Abdus Sabur is a man on a unique mission. As founder and genera-secretary of AMAN – the Asian Muslim Action Network, aptly named to depict peace in Arabic and its derivatives, he has taken up the cause of promoting social justice and inter-faith dialogue among Asian muslims, especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Hailing from a small village in current Bangladesh, he has been a witness to the war of partition and its aftermath. He got involved in helping several Hindu families who were victims of the ravages of war, and this brought him in contact with the Bangkok-based organization Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFD). Eventually he moved to Bangkok, and spent several years working on promoting Asian religious values in trying to solve singularly Asian problems.
During his years at ACFD, he noticed that while most Muslims donated to charity in the form of helping madrassas and mosques, there were very few who tried to perceive the depth of the problem and helped in directly uplifting the society. This was in contrast to several Buddhist, Christian and Hindu organizations that he saw around him. It inspired him to set up AMAN, with the aim of instilling progressive Islamic ideas in the Muslim youth. Noted Mumbai-based Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer was chosen the convener of the network.
The well-written article by Yoginder Sikand also talks about the difficulty that AMAN has faced in generating funds for its cause:
With limited funds at its disposal, it has not been an easy journey for AMAN. Involving the traditional ulema of the madrasas in its work, which Sabur sees as essential, given the influence that they enjoy among many Muslim communities, has yet to happen in a significant way. ‘Madrasas are important, I agree, but their students need to have a broader social vision and a deeper insight into a host of social issues of contemporary concern, which many of them lack’, he comments. He cites the instance of several Christian groups, each inspired by what they regard as the values of Christianity, that are actively engaged in struggles for social justice and inter-community solidarity. ‘Islam, properly understood, teaches us all this as well. It stands for equality and fraternity, not just within the mosque, but in society outside too, but this is hardly how it is interpreted today. It stands for human rights, for all human beings, and not just for Muslims alone. It teaches us to respect diversity. The Quran states that God made people into different communities, so that they could understand one another, not so that they should fight and kill each other. We need to revise many of our traditional understandings, to recover what I believe to be the essential social message of Islam’. And that is where the need to reach out to and work with the traditional ulema comes into the picture, for many of them continue to miss the liberating message of the Quran, properly understood, particularly as it applies to women, the poor and the oppressed and to people of other faiths.
AMAN has organized a number of activities including an annual three-week peace-building course in Bangkok. It awards annual scholarships to Muslim students from South-East Asia to study the lives and concerns of Muslim communities in the region. Three years ago it also launched a quarterly magazine called AMANA, which is published in five languages and deals with several social issues like women’s rights, justice, causes, inter-faith dialogues and learnings, among others.
Sabur also talks about other on-going work that AMAN is engaged in: helping out refugees from neighbouring South-East Asian countries who now live and eke out a living in Bangkok, galvanizing funds for mosques destroyed in the recent deadly quake in southern China and for families devastated by a killer cyclone in Myanmar and working with a Buddhist group in war-torn southern Thailand to promote understanding between Muslims and Buddhists. He excitedly tells me about AMAN’s plans of shortly launching a Master’s degree in peace studies in association with an Indonesian university.
It is commendable in these days of religious and communal strife to see an organization striving to promote inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding and peace. Sabur is a man who does not hesitate in adopting all that he finds good in every faith, including his own, and highlighting it in his work and service. Such work needs to be endorsed and promoted.