Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dallas American Muslim's commitment to Pluralism

Tracing the roots of my quest for Pluralism.

I am an Indian American, and take immense pride in the pluralistic ethos of India.  Indeed, I have made a commitment to nurturing those values, and share them with fellow Americans in my talks, articles and media appearances.   Let me be clear; everything is not hunky dory,  India has deep scars and wounds that need healing, these wounds** if not treated, will continue to be a drain on nation's spiritual health. At times, the frustrations can reach the tipping point leading into riots, massacres and Genocides, in the process hurting every one.

Collectively, as Indian Americans, we contribute to the richness of America in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, biology, politics, religion, information technology and smart corporate management. However, the time has come for us to give fullness to our participation by contributing in social sciences.

As a social scientist, my contribution would be sharing my motherland's pluralistic heritage with my homeland as a gift to America.  By the way, India was one of the first three nations on the earth to recognize American independence in 1776, it was Tippu Sultan, the head of the state of Mysore (Karnataka) then along with Morocco and France.

Two decades of research work on Pluralism

In the last twenty years, through Asian News Magazine (1993-2001), Asian News Radio (1996-2001), Desi TV (1996), Yahoogroups (2003 -now), and various blogs like Mike Ghouse for India, Sulekha (1999 - now) and several (30) sites for each topic, I have shared our pluralistic heritage.

The Asian News Magazine featured the essence of every religion, and the multi-cultural aspect of India and its inclusiveness, the Asian News Radio featured weekly hour dedicated to presenting the essence of religious festivals so we can learn about each other. We also produced more than 500 hours of talk show radio on religion, every beautiful religion, Pundits, Pastors, Imams, Rabbis, Shamans and Religious clergy from each faith joined me daily to share the wisdom of his or her religion, indeed, Atheism and pluralism had its own slot.

There is not a public forum where I have not been inclusive. A few years ago, one of the business radio stations (AM 1360) in Dallas was doing a show about ‘giving’ during Christmas season. They invited a Rabbi and a Pastor and wanted me to fill in for Islam, and I did with a condition that I am allowed to acknowledge and mention charity in every faith including Hinduism, Baha'i, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism and other traditions.

For two years we conducted two sets of workshops called Understanding Religion, all the beautiful religions (Atheism was part of the learning). We had a Rabbi, Pastor, Pundit, Imam, Shaman and respective religious ministers joined  in presenting a three hour workshop - on each faith. Funds permitting, I hope to recommence the workshops, and create a replicable model. The idea was to demystify the myths about each faith. Two of the most misunderstood faiths are Hinduism and Islam, and we cannot let people rot in mis-information, we have to do our share of the work in creating a bettter world. Of course, finding the truth is our own individual responsibility.

Each one of us is capable of standing up for others, when we do that; all of us would be safe. We cannot demand peace, when we are not peaceful within, we cannot ask others to be hateful, when we are full of it.

Media Presence

As President of the Foundation for Pluralism, I contribute an article a week to the Texas Faith column at Dallas Morning News for over two years, and just about every piece weaves through several religions. The articles appear regularly at Huffington Post, and occasionally at Washington post. Heck, when I wrote a tribute about my late wife, father and mother, I found them reflecting the values of most religions, if not all.

The TV, Radio, Print, Web and Social Media has been good to me, giving me a strong national and local presence including Sean Hannity’s Show on Fox News (over 50 appearances), and many nationally syndicated Radio shows.

Over 1500 articles on the topic of Pluralism, Interfaith, Politics, India, Israel, Middle East, Islam, Human rights and conflict mitigation have been published. Major news papers in the United States and across the world, including Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, European and other Asian Nations have carried them. I have not checked if Timbuktu news papers have carried them as well.

The international forums including the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia; the Middle East Peace Initiative in Jerusalem; and the International Leadership Conference in Hawaii, Chicago and Washington have also provided me the platform to speak about Pluralism.

It is a blessing to have served as a commissioner for the City of Carrollton and president of many a organizations including Home Owners Association, North Texas Cricket Association, and a board member of several non-profits such as the Dallas Peace Center.

No matter where I go, my identity is Indian.

Indian democracy

We are the original Pluralistic Democracy in the world, and can serve as a model to nations where they are experiencing co-emergence of multiple religious people in work place, schools, dining, playground and different aspects of living. They all can look up to India about moving forward despite the difficulties, India's diverse population has successfully co-existed for centuries in relative harmony. Thanks to the founding fathers for embracing that tradition and opting for a Secular democracy upon Indepedence in 1947. Where else on the earth, can you have personal conflicts resolved through your own religious guidance? Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jains and others have their personal laws to square with the personal and family issues as an option. America can benefit from such practices.

