In mid May (how time flies) I made a short trip to India to attend and speak at an exhibition there organised by Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen. Now I must admit that I was rather concerned about the mujahideen part, and was beginning to think that I had inadvertently accepted an invitation from some extremist entity, or perhaps they were a throw back to days of resistance to the British Empire! When I arrived after a thirteen hour flight at Kochiairport and was met by the brothers there it was one of the first questions I asked on the forty five minute drive from the airport to the hotel Abad Plazain the the town centre. I was reassured with a laugh. The term was meant in the broadest sense, and that they worked with the full co-operation of the Indian government. When the organisation was established in 1950 they had to fight a sea of ignorance, mostly with in the Muslim community. Apart from the call to worship Allah alone, and to abandon the shirk of grave and saint worship, they had to combat the prevalent attitude that women should not be educated. In fact according to "Imams" of that time, they did not even allow women to read the Quran! They spearheaded the education of Muslims in Kerela, which now has one of the most educated Muslim populations in India.
Kochi is the commercial hub of the state of Kerela, but not the capital. That honour goes to Thiruvananthapuram. Kerela itself is pitched as a tourist destination, and certainly if tropical humidity and palm trees is your thing, this might be the place to go, not that I had the time or energy to explore much. The exhibition itself was was very similar in concept and layout to the Peace exhibition in Chenia and Bombay, however the emphasis here was on the lectures. Also staying in hotel was Hussein Ye and two brothers from a dawa centre in Bahrain which whom I spent most of my time.
The exhibition was massive and very well attended. On Sunday the queue to get into it was two and a half kilometers long! My two llectures where not so well attended. One was on the Seerah of the Prophet and the other on Dawa.
There were occasional moments of confusion as I was shuttled back and forth to the hotel, but on Saturday we had some time free whilst waiting for my lecture, so we took the car for a quick drive round the city. Our driver was a Christian named, and decided that he would take us to a local Catholic shrine. When I told him that I used to be Catholic he became some what subdued. He told the brothers with me that he had no idea, but it was the start of some conversations that took place as we drove back and forth from the hotel to the exhibition. He asked a very intelligent question: "What is faith?" I was momentarily taken aback by this, and was not expecting it in the least, but was in fact delighted by it, because it allowed me to get to the very heart of the discussion straight away.
This is of course a very important matter that many people involved in discussions about different religions, and indeed with atheists ignore. You see what Jude (the driver) and I understood by faith was something quite different. I explained that for a Muslim, for someone who was Muslim by conviction rather than fate of birth, faith meant believing something quite believable with proof. That there is a Creator, and God is One and Unique, is entirely rational and believable. That the Quran is word of God and that Mohammed is the Prophet is also something that can be established through some objective evidences. Through this we can have faith that is truth. Jude's understanding of faith was somewhat different. It meant to believe in something completely without question, or doubt. That was fine, I responded, but how do you know your faith is true, what criterion or means do you use to know that your faith is right and another wrong? The discussion went back and forth through translation, and became quite animated. Jude could only keep affirming his faith, and I just kept going back to the point, but how did he know?
We we soon arrived at the hotel and he had to go, but Ahmed Shaz, the translator between us, phoned me later in the hotel room saying that Jude wanted to talk to me and he was going to convert me back to Catholicism!
Well, we met in the hotel lobby that evening and had a long discussion. It emerged that he and his wife had been trying for a child for many years and then one day he prayed to Jesus and then his wife conceived. This is what his faith was based upon. Well of course I said that that was fantastic, but the problem here was what did it really prove, because a Muslim or Hindu might, and in fact do claim exactly the same type of experience. So who is right?
Then I explained about the Oneness of Allah. Why this and this alone had to be the basis of faith. That faith should be reasoned this way, and how the idea that Jesus is God contradicts this basis by asking one to believe an impossibility, that something is Eternal and mortal, finite and infinite, needy and sufficient both at the same time.
Well he didn't take shahada, but we certainly left on good terms, and he admitted that he had a lot to think about!