Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Islamic-Christian dialogue is crucial to India, and should take place at the theological and practical levels. The contribution of religion to peace and harmony in modern society cannot be dismissed, nor can religion be relegated to the edges of modern society," said Mgr Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai and president of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), following the third seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, centred on the theme of 'Working together to serve others' (11-13 November, Rome).
In India, Christians and Muslims are religious minorities. Out of a population of over 1.2 billion people, Hindus are 80.5 per cent. Christians constitute only 2.3 per cent, whilst Muslims are 13.4 per cent.
"This means that Indian Muslims are almost 150 million, the second Muslim community in the world after Indonesia," the prelate told AsiaNews. "And many of them attend Christian schools, including those run by the Catholic Church. Altogether, they represent 17 per cent of all educational institutions in the country".
However, a different kind of education, based on dialogue, must begin in school. "For young Christians and Muslims, it is essential to be immersed in an environment that teaches reciprocity, as well as respect for the natural dignity and freedom of every human being, whatever his or her religion," Mgr Machado said. Without these values, "peace and harmony in society are in danger."
For the archbishop of Vasai, Pakistan is an example not to be followed. In this country, "textbooks are biased. They emphasise only Islam and are full of one-sided information about other religions."
Such a cultural background is what ultimately leads to blasphemy laws, "invoked by some groups in civil society to kill Christians," which can be fought "only with the cooperation and help of enlightened Muslims and Christians."
In India, Christian and Muslim Dalits (once called untouchables) suffer the worst kind of discrimination. As non-Hindus, they do not enjoy Scheduled Caste (SC) status, which has provided certain benefits and privileges to Hindus since 1950, including in the areas of education and public sector services and jobs. Later, the same privileges were extended to Sikhs and Buddhists.
The Catholic Church, the bishop explained, "has made interfaith dialogue a mandatory path for its members." However, "so far this attention towards others is one-sided".
"With generosity, we have placed all of our resources at the disposal of all communities, regardless of religion. But our Muslim brothers must use their own tools for the good of all and for building the nation. "
This is "the practical implication of 'Working together to serve others'," he said. "It is seeking lifelong dialogue and partnership. Together we can do good for our society as a whole."