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Global: Thoughts on interfaith harmony and world peace

After a New Year’s day bombing in Egypt that killed 21 people outside a Christian church, solidarity and interfaith support blossomed in the country. Thousands of Muslims took a bold step to prevent a repeat bombing at Coptic Christmas Eve services a few days later, volunteering to serve as human shields to deter potential bombers. Among those showing solidarity was Ibn Abdel Aziz [ar]. Feeling an urge to cry, the Egyptian blogger writes an open letter to his Christian friends, colleagues and neighbors:

اعاهد الله اليوم وانا علي مشارف ان ارزق باول طفل لي في حياتي ان اقوم بما يمكن ان التزم به … ان اعلمه كل ما اعرف وان يكون افضل مني ومن امه ومن اجداده وجداته علي كل مستوى ممكن ، وان هذا هو الذي استطيع ان افعله واسأل الله ان اموت وقد تركت خلفي ذرية تعرف الله كما اراد الله وتامر بالعدل وتطبقه علي نفسها اولا وتكره الظلم وتنقد الذات وتصلح النفس وتبني الارض وتحارب الكراهية والوصم والتمييز وسائر ادواء البشر ما استطعت .

وكفرد من الاغلبية العددية ..اعرف مسئوليتي جيدا تجاه الاخرين من اقليات عددية بسبب الدين او المذهب او العرق ..وليت كل المسلمين يعرفون هذا

في النهاية

كلماتي عاجزة عن وصف ما اشعر به

هذه خواطري المبعثرة

وهذا بوح نفسي المثقلة

وهذا انا ..كما أنا

اسمحوا لي ان اقف في صفوفكم وان اخذ العزاء معكم .

وأن يقال لي : ربنا يعزيك

I swear to God today and I'm almost becoming a father for the first time, that I will do what I should do, to teach my baby what I know to make it better than me, than his mother, his grandparents in every way possible, and this is what I can. I pray to God that when I die leaving behind a family who know God as God wants. A family calling for justice while applying it for themselves first. A family who hate injustice, self-criticize, fight hate, tarnishing, discrimination and the rest of human diseases however they can.
And as a person from the majority, I know well my responsibility towards the other religions, sectarian, or ethnic minorities. I wish all Muslims knew this responsibility.
Finally
I run out of words to describe what I feel
This is just a random thought
This is my spoken burden,
This is me as I am,
And please allow me to stand at your side and take the condolences with you (Christians).
And to be told: May God give you His condolences

News of tolerance between people of different faiths like the one above does not usually find its way to the headlines. The forces of religious intolerance are more prominently featured in the media, and at times like this, it can be difficult to hear voices preaching the universal values of respect and mutual understanding. To give those working for interfaith understanding and dialogue a chance to spread the message, the United Nations has designated the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week between all religions, faiths and beliefs. From 2011, all States worldwide were asked to:

“support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.”

Photo by flickr user choconancy. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Why are interfaith dialogue – meaning cooperation between religions and between religion and science – and interfaith harmony – meaning the absence of hatred among people of different faiths – so important? Because everyone wants to live in peace.

From Mexico City, Marvin Lance Wiser shares his own experiences and explains why interfaith dialogue is a critical component for the maintaining of civic and international stability:

One’s faith traditions should not be asked to be separated from a person as they enter the civic arena. We must no longer claim ignorance towards the religious other, and we must no longer continue in a practice of monopoly of truths, hegemony of God, and assimilation of those that fall into our periphery. Interfaith dialogue does not exist for the sake of proselytizing others to one religion or one culture, nor does it exist to create a melting pot of syncretism where all religious identities are conflated into one. Not all religions are the same, there exist a myriad of differences, however there is dignity in difference, and this is a central tenet of the Interfaith movement. Interfaith dialogue is an exercise of learning about those that are radically different from myself and my community and learning how to coexist with those persons that subscribe to different beliefs, customs, and worldviews other than my own. It also serves to strengthen my own faith identity.

