Dar es Salam, Sunday May 07, 2017
In the West, interfaith dialogue is quite common. Speakers from different faith communities present their respective theological positions on such issues as God, Prophethood and man’s position in the universe. These are well known positions and each side sticks to their respective perspectives.
While such parleys have some utility in terms of breaking down stereotypical images, their usefulness is often rather limited. After presenting their points of view, everyone goes home, perhaps a little wiser but not by much.
At the University of Dar es Salam (Tanzania), the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies took a bold step in organizing a seminar under the theme, ‘Religion and Universal Human Values.’ Held on May 6 in the Nakrumah Conference Hall at the sprawling campus, there were three Christian and four Muslim speakers. The Christian speakers were from the Department of Philosophy while the Muslim speakers included two local ulama, a youth leader and ICIT Director Zafar Bangash. Nearly 500 people—mostly students from the university attended the one-day conference.
The three professors—Dr Adolf Mihanjo, Dr Shukrani K. Mbirigenda and Dr Josehat Mhoza—contrasted the position of those Western philosophers that wanted to expel God from the affairs of man—Nietzche—with that of people who those that advocate belief in God. They came to the general conclusion that those with belief in God led to more satisfactory outcomes.
Issues of values, beliefs and morality also came in for discussion. Without religious belief, man becomes self-centered leading to selfishness and greed. It basically creates a society where dog eats dog—the perfect definition of capitalism.
The Muslim speakers presented the Islamic position from different perspectives. The youth, Said Uwesu Omary pointed out why it was important for youth to have values firmly planted in religious values because these provided the compass in life. The importance of morality in society was also emphasized.
ICIT Director Zafar Bangash addressed the issue of Islam, Human Rights and the Prophet’s Covenants outlining the correct position of Islam from the Qur’an and then illustrating it from the Sunnah (life-example) and Seerah (life-history) of the Prophet (pbuh).
The two local Shaikhs—Shaikh Jalala also spoke about the universal values of Islam and how the Qur’an states that Allah has created all human beings from a single male and female and then spread them into tribes and communities so that they may recognize each other. Dr Murtaza Alidina also spoke along the same theme pointing out that gross inequalities creep in society because people abandon religious values thereby becoming selfish and indulge in conduct that is detrimental to the larger good of society.
The fact that there were very intense question and answer sessions reflected the deep interest the audience had in the topic that was being discussed. So well received was the conference that there was a general consensus that such conferences should be held more often so that people of different faith communities, especially the youth, can get a better understanding of the challenges facing them in life.