the hearts of the likes of D'Souza, whose speciality is modern Islamic thought, Christian-Muslim relations, philosophy and theology.

    He represents the positive reaction to the pits humanity seems to be descending, often in the name of religion.

    But violence begets violence and it can only end when the cycle is broken through forgiveness and reconciliation.

    The point unmistakably made: The healing has to begin within each and every one, no matter who, if sanity is to prevail.

    Dear Mohabbat,


    More is needed to bridge the differences, but orgs like this institute are setting precedent for others to follow. In Pakistan there is no entity that is working to eradicate entrenched hatred that we have towards Indians, and it will be nice to have someone like DíSouza to educate us on the pulchritude of re-conciliation and tolerance. I am saddened to say that we have not produced any leader capable of brining Indians and Pakistanis together. Everyone (on both sides) have made us go farther and farther from one another.