The Road to Social Peace

Introduction In everyday life, there appears to be a rise in poverty, crime, wars and hatred. Religion is just one of many features of a society used as an excuse to create tension and war, even though more often than not, religion is not the subject of the dispute or even of the grievance. There are countries within which groups of differing ethnic backgrounds and faiths have begun to turn on each other and to effect ‘ethnic cleansing’ as we have seen in the Balkans, central Africa, the Far East and India recently. There are other scenarios in which groups have been forced to establish their own ethnic cantons and as a result have witnessed the emergence of an environment of hate such as in Ireland or Palestine, or in the ghettos of multi-cultural cities, even in the developed world. So are there differences in people which mean that they can never get on with each o t h e r, and are the different religions doomed to always be the subject of war and hatred, or are there deeper trends in society? In order to create a better world, we first need to under- stand the cause of problems as well as the symptoms. Through a study of the various religious scriptures, it is possible to get an insight into religious philo- 51Review of Religions – May 2002 The Road to Social Peace By Fazal Ahmad, UK Throughout history, society has been plagued by wars, crime and hatred, both within a community or society, and between societies and cultures. Often, religion has been misused as a vehicle to instigate such events even though the issues at hand have had nothing whatsoever to do with religious ideology. Is there a role and message that religion brings which can help to achieve a safer and more peaceful world? This is the subject covered in this article. sophy related to social order and the means to maintain stability in society. The following article examines this subject in greater detail. Religious Superiority? We start with the issue of whether certain religions automatically provide their followers with superiority over others, and whether this means that tension is inevitable. We have actually seen great periods of advancement in which religious tolerance led to an environment in which society grew and was enriched. Such was the case of Islamic Spain or Al-Andalus, in which the Islamic rulers gave equality and liberty to Christians and Jews and therefore everyone in the whole society came to respect each other and learn from each other. This was the catalyst for what became known as Islamic Science. Huge advances were made in medicine, astronomy, mathematics and technology. In fact, many of the great ‘Islamic’ scientists were also Christians and Jews but thriving under the Islamic climate of tolerance and harmony. Islamic Spain fell into decline when the rulers became family factions and created discord in their people. So it was harmony and unity that enabled that society to prosper, underpinned by a religious conviction of equality. Where religions have been manipulated to teach supe- riority of a race or religion, this leads to conflict. This is not because the religions are different [often the moral teachings are remarkably similar] but because the instigators use differences to create an unjust hierarchy in society, and to deny rights and opportunities to certain elements within their societies. Thus it appears that Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Christians are at war with each o t h e r, but actually the perpetrators have used religion to create divisions in society, and religion has become a convenient tool in their hands. They could equally have chosen colour, tribe or even preferred football teams to create the same havoc. To understand whether any religion could ever allow its 52 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 followers to abuse worshippers of another faith or to give others a lower status, let us take a closer look at the various teachings on this subject. Islam teaches the following: O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub- tribes that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you. (Holy Qur’an, Ch:49, Vs.14) Here, the Qur’an describes the variety of ‘tribes and sub-tribes’ as a means of distinguishing and testing people, and removes any thought of superiority of any one race over others. This is backed up by the sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ( s a ) w h i c h include the following quote: For the white to lord it over the black, the Arab over the non-Arab, the rich over the p o o r, the strong over the weak or men over women is out of place and wrong. (Hadith of Ibn Majah) Now let us take a brief glimpse at the teachings of other faiths, starting with Hinduism: I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. (Bhagavad Gita 9.29) The teachings of the Jews recorded in their Mishnah states: But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his f e l l o w, “My father was greater than your father.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5) The eastern religions of Confucius(as) and Buddha(as) also contain the following wisdom: By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice that set them apart. (Confucius’ Analects 17.2) So what of all these titles, names and races? They are mere worldly conventions. (Buddhism, Sutta Nipatta 648). 53 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 Here we have seen in the teachings of various faiths including Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism that none of them tolerate discrimination on racial grounds. In fact the underlying message in all faiths is that individuals are judged on their own deeds and merit, and do not acquire a higher status simply through ownership of a specific clan or religion. Different faiths were sent to all of the tribes around the world, and according to the Holy Qur’an, none have been denied Divine spiritual guidance. Obviously as man has evolved, the capacity to understand has also matured and therefore not all of the teachings are pre- served in written form, and not all have the same level of detail. The Qur’an being the last written message, is the most comprehensive and therefore offers the easiest route to spiritual fulfilment. However, Muslims are taught to respect all of the Prophets, those that are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an, and those that are not. Muslims are also taught to respect the beliefs of pagans such that they in turn respect the God of Muslims and of all other monotheists. So there is no question of ‘superiority’ of one person to another on religious grounds. It is actually how an individual uses his orher religion to forge a closer link with the maker that determines the spiritual eleva- tion or otherwise of the individual, but this cannot be assumed from a religious affin- ity alone. Therefore if religion cannot be used as a basis for creating inequality unless it is misused, what does religion teach us about the liberty and equality of citizens within a society? Equality and Charity Conflict often stems from inequality and injustice. Where people in a society are turned into an underclass for various reasons, they may easily turn to crime in order to rectify the social wrong that they perceive through being part of that under-priviledged group. Any society which becomes too polarised (extreme differences 54 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 between the rich and the poor) is bound to be prone to crime and corruption, and this is what we see across the world. Islam teaches equality and balance. Equality between men of different backgrounds, and balance such that society should not allow itself to become too polarised. As the Qur’an states: I will allow not the work of any worker from among you, whether male of female to be lost. You are from one another. (Holy Qur’an Ch.3: V.196) And in the Old Testament we read: ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ (Leviticus 19:33 – 34) No country or religious faction has a monopoly on philosophy and good teachings. It is very easy for people to criticise the material western world where the thirst for wealth has blinkered many people. But here too are traits that the rest of the world can admire and learn from. The spirit of charity is very strong, and there are many people who make sacrifices of time and wealth in order to go and help needy people out of a sense of duty. In a similar manner, the oppor- tunities and respect that is afforded to disadvantaged people such as the disabled are admirable. These aspects of liberty and equality for the blind, the deaf, the dumb and the immobile shows a regard for the very weakest members of s o c i e t y, and should not be forgotten when we think of social deprivation. For this message to be put into practice, it requires good government. What does religion teach us about government and positions of authority? Government Government often has a pivotal role in promoting social justice, equality and harmony. For this 55 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 to happen, people need to respect and follow the dictates of government, but equally there is a heavy burden of responsibility on the govern- ment to act righteously and fairly. Hearing and obeying [those in government] are the duty of a Muslim both regarding what he likes and what he dislikes, as long as he is not commanded to perform an act of disobedience to God, in which case he must neither hear nor obey. (Hadith of Bukhari a n d Muslim) Other faiths also discuss the role of administration and government in positive terms: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Mark 12:17) When the right principles of man operate, the growth of good government is rapid. (Confucius – Doctrine of the Mean 20) Here we have different accounts from religion instruct- ing followers that they must respect and obey authority unless it teaches them to move away from God. Similarly in the quote from the Bible, Jesus(as) teaches his followers not to mix or confuse politics with religion. Hence he commands that things of a religious nature are in G o d ’s Realm while political issues are in Caesar’s realm. Even local traditional faiths such as that of the Yoruba in Nigeria show the virtue of obeying authority: Lack of respect to the constituted authority is the source of most conflicts in the world. (Yoruba Proverb) But just as people are told to respect authority and govern- ment, there comes with authority a strong sense of leadership and responsibility that should not be taken lightly. People given authority have a greater burden to be seen to be just and God-fearing in order that they gain the respect of their people. 56 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 If [a ruler] enjoins fear of God, the Exalted and Glorious, and dispenses justice, there will be great reward for him; and if he enjoins otherwise, it rebounds on him. (Hadith of Muslim) The best of your rulers are those whom you love and who love you, who invoke God’s blessings upon you and you invoke His blessings upon them. (Hadith of Muslim) These two quotes illustrate the need for those in authority to act righteously and thereby gain the affection of their people through their own conduct and sense of justice. This is seen so many times throughout history in the great empires where rulers come to power through their sense of justice and empathy for their people and as a result great empires grow such as the Ottoman and Roman empires. But in later generations, when the rulers think they are above the Law and get embroiled in corruption and back-biting, even these great empires fall. Other texts also talk about the responsibilities of good govern- ment: Lay no burden on the public which the majority cannot b e a r. (Talmud, Baba Batra 60b) When loss is above and gain below, the people’s joy is boundless. When those above exhibit no pride to the ones below them, their virtue is brightly illumi- nated. (Confucius, I Ching 42) Guardianship is not to give an order but to give one’s self. (Nkiya Proverb – Kenya) When the king is deceitful, who will not be deceistful? When the king is unrighteous, who will not be unrighteous? (Jainism – Somadeva, Nitivakyamrita 17.183) Here we have wisdom from several faiths showing that leading by example and through duty, and having empathy with people is central to good government. 57 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 So taking action (armed or otherwise) against a govern- ment should be a last step. And taking such action in the name of religion is not permissable unless the government itself is preventing people from dis- charging their religious duties. At the same time, government’s have a duty to act fairly and to give opportunity and equality to all, whilst also gaining the respect of their people through their own good conduct. How often do we see ministers in governments behaving badly, or getting involved in corruption. There is a saying that: ‘ Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. There are danger signs when people in authority abuse their power. That is often what leads to rebellion and disorder. It is also essential that the spiritual and worldy powers concentrate on their own issues and challenges. Politics is for politicians, and spiritual matters are for the clergy. It is often the case that when religious clergy start to gain political power and to distort the boundaries between politics and religion that unrest ensues, particularly in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. Even sects of the same religion can be set against each other as we have seen in Ireland recently. Christianity teaches people to ‘turn the other cheek’ in the face of provocation, and yet here we have two Christian sects at war with each other, even though there is no religious difference to cause such hatred. Conclusion It is far too easy for the world’s media to conclude that religions lead to war, but in reality, religions all preach equality and social justice. It is in the way that religion is practised and abused that conflict arises. M o r e o v e r, religions all show the responsibility of the individual within a community and of communities within tribes and countries. The message is that we all have a duty to look after our families and neighbours, and that charity is not so much an act of righteousness, but also a d u t y. If we allow societies to 58 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002 polarise too far, social unrest is i n e v i t a b l e . It is this phenomenon that we see so often today. People talk about ‘ghettos’, ‘national debt’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. It is often poverty or injustice that leads people to turn to violence and crime as a means to get their message heard or to seek revenge even though they may cloak it under a religious b a n n e r. In reality, there are hardly any religious wars as there are virtually no scenarios where people are being deprived their religious rights. I r o n i c a l l y, where people are being denied their religious rights, they are actually turning to non-violent protest and prayers rather than violence as a means of getting justice as they understand that their power only comes from God. If mankind were to take proper care to impose equality and justice for all, and to ensure that no party is allowed to become too deprived or to lose hope, then it would ultimately lead to social peace. References 1. Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Tr u t h, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam International Publications 1998. 2. World Scripture – A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts. I n t e r n a t i o n a l Religious Foundation, Paragon House Publishers, New York 1995. 59 The Road to Social Peace Review of Religions – May 2002