Fazal Ahmad, UK
Today, religion is a controversial subject. Blamed for division, accused of inciting hatred, religion is considered by many to be the main source of discord in the modern era. People of all backgrounds – both those of faith and those of no faith at all – are becoming more polarized in their views.
In this era of division, it is worth going back to the original principles of religion that are universal across all faiths. When a person adopts a spiritual life and embarks upon a spiritual journey, people around them should observe a positive difference in their behaviour; otherwise what is the purpose of a spiritual journey that fails to transform someone?
One common facet of all faiths is known as the ‘Golden Rule’, which, recognising that there is just one Creator, and that all men and women are equal in the eyes of the Creator, people should treat each other in the same way that they would want to be treated. In her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life the well-known writer on religion, Karen Armstrong, asks her readers to look into their own hearts, identify those things that cause them pain, and then refuse to ever inflict that pain on somebody else irrespective of the circumstances.
All prophets have espoused this principle in some form, and the message has been consistent through time, as the following examples show:
‘Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.’
—Confucianism, Analects, XV.24
‘Regard your neighbour’s gain as your gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your loss.’
—Taoism, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
‘For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must also be to him; and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?’
—Buddhism, Samyutta Nikaya v.353
‘That nature alone is good which refrains from doing to another whatsoever is not good for itself.’
—Zoroastrianism, Dadisten-i-dinik, 94.5
‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. This is the meaning of the Law of Moses and the teaching of the Prophets.’
—Christianity, The Bible, Matthew 7:12
‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.’
—Judaism, Talmud, Shabbat 31a
‘Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.’
—Islam, Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
As can be seen above, all of these prophets and religious teachers have consistently preached doing unto others what we would want to have done to ourselves. But this same sentiment can be found in ancient and traditional beliefs outside of mainstream religion:
‘One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.’
—Yoruba Proverb, Nigeria
‘Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.’
—Thales, Ancient Greece c. 600 BCE
In other words, across all times and places, we find this common principle uniting wildly different creeds and cultures.
And, in fact, the Promised Messiah (as) has pointed out that Islam believes that all religions – not just Islam – come from God. In other words, this common principle has a common source. And in order to truly heal the current hatred and division in the world, we must embrace the universal Golden Rule. As the Promised Messiah (as) writes, ‘The earth created by God provides a common floor for all people alike, and His sun and moon and many stars are a source of radiance and provide many other benefits to all alike. Likewise, all peoples benefit from the elements created by Him, such as air, water, fire and earth, and similarly from other products created by Him like grain, fruit, and healing agents, etc. These attributes of God teach us the lesson that we, too, should behave magnanimously and kindly towards our fellow human beings and should not be petty of heart and illiberal.’  In other words, the example of God in providing for the needs of all peoples is an example for us to follow in our interactions with those of other cultures and other faiths.
Furthermore, he adds that in Islam, ‘We believe that for all the prophets who have come to different peoples of the world and have been accepted by millions of people in all parts of the world, and love for them and their greatness has been firmly established in any one part of the world, and further that this state of devotion and love for them has endured the test of time, is evidence enough of their truthfulness. Had they not been from God, they could not have been accepted on such a wide scale by millions upon millions of hearts.’ This, again, can provide a point of unity for people of all faiths.’
Given that most religions share the Golden Rule at their core, religion, far from stoking conflict and discord, can actually be a unifying force. If we all followed this simple principle, then it seems hard to imagine how conflicts could arise.
About the Author:
Fazal Ahmad is the Editor for the World Religions section of The Review of Religions. He also serves as the Global Operations Director with Humanity First, and is responsible for poverty alleviation projects in 54 countries, mainly in Africa, South Asia and Central America.
 Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), A Message of Peace (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 2007), 6.
 Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), A Message of Peace (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 2007), 23.