Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

I was born in the second half of the 20th century, and now find myself in the first half of the 21st century. During this period I have had many opportunities to participate in religious seminars and conferences and have found on these occasions that they have taken place in an environment of complete openness. The representative of each religion was given the unrestricted opportunity to present the teachings of their religion without any reservation.

For instance, I was recently invited to a seminar to speak in detail about the essence of the religion of Islam. The participants—adherents of all of the major religions—gave my discourse their full attention. Not one member of the audience responded negatively. This led me to quote the well-known maxim: “It is in comparison that we understand.”

I reflected that, 500 years ago, organizing seminars of this kind was an impossibility, given how rigid the thinking was on religious matters. At that time people of different faiths considered the method of debate as a means of discussion. Debate only established the superiority of one’s own religion while trying to prove the inferiority of other religions. But, today, we live in a different age. The culture of debate has been replaced by discussion. The watchword is that freedom of expression is supreme. Just as I have the right to present my ideas, similarly others also enjoy the right to present their ideas as they are. This is the spirit of the age. This spirit has become the universal norm. It has become an internationally accepted right for all. There is no doubt that modern democracy has played a great part in ushering in this development.

The important aspect of modern opportunities is religious freedom. The ensuing benefit is intellectual development by means of free discussion.

Today there is universality of opportunity. Every religious person has an equal chance to freely avail of the opportunity provided by the modern age to express oneself. And one can rightly presume that others will hear with objective minds and without any bias, will present their viewpoint in a peaceful manner. The important aspect of modern opportunities is religious freedom. The ensuing benefit is intellectual development by means of free discussion no lesser in value than the other benefits of the age. But wherever there still exists an environment of inflexibility, the result is intellectual stagnation, whereas in an environment of open discussion, the kind of creative thinking comes into play which increases one’s conviction.

This openness, without doubt, is a great blessing of God that every religious group may avail, provided they think in terms of free discussion rather than debate. People should sincerely pay equal respect to one another so that the scientific temper is cultivated in the true sense. And the greatest advantage is that people will attain spiritual development to the degree that it is possible to say: “I am right, you may also be right.”

This does not mean that participants in discussion will ultimately emerge from their deliberations in a state of uncertainty. It means rather that adherence to this principle will enable people to proceed with self-confidence, knowing that human dignity will ultimately be respected.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
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