If it is not possible to deny that there are theological differences between so many religions, the challenge for people of faith living in diverse and plural societies is to acknowledge these differences without loosing respect and friendship for one another – and reach across the divide to work together for common goals, such as compassion, justice and peace. Interfaith peacemaker T C Davis realises that in fact faith is about more than religion:

One morning at 2:30 a.m. I awoke and couldn’t fall back asleep. What is this thing called faith, I wondered, which enlivens people from many religious traditions, but also, some people who are not religious? Here’s what came to me:

Faith is an optimistic energy that impels one to make the world a better place. This optimistic energy is not based upon a careful calculation of favorable outcomes, but rather, upon the unshakable conviction that love is stronger than hate, and that one can accomplish much, indeed much more than one can foresee, provided one spends one’s life loving.

Here is a definition of faith, I think, that will bear all freight, and will serve better to understand what “interfaith” means, rather than seeing it as a synonym for “interreligious.”

Photo by flickr user choconancy. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Religion; it advocates compassion and love. At the same time, interpretations of religious concepts are used to legitimate violence and war. Of the hundreds of existing religious traditions, every single one prays for fraternity and peace. Yet, many conflicts and wars throughout history have had, in some capacity, connections to religion. All religions claim to hold the truth and to have exclusivity to the path to salvation, but Portuguese blogger André explains that it all comes down to human interpretations of sacred scriptures. Taking the Bible as an example, he says [pt]:

Interpretam a Bíblia crentes e não crentes, investigadores profissionais e outros estudiosos. Quem estuda, forçosamente interpreta, à luz dos seus conhecimentos. Quem tem mais conhecimentos e os sabe relacionar, interpretará necessariamente melhor. Quem só estuda Bíblia e não colige com outras fontes de Conhecimento, forçosamente fica com menos pontos de referência e tem uma visão mais simplificada. O que é lamentável é que ainda haja guerras por causa da Bíblia, agora que o tempo das Cruzadas vai longe. Afinal, a mensagem central da Bíblia é o amor e a tolerância.

The Bible is interpreted by believers and nonbelievers, professional researchers and other studious people. Those who study it inevitably interpret it in light of their own knowledge. Those who have more knowledge and know how to interlink knowledge, will surely interpret it better. Those who just study the Bible without compiling with other sources of knowledge, will necessarily end up with fewer reference points and a more simplified view. What is unfortunate is that there are still conflicts because of the Bible, now that the time of the Crusades is far in the past. After all, the central message of the Bible is love and tolerance.

Interpretations apart, one thing that can be held to be true is that sincere faith cannot be prescribed, much less imposed – it needs to come from within. Despite differences, Malaysian historian Abu Saif believes that it is possible to co-exist pacifically – as long as everyone understands that there is no need to prove whose religion is better – as the intention of religion is for one to find what is good for oneself in this temporary life:

Me myself, I learn about Muhammad and his religion for me to clarify my own purpose of life, why God created me, why I am here, where am I heading to after this worldly transit? I found my answer best through the teaching of Muhammad. I learn about religion to answer my own Questions, and not to question others!

So, if the sender [of the email that inspired the post] believe[s] that his idea about Christianity gave him satisfaction in finding the absolute truth, then let him be with his Christianity. Islam stands with its own strength and Christianity should be confident with what it has.

[…]

I found peace and had full of tranquility by believing and loving both Jesus and Muhammad and I cannot do anything to help someone who find peace in hating any of these great men.

God knows the best.

Talking about God, since all religions worship the same power that created the universe, some believe that they all worship the same entity under many sacred or holy names. US writer Trinda Latherow lists a few of them – God, Lord, Jesus, Father in Heaven, Allah, Lord Brahma Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, Elohim, El Shaddai – and elaborates:

Photo by flickr user choconancy. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With so many understandings as to our being and what God is to us, it is no wonder we have so many names for God. Even in my own limited travels and acquaintances thus far, I have come to know not only of the many theories and beliefs as to what God is, but also the many names by which man calls God. They include such sacred and holy names as God the Creator, the One or One of all, the Source of all, the Collective Consciousness, the Highest or Most High, Highest Self, Divine Mind, Great Spirit, Holy Spirit, Spirit, Universal Christ, All that Is, the Universe, the I Am, and my favorite and the one Akiane Kramarik understands her Father in Heaven to be as quite simply Love. Explaining at the young age of just thirteen that everyone’s name and perception of God is different and that is what so often separates us. Yet, if we understand that God is love, and we know what love is, then perhaps our differences will yield way to the universal truth that we are indeed all One. For what lies within you and within me is part of all creation itself, no matter the name we use.

