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August 2020
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Speeches

A.S. Hossen-Gooljar: Inter-faith Dialogue in Mauritius – A Myth or Reality?

Mauritius is often cited as a country where people of different faiths interact in peace and harmony. Although people of different faiths have been living in this island nation for centuries, it seems that they do not really know each other, according to a survey conducted by Mrs. Allia Syed Hoosen-Gooljar, Director of the Centre des Dames Mourides. The summary of her findings is excerpted below.

Participants in the survey

  • 48% are from the Hindu community
  • 14% are Muslims
  • 30% are Christians
  • 3% are Buddhists
  • 5% have no religion

The majority of the respondents said they knew about one or more religions other than theirs. In fact 88% of the respondents knew about another religion.

  • 15% know about at least one religion which is not theirs
  • 38% know about two other religions
  • 25% know about three other religions
  • 10% know about four other religions
  • 12% said that they do not know of any religion other than theirs.

However, it is important to note that in-depth interviews revealed that the knowledge of other religions is superficial for those who said that they are knowledgeable about the religions of others.

Out of the 88% of the respondents who are familiar with the religion of others:

  • 74% familiarize themselves with the religion of others through their interaction with neighbors and friends
  • 45% read books to know about different religions
  • 19% became familiar with a religion which is not theirs because they attended a confessional school
  • 25% of them learnt through the media.

It is important to note that people do make an effort to familiarize themselves with other religions. However, since there is no structured program on such topics, they learn in haphazard ways, with the result that they do not have an in-depth knowledge.

The study tried to find out the extent to which the respondents know the differences and similarities between the different schools of thought in the different religions that exist in Mauritius. The data reveals that:

  • only 18% are very knowledgeable
  • 42% hold that they are quite versed on the subject
  • 37% said that they do not know differences well
  • 3% did not respond to that question.

The survey revealed that a majority of the respondents held that they are knowledgeable about the differences and similarities.  However, the in-depth interview revealed that they are often confused on the nature of the schools of thought. For instance, some respondents gave “karma”, “caste system”, or spiritual groups such as Sai Baba as example of schools of thought in Hinduism.  There are some respondents who think that there is a caste system in Islam and give the name of some groups who come from specific regions of India as an example of a school of thought in Islam. Religious groups such as Hizbullah, Ahmadiyya, and Sufi orders are also cited as examples of school of thought in Islam. For the Christian faith, people seem to know better the different schools of thought, whereas for Buddhism, they do not know at all. This can be explained by the fact that people do not meet those practicing Buddhism and hence are not knowledgeable about this religion.

Of the participants:

  • 52% are non-Hindus
  • 86% are non-Muslims
  • 70% are non-Christians
  • 97% are non-Buddhists
  • 5% have no religion.

 

Non-Hindus’ knowledge about Hindu festivals

Divali

  • 39% very knowledgeable
  • 48% quite knowledgeable
  • 13% little knowledge.

It is interesting to note that everybody has some knowledge to some extent.  However, the in-depth interviews reveal that respondents know only the outer meaning of this festival. They relate Divali to sharing of cakes and lighting of lamps.  The values behind these festivals are not known.

Holi

  • 13% very knowledgeable
  • 42% quite knowledgeable
  • 32% little knowledge
  • 13% no knowledge.

Those who held that they know about this festival said that they know from what they learn in the media. They associate it with people playing with colors.

Maha Shivatree

  • 32% very knowledgeable
  • 34% quite knowledgeable
  • 29% little knowledge
  • 5% no knowledge.

Obviously, since this festival gets very good media coverage, people are aware of its significance.

Ougadi

  • 13% very knowledgeable
  • 17% quite knowledgeable
  • 36% little knowledge
  • 34% no knowledge.

Once again, in-depth interviews reveal that respondents only have a vague notion about this festival.

Taipoosam Cavadee

  • 24% very knowledgeable
  • 26% quite knowledgeable
  • 32% little knowledge
  • 18% no knowledge.

Once again, since this festival gets great media coverage, people tend to know more about it.

Ganesh Chaturthi

  • 16% very knowledgeable
  • 24% quite knowledgeable
  • 26% little knowledge
  • 34% no knowledge.

 

Non-Christians’ knowledge about Christian festivals

Christmas

  • 60% very knowledgeable
  • 30% quite knowledgeable
  • 8% little knowledge
  • 2% no knowledge.