Unresolved Issues

I am glad; we are a pluralistic democracy rather than an autocratic, monarchic or dictatorial system where critical issues take time to resolve through consensus, rather than imposition.  Because of the nature of our governance, we have piled up unresolved conflicts that will take time to heal. Among them are; Sikh Massacre, Babri Masjid-Ram JanamBhoomi, Kashmiri Pundits, Gujarat Massacre, misogyny,  and discrimination against the minorities. There are other issues, but my focus is social issues.

We should not dump these issues onto the next generation, we are conquering the space, we can conquer our prejudices too, that is the greater Jihad (inner struggle) Lord Krishna and Prophet Muhammad had called for. The nation is moving forward despite the issues, and we need to take the initiative and bring closure to them in our life time. They will not go away by burying our heads in the sand.
Standing up for others

Standing up for others is the right thing to do, every human goes through a period of invincibility to vulnerability, if we don't stand up for those who are vulnerable, then who will stand up for us when we are vulnerable?

The idea of alms, charity, taking care of the elderly, weak, sick and the children is a common theme in every religious tradition. It is indeed the insurance for every one's well being. I cannot be at peace when others around me aren't, and hence it behooves me to take care of the ones who need assistance. 

It’s been my life time honor to stand up for everyone from Atheists to Zoroastrians and every one in between ( ). 

Inclusive attitudes are cultivated

Our sense of responsibility is akin to wearing the seat belt. If you live in America, and don't wear the seat belt in the car while you drive, not only you feel guilty, but certainly uncomfortable. It was not the case before the seat belt was made mandatory for the driver and the front seat passenger. It is indeed a consciously learned behavior. I feel the same sense of discomfort, when I get to the podium and not mention or include different religions in the speech. My only fear is excluding others in the public square even by mistake.  To allay that fear; I have learned to start my speeches with Pluralism greetings and prayers that are inclusive of every one including my Atheist friends (Pluralism Speaker).

Thanks to my father, mother, and grandfather who lived their lives as an example inculcating Islamic pluralism in my brothers and the sister, like millions of Muslim parents whom you may have not met.  In my talks, I share small examples and incidents where small things do matter. We learned the Islamic version of Vasudaiva Kutumbukum; the whole world is one family.  
Indeed, Pluralism flows in my veins, and that is respecting the otherness of others and accepting the God-given uniqueness of each one of the 7 billion of us.

Boldly changing the course of history

My father was a Mayor of the town of Yelahanka in the fifties, and we always had construction work at our apartments or remodeling at our historic house, originally owned by the founder of Bangalore, Hon. Kempe Gowda in the 16th century. My father was a maverick, and dared challenging the abusive but prevalent norms of the society, he had the Dalits (shameful word: Untouchables) work at our place, my mother would make them tea or give them food in the plates and cups we used, it was a big no-no in the society at that time, you ‘kept them' away from your house, just as it was for the Blacks in America then. I am proud of my father, and my mother for supporting him in breaking the uncouth norms. He was constantly called on to quit, and at times threatened, but the dare devil held on to his ground firmly and the town loved him dearly and gradually followed his example.

I saw humiliation in the eyes of men, women and children, who came to collect water from the public tap on each corner of the street, the upper caste person would wash the tap three times before he or she collected the water. It was difficult for me, and I played out my share of the drama and mumbling in protest. Despite the significant progress made, we have a long way to go in the housing discrimination, indeed, even in America we have ways to go, but we are all going forward.

As I am writing this, I grudgingly acknowledge that I have learned nothing new; my father did everything that I am doing now, Gee, a drop of tear rolls down my cheek in reverence to Mahatma Gandhi for becoming a catalyst in uplifting the down trodden and restoring their God-given dignity to them. I just have to pray for the Mahatma for saving the Indian souls by getting rid of guilt from ours minds, by having us open our hearts and minds toward the fellow beings, just as MLK did in America. 

Early influences of Pluralism

Early on in my life, even though I had chosen to be an atheist, and I stayed the course for the next thirty years, but never looked down on any faith like a few of my fanatic Atheist friends do. I have had the opportunity to know and learn about different faiths and sub-cultures. I went to Mahabodhi (Buddhist) Society on Thursdays, Mosque (Muslim) on Fridays, and Bhajan Mandir (Hindu) on Saturday nights. The Interaction with my Jain neighbors and friends, and my mother’s Zoroastrian friend was productive.

