By Saeed Qureshi
Dr. Harbans Lal was among a group of faith leaders receiving the “International Medal of Honor” award for his lifelong commitment to promoting interfaith engagement among adherents of the world’s religions. An Award Banquet was held on November 12, 2016, in Irving, Texas to recognize 28 Honorees with achievements in several categories of public service.
The award medal was presented by the Grace International Seminary, founded and led by President Dr. Karen Hollie-Thibodeaux. She is also the Senior Minister of The Lifeway Church of Dallas, which is the only seminary for women in the USA with chapters spread in many cities.
Grace International Seminary recognized and honored leaders of the Dallas-Forth Worth Faith Community whose actions support Grace International’s Vision and Mission through their bridge-building between faiths. The award recipients’ efforts promoted people of different faiths to learn how to work together to make our world a peaceful and better place. The honorees were recognized for providing opportunities for diverse faith groups to learn from each other and share common experiences.
Dr. Lal is a distinguished neuroscientist and scholar who has been actively engaged in interfaith dialogues and engagement since his student days in Pakistan and India, and since 1956 in the United States. As a high school student (1940-46) in his native Pakistan, he promoted joint Sikh-Muslim-Hindu interfaith dialogues at the town library which he managed. During this time, he was inducted into the Executive Committee of the All India Sikh Students Federation; in 1954 he became its national president.
Soon after entering the University of Kansas (1956) in the United States, Dr. Lal led Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and Jewish students in debates and dialogues. In the same year, the university students celebrated Guru Nanak’s Birthday, the first such celebration ever at an American University campus. After moving to the University of Chicago (1958-64), Dr. Lal continued his interfaith activities, organizing fireplace discussions on interfaith topics at the University’s International House.
While still at the University, Dr. Lal was a sought-after speaker on the interfaith message of Guru Nanak at local churches, clubs, and organizations. In Chicago, he actively promoted and participated in the Conference of World Religions presided by Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s top diplomat at the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice.
In Dallas, Texas, Dr. Harbans Lal was invited to join the Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square in 1983. This Council is a group of individuals representing the major religious traditions of the world. They plan seminars and workshops. They respond to religious issues and needs through the prism of thanksgiving – i.e., an appreciation of the positive qualities to be found in all world cultures and religious traditions. This group has been recognized as a strongly positive force locally and internationally. It was inducted as NGO in the consultative capacity and, Thanks-Giving Square was declared the national monument for American ThanksGiving.
Harbans Lal with Interfaith Council Leadership
Dr. Harbans Lal has represented at many of the Interfaith Council’s events: the annual National Day of Prayer, the 1999 Millennium Thanksgiving Conference, the 2000 Thanksgiving Symposium at the United Nations, etc. He has also represented the Sikh thought at the Parliament of World Religions in Cape Town, in Barcelona, in Australia, in Salt Lake City and at the United Nations Summit of World Religious Leaders at the United Nations in New York. For the past decade or so, he has been representing the Parliament as its Ambassador.
Harbans Lal co-organized 2001 International Conference at Amritsar and in Lahore on the theme of Interfaith Dialogue Promoted by Guru Nanak. There, worldwide scholars representing Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism spoke on the necessity of interfaith engagement.
Commenting on the Lahore Conference, Judge Ali Nawaz Chowhan of United Nations and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said the following. “It is a rare occasion in an Islamic country like Pakistan that Muslim scholars along with scholars of non-Islamic faiths speak from one public platform”. From the Pakistani press coverage, it was evident that the Pakistan symposium changed the tone of many leaders in public life. This symposium was followed by interfaith conferences still continually being held in Pakistan and India; even President Musharraf started using terms as interfaith understanding in his speeches.
Indeed, Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal is known and admired by scientists, faith organizations and his own Sikh community around the world.
As an academic, Dr. Lal retired in 2000 as Emeritus Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. He was known for his research in behavioral medicine, substance abuse, and the prolongation of the healthy life span through nutritional enhancement. He has served on the advisory boards of the National Institute of health, the National Science Foundation, and the US Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Harbans Lal holds many distinguished positions in Sikh institutions, which have honored him with their highest recognitions and awards. Those honors included the title of Bhai Sahib and the Nishan-e-Khalsa, the highest recognitions ever bestowed upon any Sikh scholar and the person of distinction. Guru Nanak Dev University recognized his works with Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) degree.
Further, he can also claim the distinction in that he was honored also by religious organizations other than institutions of his own Sikh faith.
Dr. Lal was honored with a Life-Time Achievement Award on Unity Day USA. This award recognized those who promoted unity in the USA following hate crimes in reaction to the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. In 2010, Masjid Imam W. Deen Mohammed honored Dr. Harbans Lal at its SECOND ANNUAL UMMAH AWARDS APPRECIATION DINNER. Ummah means “Community” in Arabic and the annual award honors those who work towards furthering community development by bridging the gap between people of faith, races, and cultures building community and understanding.
Earlier during his academic career, Dr. Harbans Lal was given the “Distinguished Neuroscientist Award” at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Neuroscience.
Send all communications to:
Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
Emeritus Professor & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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