Building Bridges through Religious Tourism


REGRETTABLY, the popular image of Islam in the contemporary world is that of an intolerant faith. This notion is perpetuated by media images of destruction of heritage sites and religious artefacts that are sacred to non-Muslims at the hands of religious militants in conflict zones.

By citing such incidents, critics are able to point fingers at the faith and lay the foundation of the claim that its adherents are belligerent towards expressions of other faiths. This is a common view, particularly in Western circles and it receives credence from incidents like the destruction of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan and the vandalism of heritage sites in Palmyra, Syria.

It is definitely unfair to accuse the vast majority of Muslims of intolerance due to the acts of a small minority of fanatics. Therefore, it is of great importance for Muslim states to protect and preserve the heritage sites and religious artefacts sacred to other faiths that are found within their lands and demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

Non-Muslims have lived alongside Muslims for centuries, and their populations and sacred sites still remain in Islamic lands. The vast majority of Muslims are not constantly in a state of war with their non-Muslim citizens. Barring a few skirmishes they have coexisted.

But as the allegation of intolerance is constantly perpetuated, Muslim states need to counter this negative publicity and build bridges with other faiths and cultures and send the clear message that the expressions of non-Muslim faiths and culture within their territories are not only permissible but are also preserved and promoted for the world at large. There are numerous advantages of preserving, protecting and promoting the religious heritage within the boundaries of a Muslim-governed territory.

Firstly, to do so is itself a religious injunction within Islam’s holy scripture, which states: “…Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. …” (22:40). Thus protecting the places of worship of other faiths is first and foremost a Muslim duty.

Secondly, the Quran also lays emphasis on travelling and seeing through one’s own eyes the ruins of historic nations to have an example before us of the causes of their rise and fall. It states: “Say: Travel through the earth and see what was the end of those before (you): Most of them worshipped others besides Allah” (30:42).

If Muslim rulers do not preserve the ruins and historical structures of non-Muslims then it would not be possible to carry out the aforementioned Quranic injunction. Thus prior to giving thought to any commercial gains of preservation and promotion of religious sites, Muslim rulers should realise that doing such is an Islamic duty which they must carry out.

Then there are economic reasons to preserve the religious heritage that is found within a country. Religious tourism is on the increase globally and is a source of revenue for the locals. Religious tourism also builds bridges between countries as the faithful from neighbouring territories would visit your land to witness what is dear to them, and your country’s image is uplifted when they see that their religious artefacts are well maintained and looked after.

To promote religious sites for a global audience, the decision-makers will have to launch a coherent destination-marketing campaign. It is no use to maintain and preserve heritage sites unless they are showcased at an international level and the world is able to witness examples of Muslim tolerance. The government will first have to provide basic infrastructure to facilitate religious tourism. The sites should be accessible, have functional facilities surrounding the perimeter, be signposted for international tourists and have international-standard accommodation.

Once the infrastructure is in place a destination-marketing campaign should be launched, for otherwise it would be embarrassing to have international guests at your door to witness a heritage site in ruins while lacking even the basic amenities. Therefore the need is to first set one’s own house in order before inviting guests over. What kind of experiences do the heritage sites offer to tourists? Are the experiences boring, bland and emotionless? What type of images will they take back home? Of a heritage site in ruins, no basic facilities around, dusty, rundown and poor neighbourhood? The decision-makers at the helm of affairs need to take such questions into consideration and be cognisant of the fact that they are also competing with other destinations. Therefore it is imperative that the product on offer stands out from the rest.

First Published in DAWN December 28, 2018

6 Qualities of Tolerant Individuals


Woman_standing_in_front_of_river_with_swans

Tolerance is a special quality. It means getting along with people who are different from us. It is a vital trait for peaceful coexistence and to build cordial and friendly relations between people. Being tolerant requires from us to be patient, understanding and accepting of anything different. People are different from us in so many ways. Some hold different religious beliefs others have different political beliefs. Some are of a different ethnicity others of a different gender. There are different languages, different dresses, different cuisine, even different habits and aspirations. Thus diversity has many facets and is a distinguishing feature of the human condition. Being tolerant of people requires acceptance. When we accept differences then we are not worried or anxious about effacing them. We then realize that the world is not meant to be monolithic, and that diversity is something natural. We will identify as tolerant individuals if we exhibit the following signs:

  1. Embracing diversity. The world, which we dwell in, is diverse. This means that we accept the fact that there are people who are different from us. The moment we accept differences, and realize that diversity is a central feature of humanity, that always was, is and will be, then we find inner peace and contentment, because then we are not seeking to obliterate that which is but natural nor are we then looking down upon or dismissing people who are different from us in any way whatsoever.
  2. Not retorting. At times we are faced with acerbic and bitter people. Whose toxic remarks goad us to a tit for tat reply. But being tolerant of their negativity and by ignoring their hurtful remarks we maintain composure, do not lose our cool and handle difficult situations tactfully.
  3. Forgiving mistakes. People make mistakes all the time. We do not embody perfection. Being tolerant means forgiving people for their misdemeanors and not nitpicking on them constantly.
  4. Worrying about our own neck. We have a very short time on earth. It will be no exaggeration to suggest that the years of our entire life can be counted on our fingertips. This being the case, it would be sheer folly to spend a significant proportion of our time on trivial matters, which are not our remit of accountability. Instead of worrying about the salvation of others our focus should be our own self because ultimately we won’t be questioned about the deeds of anyone except our own.
  5. Respecting people’s rights. To deliberately infringe on their rights means we do not have any regard for their humanity. A sign of our tolerant character is our respect for the rights of individuals.
  6. Practicing tolerance within the family. Tolerance can be cemented in an individual from the home. The home is the place where one learns to be tolerant for intolerance too is picked up from the home and family. The views and attitudes that parents pass on to their children shape their personality. The child also learns from the relationship of his father and mother. If the spouses are intolerant of one another, constantly picking up arguments the child will do the same. Once he walks out of his home, then he will have that same mindset. He will see people as his adversaries just like he saw his parents to be at constant animosity with one another. Therefore it is vital that family life be stable and serene so that parents do not pass on intolerant attitudes to their children.

Learning tolerance from Qur’anic examples. Tolerance is a central theme in Islam’s holy text. God’s chosen emissaries were told that tolerance was a key character trait that enabled one to qualify as a righteous individual (2:256). It was revealed to the Messenger (pbuh) that everyone is responsible for his own conduct and is answerable to God on his own; therefore if people are not receptive to the message then he should not despair (6:34). Under no circumstances are people to be compelled to follow the course of righteousness (10:99). That his job was only to deliver the message, while it rested on God to hold people to account (13:40). This Prophetic standard is in stark contrast to the holier than thou mindset prevailing within many who think that they are on some sort of a divine mission to compel people to “righteousness”. That their version of morality should be enforced, even upon those who wish to follow an alternate course. This is not what is instructed in the Quran. The Qur’anic mandate is about one’s willing acceptance of its injunctions. Only that belief will bear fruit, which is accepted by one’s own volition and not because of pressure. Belief that is forced upon is futile and invalid because it does not motivate us to action.

 

First published in DAWN, 16th June 2017

 

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