The Saturday afternoon discourse between the Shia Scholar and my Sunni maternal Grandfather and my father laid the foundation of civil dialogue for me. Then, I enjoyed the interaction with Sikhs, Adivasis, Tribals, Khandaris and Banjarans at our mill where we grounded their grain in to flour. The Sikhs were in the Air force and the Tribals were breaking the nearby hills into crushed stone manually, I felt connected with all of them, and did not feel a barrier between me and them.

In the first few years of my childhood I spent Christmas evenings with our neighbors, and I was also dressed up as Krishna with the Makhan (butter) when I was a baby. In my college days, I had serious dialogue with my English Teacher Ramachandran, a Saibaba devotee and my weaver friend Mohamed Fakhru, an Islamic scholar in his own right.

The only religious group I did not interact in India was the Jewish community, but learned about Eishman, the killer of six million Jews, the book was in Urdu language, and my mother prevented me from reading, as she was concerned about her child’s well being, but it created a sense of incompleteness in me for not reading the forbidden book. The completeness to my life came when I organized the first Holocaust commemoration event in 2006 in Dallas. It was the first such event in history, by non-Jewish people. It is our moral duty to understand the atrocities we humans have inflicted upon each other and educate others to say no to such tragic events from even seeding.

I have spent a lot of time reading, I was always in the library and I enjoy going to the Libaray to this day. Some of my early influencers were Mahatma Gandhi, Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Swami Vivekananda, Allama Iqbal, Buddha, Abraham Kavoor, Dale Carnegie and a German Scholar who wrote about comparative religions.

It is a blessing to have seen Mahatma Gandhi twice in my dreams in the early 70’s with Bangalore University’s Vice Chancellor Narsimaiah, and the next time in early part of 2000. In both instances, all he said was, son you have work to do and patted on my back, and that has been my inspiration all along to commit to pluralism. It was Gandhi for me.

Gender Pluralism
We grew up with Gender equality, the four brothers and the sister were equals in every aspect of life. My father never treated my mother any less, he always consulted her and regretted when he did not. I would have been a farmer or a politician in India, had my mother not insisted, and my father listened to her, here I am today. The images we grew up with were of gender equality, treating men and women the same. The four of us brothers and our sister have all agreed to share the proceeds of the sale of the property of our parents equally. We never questioned it and never thought there could be difference in inheritance laws.

In the early sixties, we had our first woman mayor in my town Yelahanka, and nearly twenty years later when I visited San Francisco, celebrations were on for electing the first woman mayor in America; Diane Feinstein! I said wow! 
Communal riots

My father is my hero and opened the doors of wisdom to us. Pluralism indeed runs in my family. He taught us one of the biggest lessons of my life in social cohesiveness and dealing with extremism that I continue to reflect in my talks, acts and write ups.

During the communal riots in Jabalpur (India) in the early sixties, both Muslims and Hindus were killed in the mayhem, as it happens every time. I wish every father in India, America and elsewhere teaches this lesson to his kids. He was crystal clear on his take; He told us the "individuals" are responsible for the bloodshed and not the religions. If we get the guy who started the conflict and punish him for disturbing peace, rather than calling it a religious issue for the communities to jump in and aggravate it further, we would have saved many lives. He would emphasize that you cannot blame the intangible religion and expect justice, we must blame the individuals who caused it and punish them accordingly for disturbing the peace and thus bring a resolution to the conflict by serving justice. He said you cannot annihilate, kill, hang or beat the religion, then why bark at it?

What is pluralism?

Simply put, it is respecting the otherness of the other and accepting the uniqueness of each one of us. In cultural terms, it is recognizing your culture as a beautiful expression of life to you, as my own is to me. When it comes to food, it is appreciating the Rice you enjoy over the Naan I delight, or vice-versa. For Americans, it is medium rare stake versus the well done. In religious terms, it is learning to honor the way your worship or bow to the creator in gratitude, is as divine as my own.

Our future is Pluralism.

By the end of 2020, there will not be a major work place America or India and other places, where you will not find people of different faiths, cultures, ethnicities, races, nationalities and social backgrounds working, eating, playing, marrying, and doing things together.

We need to prepare ourselves for those eventualities to prevent possible conflicts and lay a good foundation for nurturing goodwill and effective functioning of the societies.  Exclusive communities will become a thing of the past. (Foundation for Pluralism, Pluralism Center)

Being a Muslim, I am deeply committed to nurturing the pluralistic values embedded in Islam (World Muslim congress). The role of a Muslim is to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, most people get that, a few don’t, just as with any other religious group.

