DAMMAM – Abdul Azeez Valiyaveetil, an Indian expatriate in the Kingdom for over two decades, is seeking to continue the “positive dialogue” between faiths and cultures initiated by King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to bring peace and harmony to every corner of the world.
Abdul Azeez told Saudi Gazette that dialogue between religions and cultures had been his dream since his college days in the south Indian state of Kerala.
“All those years ago we started centers in Kerala to promote dialogue between the different religious groups in society,” Abdul Azeez said.
“When I heard about King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative following the Qur’anic philosophy of human brotherhood based on the verse, ‘O mankind we have created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you’, I was overjoyed and actively began pursuing his mission,” he said.
Following the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Makkah in May 2008, Abdul Azeez began organizing programs encouraging interaction between people of different faiths, “especially Hindus and Christians in India”, describing it as “essential for a country like India”.
“We have a lot to learn from the guidance of King Abdullah and the Muslim World League,” Abdul Azeez said.
On a recent trip to India, Abdul Azeez created a forum for dialogue between religions and faiths to promote King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue initiative. The forum hosted prominent religious leaders and intellectuals from Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities, such as Justice V. R. Krishna Iyyer (Retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of India ), Prof. M.K. Sanu, Revered Father Raphael Thattil, Dr. K. Ramachandran, Justice K.A. Abdul Gafour (retired justice of the High Court of Kerala) and Swami Agnivesh, who attended the Madrid Conference.
Citing India as an example of a pluralistic society, Abdul Azeez describes the recognition and understanding of other beliefs as “extremely fruitful for the harmonious coexistence of different religious faiths”.
“The society is similar to that of Madina during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when around 20 percent of the population consisted of Muslims and the rest were followers of other religions,” he said.
“I have tried to adopt this as our way to try and create a common platform were people of all religions can work together to achieve a healthy and harmonious social setup in our country.”
According to Abdul Azeez, the impact of King Abdullah’s mission for interfaith dialogue led to a recent incident in India which “would have been otherwise quite unthinkable”.
“The famous poetess Kamala Surayya who had reverted to Islam died,” Abdul Azeez said. “Her funeral was attended by many non-Muslims in Palayam Masjid in Thiruvanathapuram, including her sons and relatives who are still Hindus by faith. That would have been impossible a few years before as mosques in Kerala do not allow non-Muslims to enter or pray unless they revert to Islam. There I saw a change in people where they started treating each other as purely human beings despite their religious beliefs. I watched this on a Kerala TV channel and I believe this to be one of King Abdullah’s successes in bringing about religious harmony in a small state of India where the caste system still prevails.”
Abdul Azeez laments what he describes as the confrontational stance that many Da’wa activists in India have taken when engaging in dialogue with believers of other religious faiths.
“It’s obvious why the Muslim World League did not invite such Muslim da’ees from India to attend the Madrid Conference,” he said.
In the same way, Abdul Azeez described a recent interfaith dialogue conducted by a reputable Indian scholar at the King Fahd Auditorium in Riyadh as more “monofaith” given the lack of representation of other religions. The scholar’s approach, he said, was “so negative that the next day some non-Muslim brothers wrote to Saudi newspapers accusing the orator of insulting people of other beliefs!”
Apart from efforts to promote peace between religions, Abdul Azeez has also sought to bring harmony to Muslim organizations in Kerala who are in dispute with each other based on fiqh (jurisprudence) differences by gathering thinkers, scholars, human rights activists and academics on a joint platform of “intra-faith dialogue”.
Loss of moral values
Humanity, according to Abdul Azeez, is suffering from a loss of moral values and is going through a critical stage where terrorism and crime are on the rise, the poor are being increasingly exploited, and the institution of family is disintegrating.
“This is all a consequence of the spiritual void people suffer when they forget God,” he believes. “There is only one solution for humanity, and that is to agree on a united approach through dialogue among religions and cultures.”
“Dialogue means positive thinking: the victory of belief over disbelief, justice over iniquity and peace over conflict and communal confrontation,” Abdul Azeez said. “It requires collective efforts to improve international relations, the creation of an exemplary human community and the promotion of dialogue as a civilized way of cooperation.”
Abdul Azeez believes that more progress towards world peace would be made if the mission of the Madrid Conference received wider publicity around the world, and to that end he has been avidly collecting conference materials and investing time and money to produce a one-hour CD on the event in his native language Malayalam as well as English and Arabic.
Abdul Azeez has also approached the Ministry of Culture and Information in Saudi Arabia to broadcast the interfaith dialogue CD in Arabic and English on in-flight services and television channels.
“Showing these CDs would definitely improve the image of Islam, Muslims and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“I was very excited watching its gathering of figures from around the world at the Madrid Conference on Saudi television. The conference showed the coexistence of different ethnicities, religions and cultures,” he said.
“Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance, a message that calls for constructive dialogue among followers of religions, a message that promises to open a new chapter for humanity in which, God willing, concord will replace conflict.”
Abdul Azeez has distributed thousands of the Madrid Conference video CD in the Malayalam to his countrymen in Gulf countries as well as in India.
The video, anchored by editor-in-chief of India’s first international newspaper Gulf Madhayamam Daily V. K. Hamza Abbas who was at the Madrid Conference as a media representative, may also be dubbed into other Indian languages, and Azeez said he was in touch with writers, intellectuals, human rights activists, journalists and others to promote the ideology of King Abdullah.
Abdul Azeez, who manages the Seagulls Seafood restaurants group and the Al-Hayath International School group, says he has the full support of his sponsor Hamid Saif Al- Battal and now hopes to attend the Geneva conference on interfaith dialogue in September.
“I am also hoping for the chance to meet King Abdullah in person and give him the CDs I’ve made and offer my humble support for all his efforts to promote world peace,” he added. – SG