The world can learn much from India on how to manage diversity to maintain a cohesive society, according to former Vice President of India, Mr Hamid Ansari.
Mr Ansari was in Australia to give a public lecture on India and Islamic Civilization: Contributions and Challenges at Llewellyn Hall, Australian National University, as a guest of the ANU Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies (CAIS), on Wednesday 21 March 2018.
Mr Ansari served as Vice President of India and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) from 2007 to 2017.
He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961. His diplomatic assignments included being Permanent Representative to the United Nations, High Commissioner to Australia and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
He served as Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and has been a Visiting Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi.
CAIS Director Professor Amin Saikal introduced the speaker, recollecting their friendship during the time that Mr Ansari was High Commissioner to Australia for four years.
In his lecture, Mr Ansari painted the broad picture of Islam in India for over a thousand years, from the early days of Islam itself to the current situation.
He pointed out that in those times when large parts of India was ruled by Muslims, at no stage was the state theocratic nor was Islam declared to be the State religion.
“Adaptability and accommodation and attendant creativity can be depicted as dimensions of Muslim culture as it developed and flourished in the Indian subcontinent,” he reflected.
According to Mr Ansari, the partition of India in 1947 brought Islamic and nationalistic challenges.
“The response from the Muslim community, and from the institutions of the Indian state, has been a mixed one; it poses a challenge both to their capacity to adapt and to Indian democracy’s commitments to principles of pluralism and secularism.”
He cautioned against seeing this as only as a challenge for Muslims in India – rather it is a challenge for India as a nation.
And India, as well as the global community, can learn from India’s past itself.
“The Indian experience of challenges in accepting diversity in a plural society and a democratic polity can be of relevance to others in a globalising world. It also speaks to the experiences of Muslim minorities generally and to mutual contributions to each other’s civilization.”