As Christmas is celebrated at national level, people are very knowledgeable about this festival. However, it is important to note that people give more importance to Father Christmas. Moreover, shopping during this period is very important for many people irrespective of religion. However, very often people do not pay much attention on the religious aspect.

 

Easter

  • 43% very knowledgeable
  • 41% quite knowledgeable
  • 14% little knowledge
  • 2% no knowledge.

This period preceding this festival is well-known to the people since it is about Christians’ fasting. Consequently, people are very aware of the celebration of Easter, which marks the end of fasting for the Christians.

Assumption

  • only 18% very knowledgeable
  • 59% quite knowledgeable
  • 13% little knowledge
  • 10% no knowledge.

Non-Muslims’ knowledge about Muslim festivals

Eid-ul-Fitr

  • 25% very knowledgeable
  • 51% quite knowledgeable
  • 16% little knowledge
  • 8% no knowledge.

A majority of people know about this festival since as in the case of Easter, people know when Muslims begin fasting and the end of fasting is the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Both the month of fasting known as Ramadan and the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr get good media coverage and hence people are aware of these celebrations

 

Eid-ul-Adha

  • 14% very knowledgeable
  • 24% quite knowledgeable
  • 35% little knowledge
  • 27% no knowledge.

Since Eid-ul-Adha is not a public holiday, people do not pay much attention to it.  Hence, they do not know much about this Muslim celebration.

Non-Buddhists’ knowledge about a Buddhist festival

Chinese Spring Festival

  • 16% very knowledgeable
  • 35% quite knowledgeable
  • 28% little knowledge
  • 21% no knowledge.

This festival also gets good media coverage and hence is known to the public. However, in-depth interview revealed that the meaning of this festival is not known. Once again, people relate to the festival to the sharing of cakes.

 

Situations that enable you to become familiar with the different festivals

  • 67% through friends
  • 19% on the Internet
  • 45% in the media
  • 11% other sources of information.

For instance, they work with people of other faiths and learnt from them when the latter celebrate their festivals. However, in-depth interviews show that although they hold that they know about these festivals, they do not know about the real meaning behind these festivals.

 

Awareness of the different rites and rituals practiced by the different religions during prayers

  • Only 4% are very aware
  • 52% are quite aware
  • 44% do not understand the meanings at all.

Familiarity with the different rites and rituals practiced by the different religions during special occasions like birth, marriage and death

  • Only 4% understand the meanings
  • 38% are quite knowledgeable
  • 58% are not familiar at all with these practices.

Awareness that people of certain religions cannot consume certain types of food

  • 89% are aware
  • 11% are not aware.

However, it is worth noting that the respondents could not give example in most cases.  It seems that for Islam, most people know that Muslims do not eat pork and consume only Halal food.  But, for other religions, the respondents, in most cases, were not able to give examples.

 

The extent to which people are comfortable with people practicing a religion other than theirs

  • 79% very comfortable
  • 21% quite comfortable

Place of meeting people of different faiths

  • 82% at their place of work
  • 75% at social functions such as wedding and funeral ceremonies
  • 27% have close friends or neighbors whom they meet regularly.

The majority of the people have colleagues of other faiths.  Their interaction with them is very limited. Hence, there is no great opportunity to understand the others’ faiths.  However, it is interesting to note that when they are invited in a wedding or there is a funeral, people do make a must to attend ceremonies of other religions.

 

Conclusions

The findings show that there is lot of ignorance and a lack of understanding of each other’s beliefs, which often result in sweeping statements being made thus giving rise to unnecessary tensions. It is interesting to note, however, that some people do take time to read about the religions existing in Mauritius. Unfortunately, they have only a vague notion of the different religious practices.

As a majority of the respondents feel there is a need to get information about the religion of the other, this is indeed an opportunity to grasp by organizing structured inter-faith meetings to disseminate information about the different religions existing in Mauritius. This may help to erase misunderstanding that may arise in the course of interaction even with people of their own faiths.

©Copyright 2012. Used by permission.

Note: In distributing a summary of the findings of the survey, the Centre des Dames Mourides stated that it "intends of run a course on inter-faith shortly for members of NGOs since we believe that our diversity should be harnessed as a source of strength. People must be made aware that we all may be different in our religious beliefs but there are values we have in common that can strengthen unity and promote peace and harmony. However, it is important to point out that the unity we speak of does not mean that we agree on everything. We must find ways and means to come together so as to learn from one another."