Change yourself, change the universe

Forget the politics of religion – the solution for a peaceful world may be simple and attainable. From Brazil, Cirilo Moraes reminds us [pt] that dialogue, respect, tolerance and mutual understanding among peoples start within ourselves in our daily lives, and that each one of us can be an instrument of peace:

E assim é: mude interiormente e tudo ao redor mudará também. É a antiga noção de que o semelhante atrai o semelhante. Não tem segredo nenhum. Uma ação leva a uma reação; uma causa, a uma conseqüência. Violência gera violência, e dissemina ódio e ressentimentos; paz gera paz; amor gera amor. A questão é o que você escolhe disseminar. […]

Você está sendo tolerante e paciente com seus irmãos, pais, amigos, colegas de trabalho, seus conhecidos e inclusive com os que não conhece? Busca apaziguar os conflitos ou ajuda a inflamá-los? Você respeita as diferenças que os outros têm em relação a você ou quer impor as suas verdades e conceitos pré-concebidos a qualquer custo? São perguntas simples que você deve fazer a si mesmo, e não aos outros. Se cada um mudar a si, o mundo inteiro será diferente. Não adianta pedir paz aos outros, mas não agir de acordo com ela em todos os momentos de sua vida.

Ademais, lembre-se sempre: a paz do mundo começa em ti, em mim, em nós…

It goes like this: change yourself within and everything around you will change too. This is the the old notion that like attracts like. There are no secrets. One action leads to a reaction; a cause leads to a consequence. Violence begets violence, spreads hatred and resentment; peace creates peace, love begets love. The point is what you choose to disseminate. […]

Are you being tolerant and patient with your siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and even those who you don't know? Do you try to appease conflicts or do you help to inflame them? Do you respect other people's differences or do you want to impose your truths and preconceptions on them at all costs? These are simple questions that you should ask yourself, not others. If each one of us change within, the whole world will be different. No use asking peace to others, if you don't act on it at all times of your life.

Also, always remember: the peace of the world begins in you, me, us…

Photo by flickr user choconancy. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Check the Seeds of Compassion photo set, by flickr user Choconancy1 whose photos illustrate this post.

Mohamed ElGohary collaborated with this post.

9 comments

  • […] Thoughts on interfaith harmony and world peace. Paula Goes, Global Voices, 2/6/11 […]

  • This is an outstanding article and I am grateful for all of the challenges that have been presented here…challenges to all of us who consider ourselves worshipers, lovers, adorers, children, created by a Supreme Being…challenges for us to view each other as different only in how we worship, love and adore this Being who is larger, deeper, wider, than anything we can imagine as this Being appears to accept all of our worship, love and adoration by whatever name we call or practice in which we participate. In as much as the Supreme Being is all of this, could we possibly be attempting to usurp this all-inclusiveness for ourselves by excluding some of what the Creator created? It is not possible and this idea that we can exclude any devotion to the Supreme Being could be the cause of what we consider death. Personally, I still believe that love is the answer.

  • Thank you very much for your comment, Sophia.

    Love is greater than anything, I agree, it is the answer. To quote Paul of Tarsus:

    “If I am without love, it will do me no good whatever

    If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

    If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all.

    If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

    Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous;

    love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful.

    Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

    Love does not come to an end.”

    (First letter of St Paul to the Corinthians 12:31- 13:8)

  • “Because [yes!] everyone wants to live in peace”.
    Thanks Paula for sharing with the world a different perspective on things: in a time when such important revolutions are taking place in northern africa, mainstream media often misleads their audiences claiming that it is all about “Islamist coups”. Reading your post today gave me a sense of contentment and reminded me how capable we are of changing the universe by starting to change our own selves.
    Wishing you a wonderful day! Peace*

  • Thank you Sarita!

    There is one golden rule. Every moral or religious system since ages teach it, but if everyone followed, the world would be perfect from night to day: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you. Imagine if we did so. There would be no war, no cheat, no injustice, no intolerance, no abandonment, no impatience, no nothing bad happening to anyone.

