Professor Upadhyaya, members of the faculty, students, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I bring greetings from the United States – Namaskar.
I sincerely thank all of you for coming and for your hospitality. I am honored and delighted to be here. I am proud to be standing here with fellow countrymen, and looking at you today, I have never felt so blessed. Before starting my speech, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my host, Professor Upadhyaya for giving me the opportunity to address you today on the subject of ‘Building Peace through Inter-communal Harmony’.
Professor Upadhyaya is a source of inspiration to all of us; I am touched by his grace, dignity and generosity. He is a source of strength and courage for all of us. I want to thank all of you for what you do for this remarkable institution and for this great nation. I also want to thank Dean and the Vice Chancellor for their leadership.
I have always held BHU in high esteem. I congratulate the BHU for its continued success in honoring the legacy of its founder, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, and remembering his commitment to the principles upon which this university was founded – service to humanity.
I was not fortunate to go to BHU but instead went to Aligarh Muslim University for my education. It is my deep desire to build a strong and vibrant partnership between BHU and AMU based on their strengths and successes and based on mutual interest.
I saw the statue of Malviya when I entered the campus. It is an enduring memorial of his achievement and his legacy. His statue tells the story of our past and also defines our future. It is a constant reminder of his vision, his values and love for education. His monument is a symbol of peace, hope and opportunity. His memory and legacy still lives in bright lights and dark shadows.
Pandit Malviya was an extraordinary man with extraordinary talent. He was a voice for those who were voiceless. He was a hope for those who were hopeless. He was a man ahead of his time. He was not frightened of the future. He shaped our future. He remained focused on the brighter horizon even when he endured the storm. Let us commit ourselves to ensuring his cause shall endure and his dream shall never die. Let us keep his memory alive. Let us keep the light burning.
We owe a sense of gratitude to BHU for taking the lead in establishing “the Malviya Center for Peace Research” as a Center committed to promoting peace and harmony and working with other organizations and individuals of all faiths to eliminate friction and conflict. This Center encourages debate, dialog and discussion rather than revenge and retaliation.
That is why I am pleased to be here to speak on “Building Peace through Inter-communal Harmony.” I must confess that I am not an expert in this area nor have I studied it in depth. What qualifies me to speak on the subject is the fact that I am a Muslim Indian American business person who, because of my life experiences, believes completely in the need and the opportunity to build peace through inter-communal and inter-religious harmony.
I want to share with you today some of those experiences and how they have framed my value system and perspective and philosophy. As I said, I am a Muslim Indian American. What has being a Muslim taught me?
Many things – but the most important is that the whole purpose of religion is to provide justice and a path to justice for all of us. That includes animals and nature itself. According to the Holy Qur’an, God asked “Who will take care of all of my Creation. The mountains said the task was too great; even the angels declined to take on the challenge. But then Man jumped up and said ‘We will take care’. So we made a contract with God to protect his Creation.”
I have learned as a Muslim to believe in the unity of all creation and that everything and everyone is a reflection of God on earth. Because of that I have also learned that there are just people and that just people do just things. I will come back to that later but let me repeat it again here. Just people do just things. Peace is just. That’s why no matter what our religion as just people we should pursue justice together and in harmony.
I treasure my faith. My faith firmly believes in equality, dignity, compassion, respect, tolerance, justice and peace for other faiths. My faith keeps me calm and provides me with a sense of optimism that gives me peace. With my personal peace, I can work with others of different faiths for peace. Faith should bring us together and not tear us apart. Faith should not be a hindrance because it helps in promoting peaceful co-existence.
How did growing up here in India shape and influence me? In many ways – I have learned lessons from my family, this country, and this great city and university.
I grew up in a middle-class family. My parents taught me to: Treat people in the way that you want to be treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Work hard and aim high. Do what you can to serve your community. In the neighborhood where I grew up, all of us from different backgrounds and different faiths learned to work side-by-side because we were bound together in the service of others.
I love India. I love this country because I was born here and because of its art, history, music, culture and rituals. But most of all I love India because it stands as an international beacon of democracy, diversity and peacemaking. The country shaped my world view and commitment to peace. Let us do our part not to harm the harmony of this country. Let us build bridges of understanding and co-operation with various faiths.
I am delighted to be back in this ancient city. This is the city whose timelessness had inspired the great American, Mark Twain, who said “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
I treasure this city and this university. I grew up not too far from this beautiful campus. I remember riding my bike from my home to the university.
No matter where I am, the memory of Varanasi lingers in my mind. It is not faded from my memory. It is as fresh in my thoughts and my heart as it was long years ago. My days at Varanasi had a profound effect on me. It was here that I got the basic building blocks to be a successful entrepreneur and a passionate leader. It was here that I developed the strength, discipline, courage and determination to succeed.
I am grateful to the city for that because those are the traits that enabled me to be successful in America. I am also grateful because it was here that I learned about the richness of different religions and religious tolerance. This city has always been in the forefront of breaking barriers and biases. It serves as an example to the entire world.
What have I learned from America? Again, many things – the most important relate to the American dream. Because of my preparation in India and by working hard and aiming high I was able to achieve the American dream there. Two elements of that dream are: We should all be able to develop and achieve to our fullest potential; and, we should not discriminate against people because of their color or caste or creed.
Those precepts are powerful. They compel us toward peace and cooperation. They allow just people to do just things – not only in the United States but around the world.
So, those are my roots as a Muslim Indian American. They are the roots that cause me to believe fervently that when just people pursue justice there is no force on earth that can defeat them.
