In what some consider one of the most inspiring anti-terrorism speeches made recently by a world leader, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasized how much Islam has been misinterpreted, misunderstood, horribly distorted and thereby violently misused worldwide. Addressing the first World Sufi Forum in New Delhi on March 17, he reminded the audience how Islam has as its core a universal message of peace and harmony.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

“When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence, and that the first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem (merciful),” Modi said while inaugurating the four-day conference, with participants from Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, US, Canada, UK and other countries.

Terming the conference as, “an extraordinary event of great importance to the world, at a critical time for humanity,” Modi said, “You are the noor, or the light of hope. When young laughter is silenced by guns on the streets, you are the voice that heals.”

The global fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion, Modi reminded in a speech widely hailed and warmly received across India. “It cannot be. It is a struggle between the values of humanism and the forces of inhumanity. It is not a conflict to be fought only through military, intelligence or diplomatic means. It is also a battle that must be won through the strength of our values and the real message of religions.”

Modi called for rejecting any link between terrorism and religion: “Those spreading terror in the name of religion are anti-religious … Terrorism uses diverse motivations and causes, none of which can be justified. Terrorists distort a religion whose cause they profess to support.”

It would help significantly, thereby, if the world’s media stops feeding this distortion by not automatically prefixing terrorists and their murderous attacks with the word “Islamic” — or of any other religion.

Modi said in this digital century of new promise and opportunities, the reach of terrorists is growing and their victims increasing every year. In 2015 alone, over 90 countries experienced terrorist attacks.

“Parents in 100 countries live with the daily pain of their children lost to the battlefields of Syria,” Modi said in his 30-minute talk. “And, in a globally mobile world, one incident can claim citizens of many nations. Every year, we spend over 100 billion dollars on securing the world from terrorism, money that should have been spent on building lives of the poor. They kill and destroy more in their own land and among their own people than they do elsewhere. And, they are putting entire regions to peril and making the world more insecure and violent.”

The prime minister alluded to the often forgotten teaching in the Koran that says if anyone slew one innocent person, it would be as if he slew a whole people and if anyone saved one life, it would be as if he saved a whole people.

“At the beginning of a new century, we are at yet another point of transformation on a scale rarely seen in human history,” Modi said, “In many parts of the world, there is uncertainty about the future, and how to deal with it as nations and societies. These are precisely the times that the world is most vulnerable to violence and conflicts.

“… Each day brings us terrible news and horrifying images of schools turned into graveyards of innocence, of prayer gatherings turned into funeral processions, of call to prayer or Azaan drowned by the sound of explosion, massacres in malls and smoldering cars on streets, of thriving cities ruined and priceless heritage destroyed, and of parents bearing coffins, entire communities dislocated, millions displaced.”

Terrorists distort a religion whose cause they profess to support, Modi said. “They kill and destroy more in their own land and among their own people than they do elsewhere. And, they are putting entire regions to peril and making the world more insecure and violent.”

Quoting from all leading faiths practiced in the world, Modi pointed out how: “Diversity is a basic reality of Nature and source of richness of a society; and, it should not be a cause of discord … We need just not constitutional provisions or legal safeguards, but also social values to build an inclusive and peaceful society, in which everyone belongs, secure about his rights and confident of her future.”

Full text of the speech at the inaugural World Sufi Forum here

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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