    I am myself taking it one step further: do to others what you would like them to do to you. Let’s see if I can at least change the world around me :)

    Love,
    Paula

  • Jay kactuz

    “everyone wants to live in peace”

    Oh? Since when? I assume you are talking about some other planet, not our little ‘terra’.

    There are too many trite, silly, gooey feelings here that are cute, but meaningless. Many of these nice sayings are also untrue. Not all religions teach the golden rule. The central message of the Bible is sin and redemption, not love and tolerance. The World Interfaith Harmony week is a joke – a simple proclamation does not make an accomplished fact. There are many faiths on this planet that discriminate against and persecute the others, yet people pretend that all is well and sing ‘kumbayah’ together because they think that being nice is better than being honest – and so nothing changes.

    Yes, I Corinthians is beautiful prose, but love is a quality that few understand and even less possess. Nice words mean little when subjected to the terrible reality of human nature.

    Pois e’, and so I have again rained on your parade.

    Jay Kactuz

    • “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to say it” (Voltaire)

      • jay kactuzski

        Paula, I doubt it. Duvido muito!

        I am guessing you live in Brazil, where it is easy to be tolerant. There you can be a catholic, crente, practice candomble or nothing, and nobody cares.

        Unfortunately there are many parts of the world where religion and opinion are not free. There are things called apostasy and blasphemy laws and there is discrimination against people who do not practice the majority religion, or even of different sects within that religion. The UN itself is no beacon of tolerance and freedom. They specifically don’t want you to criticize a certain religion, but they ignore that religions intolerance and discrimination almost everywhere it dominates.

        Interfaith dialogue is only fruitful if there is mutual respect and freedom of opinion. That is not the case in this world. To call for tolerance without condemning intolerance is to support and promote intolerance.

        • Hi, Jay

          I am Brazilian but have lived in the UK for the past 8ish years. Yes, both are fairly tolerant places and I know that there are corners of the world where it is not so easy to be tolerant, but living in diverse, multicultural countries where everyone respects each other makes me believe *it is possible to live peacefully* if *people want to*.

          My point is, it is overall a personal choice – regardless of laws and rules, people’s individual behaviours towards each other can make a huge difference. Even if their religious or political leaders tell them to be intolerant, it is still a personal choice to follow or not that advice. People are told “not to commit sins” and decide not to follow it, right?

          “Interfaith dialogue is only fruitful if there is mutual respect and freedom of opinion. That is not the case in this world.” I truly accept this is a fact. However, where you say that is not the case in the world, I would say it is not the case in *this current* world. Changing society is a long, long process, it won’t happen from night to day, but society is evolving. Some thousand years ago, there was not such a thing as human rights and it was acceptable to throw people to feed lions to entertain others. Only a little over hundred of years ago, slavery was considered a legal business. All of these are currently unacceptable behaviours and there is punishment (or at least attempts) for those who do anything remotely close to it. We are evolving, materially and morally too.

          At least now we try to have a dialogue and many are willing to, when before it felt absolutely right just to kill others during crusades. I do hope that this same social nonacceptance will eventually happen to intolerance of all kinds, and that I will see a not so terrible “reality” of human nature surfacing during my current life.

          Religion is not the problem, I think. The problem is egotism, greed, selfishness, jealousy, ego-centrism, thirst for power and money, and so on. The list is extensive, and it would exist regardless of religion. I’d say that it is in fact these ‘qualities’ that contaminate religion. We teach our children to be like that with our own example. We could also teach the opposite and it would be a matter of generations for the world to be a much better place for everyone. Do try to imagine the world if *everyone* – including those in charge of the laws and rules – decided just to change themselves to never do to others what they would not like to have done to themselves. Just imagine it.

          I do my bit towards achieving this, starting by changing myself, actively seeking to eradicate my own bad inclinations and becoming a better person. In exchange, I have peace of mind and spirit and get to know such fascinating people that it makes me believe diversity is a true blessing. And the best thing is, I am not alone and more and more people switch to changing their world around them by cultivating peace. If you sow wind and reap the whirlwind, what if you sow peace?

          So… what about you?

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