Let me say that I recognize that not all people are just. There are extremists and religious fanatics who will exploit their perspective to try to subjugate or destroy those with beliefs different than theirs. That’s why President Obama devoted part of his Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech to discussing the concept of a “just war.”
However, I don’t want to address the concept of a just war here today when we are talking about peace. I do want to say that I wish that President Obama would have given equal time to the concept of a just people. That’s because I believe that the President was given that Peace Prize not only because of who he is but who the American people are. In the main, they are a just people – they proved that by electing Barack Obama president and they have proved it millions of times over by letting immigrants like me come to the United States to work hard in order to achieve the American dream.
So, we have come back to the concept of just people. What does that concept mean for us in India in terms of our collaborating inter-communally to ensure peace here and around the world?
Let me address that by highlighting what I think are some of the things that cause war or strive. These include: religious discrimination and intolerance; poverty; educational inequities, caste systems; and bigotry. In my opinion, the best way to pursue peace is not in the abstract but by working together across religious lines and in a concrete manner to eliminate those factors that cause war or strive – discrimination, poverty, bigotry.
Given that, here’s what I think we can do in our homeland inter-religiously and inter-communally to sow the seeds of peace.
I think we can start by adhering to the admonition from Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya posted on the BHU website: “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony.” The preconditions for “mutual good will and harmony” include: equal opportunity, the elimination of poverty, educational equity, the development of a culture that reinforces inter-communal values, and an inclusive society.
Therefore, let us commit to working together to find equal opportunities in education and jobs for all citizens of this country, regardless of their color, creed, caste, background, and beliefs. Discrimination can shatter people’s ambitions and dreams. There should be no discrimination or distinction between the various faiths. We would do well to remember no nation, no race, no religion and no culture has a monopoly on the values of freedom, justice and human dignity.
Let us commit to working together to eliminate poverty in our country. Several reports that I have seen deepened my understanding of how entrenched poverty in the Indian minority community has become. Poverty crushes hope. Poverty fuels a dangerous mix of desperation and frustration and results in an instability that has erupted numerous times in community violence. There is no single magic solution to eliminating poverty, nor can we expect a single entity to shoulder the entire burden. However, if we come together as people of faith and all faiths we can do so
Let us commit to working together to eliminate disparities in education. The disparities today in this country are striking. Lack of access to education creates a vicious cycle that crushes a person’s hope for improvement. The greatest gift we can give is the gift of education. Education empowers the mind and uplifts the soul. Education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. Education is central to development and strengthens nations. It is a powerful equalizer opening doors to all to lift themselves out of poverty. President Obama declared in his June 4th 2009 address at Cairo University that “All of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century.’ Education must be the currency for all of our citizens.”
Education can also play a critical role in preparing communities for change. Education, employment and economic opportunities help prevent conflict and promote lasting peace. Education can be a powerful engine of employment and entrepreneurship. Education can also be an important component to foster positive change and social values, attitude and skills that are necessary to overcome painful conflict. Education can make an important contribution to re-conciliation, conflict prevention and post-conflict re-construction.
Let us commit to working together to develop a culture that reinforces inter-communal and inter-religious values. Let us expand cross-cultural education, people to people, and inter-faith exchange. All schools, including BHU, can play a vital role in diffusing tensions and helping the youth understand an evolving environment. Schools are well-positioned to change attitudes and to teach new skills. Schools have exceptional outreach to all levels of society. Teaching religion and the culture of religions in a way that is consistent with democratic principles is the only hope for new generations to learn about themselves and others, and improve mutual understanding for a sustainable and successful peace.
Let us invest in cultural diplomacy through arts and entertainment programs, to deepen mutual understanding. Entertainment media can make important contributions to popular perceptions of conflict and the potential for respectful coexistence.
Inter-communal and inter-religious values build bridges and provide the basis for inclusiveness. Therefore, let us finally commit to working together to build an inclusive society. The global economy has taught us that the most successful societies are the most inclusive ones – places where all voices are heard; where each person has a chance to succeed, where every person has a chance to live out their dreams. In order for economy to prosper we have to empower minorities to attend school, to own businesses, and to hold elective office. Serious limitations in economic opportunity among minorities will contribute to a wide spread sense of frustration, especially among young people.
Those are the seeds of peace: equal opportunity, the elimination of poverty, education, an inter-communal culture, and inclusiveness. I view the pursuit of peace as a positively active and creative process which requires courage, commitment, endurance and integrity.
Let me repeat that peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is a right and a duty. Peace is about just people doing just things together.
In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all of our people. I believe that we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings.”
I agree with those words of President Kennedy and I am confident that all of you do, too and that is why you are here at BHU. You are truly just people doing just things.
I hope and pray that all Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees and those of other faiths here will join with you in your cause – the pursuit of justice and peace and understand that all who resort to violence are contrary to our respective and collective religious traditions. I also hope for an India where no individual will be deemed a greater or lesser Indian because of religious belief.
Let us find a way to come together because all of us are linked by common goals and all of us share a common destiny and a common hope and a common dream. All things are possible when we work together, when we sacrifice together, struggle together, learn from one another, and listen to each other. We should set aside our differences to work for common efforts.
God bless you in your quest to serve mankind with fairness and love. Let us carry the torch handed over to us by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today and for your time and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. I wish all of you continued success in the future, and hope that our paths cross again as we go forward in unity as just people doing just things in the cause of justice and peace.