NEW DELHI -- While addressing a gathering of Sufi leaders and scholars from at least 20 countries in the national capital today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that Islam is a religion of peace, which had nothing to do with terrorism.
"When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence. The first two names denote compassionate and merciful. Allah is Rahman and Raheem," Modi said.
Inaugurating the three-day World Sufi Forum, Modi gave his most detailed speech about Islam and Muslims in India since taking charge as Prime Minister, and very likely in his entire political career.
As if he was responding to months of criticism about the threat to religious minorities under his leadership, and his painful silence at the onslaught of offensive remarks by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, Modi today exhorted the virtues of Islam and the teachings of Sufism.
"You represent the rich diversity of the Islamic civilization that stands on the solid bedrock of a great religion," Modi told the audience at Vigyan Bhavan. "It is a civilization that reached great heights by the 15th century in science, medicine, literature, art, architecture and commerce."
Earlier this month, Ananth Kumar Hegde, a BJP lawmaker from Karnataka, called for the end of Islam.
Reaching out to "Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, the micro-minority of Parsis, believers, non-believers," Modi credited India's progress "to every member of every faith."
"Now, India is moving forward on the strength of the struggles, the sacrifices, the bravery, the knowledge, the skill, the art and the pride of every member of every faith in our diverse and yet united nation," he said.
On Friday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will be the chief guest at the World Sufi Forum, which, over the next two days, will discuss the teachings of Sufism, widely regarded as the spiritual dimension of Islam, and how to counter extremism and terrorism.
"Terrorists distort a religion whose cause they profess to support. They kill and destroy more in their own land and among their own people than they do elsewhere," said Modi. "Those who spread terror in the name of religion are anti-religious."
"We must advance the message of Sufism that stands for the principles of Islam and the highest human values," he said.
The event, organised by the Delhi-based All India Ulama & Mashaikh Board, will end of Sunday at the Ram Leela Maidan, where Sufi leaders will read a declaration committing to keeping the country and Islam out of the clutches of Wahhabism and extremism.
In his speech today, Modi said that Muslims in India are defined by the "spirit of Sufism, the love for their country and the pride in their nation," and "shaped by the values of the Islamic heritage of India."
"They are steeped in the democratic tradition of India, confident of their place in the country and invested in the future of their nation," he said.
While borrowing verses from Sufi scholars and saints such as Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and extolling the virtues of different faiths, Modi ended his speech by chanting "Om Shanti; Shanti; Shanti: Peace, Peace, Peace."
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