Pluralism is our future, and as a futurist, based on the trends, I foresee, that two generations from now, we would be comfortable in saying, my religion, culture or life style is one of the many choices, and further down the road, a significant number will proclaim that my way of life is not superior or inferior to any.

They will consider ‘claiming superiority’ would be sheer arrogance and religion (a major part of life to many) is believed to imbue humility that builds societies, communities and nations in creating that elusive kingdom of heaven where all of us can live  without apprehension or fear of the other.

We are one nation

We are one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. We are represented by every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, culture and religion. We see God as one, none and many and in every form; male, female, genderless and non-existent, being and non-being, nameless and with innumerable names. Indeed, we must preserve the pluralistic heritage of America.

About India
We are Adivasis, Atheists, Baha’is, Bos, Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Hindus, Jains, Jewish, Muslim, Sikhs, Tribals, Zoroastrians and every possible grouping. We are Brown, Black, White, Yellow and green with envy and phir bhi dil hai Hindustani (My heart is Indian).

Our Motherland is represented by every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, culture and religion. We see God as one, none and many; and in every form; male, female, genderless and non-existent, being and non-being, nameless and with innumerable names.

We are proud of our heritage - a multi-faith, multi-cultural, multi-regional and multi-linguistic society, where we have come to accept and respect every which way people have lived their lives. For over 5000 years, India has been a beacon of pluralism - it has embraced Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Baha'i and Zoroastrianism to include in the array of the indigenous religions; Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. 

What we need to do

We may want to consciously start thinking and acting as one people, one people within a nation and a community and one people globally. It's like home when we are conflict free.  I do hope each one of us purges any bias towards the other, there is joy in being free from ill-will. Try to be free from it this day forward… free from anything that prevents you from being a part of the parts or the whole. 

Our combined philosophies believe in one world ; Hinduism describes the world as Vasudaiva Kutumbukum, the whole world is one family, the idea of Ek Onkar(one) in Sikhism, you are all created from the same couple as Quraan puts it and Jesus embraced every one regardless of who any one is... similar philosophies are grounded in all our religions. 

The book and the Movie

Insha Allah, my book, The American Pluralist will be released shortly, it is a chronicle of how things work in bringing the communities together, it is dedicated to India’s pluralistic heritage; India’s gift to America.  

The movie is about building a cohesive America, where no American has to live with anxiety, apprehension, discomfort or fear of the other. One must be free to live his or her life to the fullest in pursuit of happiness.

I believe the civility of a nation is determined by how it treats its weak, economically backward, the men and women in ditches, the voiceless, its women and the minorities.

A few links referred to in the writing are:

  1. The Ghouse diary .
  2. My profile -
  3. Mike Ghouse for India -
  4. My Real name -
  5. Pluralism Speaker -
  6. Muslim Speaker -
  7. Curriculum Vitae -
  8. Linked in profile -
  9. Foundation for Pluralism -
  10. World Muslim Congress -
  11. Quraan Conference -
  12. America together Foundation -
  13. Standing up for others -
  14. Reflections Annual Holocaust and Genocides -
  15. Unity Day USA - 
  16. 30 Blogs -
  17. Video- Trailer Americans Together -
  18. Video- My story, Part I -
  19. Video- My story, Part II -
  20. Video - My latest talk at Gurdwara -
  21. Video-  July4th Tippu Sultan -
  22. Video - Quraan Translation/Bhagvad Gita -
  23. Video - Immigration Rally -
  24. Video- Pluralism Prayers -
  25. Video- Pluralism greetings, Chicago -
  26. Video - There are over 200 links on the YouTube.

** There are many such issues, that no one has dared to bring a resolution, for example; the atrocities committed by some of the kings from the Mughal era have deeply wounded the psyche of our Population, Hindus among us are hurt and are subconsciously enslaved to the idea of getting even with Muslims, who have nothing to do with what those kings did, and Muslims on the other hand have not washed their hands completely off the Moghuls, as if they were our relatives. The Sikh Genocide of 1984, the Gujarat Genocide of Muslims, the abusive treatment of Dalits (the misclassified lower rung of the society), and the unchecked reservations system has boomeranged discriminating the well qualified because they are not classified in the lower rung. These will not go away, the simmer inside and act out in denying simple opportunties of life to another Indian
. Shame on all of us, that we have not let a fellow Indian feel secure in the pursuit of his or her happiness.We should not let economic problems

Mike Ghouse
In Summary;
Mike Ghouse is a
speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place and standing up for others as an activist. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News, fortnightly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site indexes everything you want to know about him.

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