Religious Prejudice – Can it be overcome?

RELIGIOUS PREJUDICE CAN IT BE OVERCOME? (The following lecture delivered at the Sinai Temple, Chicago, discusses’a topic which is still relevant today. Although there is no date of publication, the lecture below is reproducedfrom a xerox copy of a- rare pamphlet that was evidently published during the time of Sufi,Mutiur Rahman Bengalee, M.A., as a missionary to ‘the United States from 1928 to 1948.) I think it needless to dwell upon the tragedies of intolerance and prejudice because they are too well known to need any comment. I am interested in finding out some of the causes of this melancholy state of affairs and in suggesting their cure. In order to bring out to’you an important cause of prejudice and intolerance I want to tell you a story/’ Once upon a time a Frenchman came to Engtend in order to write a book on the history of England in three weeks. At the end of three weeks he discovered that three weeks time was not enough. He proposed to write the history of England in three months. ‘After three months, he found out that it would ta\ke him three years to write a history of the English people. At the end of three years he concluded that he knew nothing that would enable him to write a book on the history of England. If we try to derive a lesson out of this story, then we will do well to remove prejudice and intolerance. Appalling ignorance exists in the Western, countries regarding non-Christian faiths. An important cause of religious prejudice is deeply rooted in the ignorance which is to be found among followers of all faiths regarding the faiths of other people. This is a very tragic situation. The people at large-are not to be blamed. It is the writers, the propagandists, who are at fault. When they write about or speak about faiths regarding the faiths of other people than their own, they show absolute ignorance. Hence it becomes our sacred duty to impart true education unto the people; it is essential that we wake up from this deep slumber of ignorance and get rid of the great injustice that we have been putting on other faiths. In my humble opinion, there is nothing in human blood to hate either people or their beliefs. There is nothing inborn, nothing innate in man to cause him to dislike or to feel hatred or to have intolerance and prejudice against others. The sheet of human nature is clean. It is wrong education, wrong information that is infused into him; and that is the root of 8 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS intolerance. May Lmake a suggestion with all the force I can command and in all humility and earnestness that we unite to impart correct information and education amongst people regarding other faiths? Then a large part of the prejudice will be removed and tolerance and peace will be established. Closely related to ignorance there is misunderstanding. I bring out this point also with another story. Once somebody asked Dr. Samuel Johnson a question about a third person. Do you know him? he was asked. No, replied Dr. Johnson. I do not know him but I hate him. The questioner was puzzled and inquired: How can you hate him if you do not know him? And reply was: How could I hate him if I knew him? I hate him because I fail to take a sympathetic understanding of his point of view. Misunderstanding is also another important cause for the creation of intolerance and prejudice. From now on, if we all take a vow to understand other people, to take a sympathetic view in understanding other men’s points of view, then we will make a wonderful discovery which will be — that prejudice and intolerance will be removed and peace, harmony and good-will will reign supreme. I would now like to tell you about the contribution of Islam in this regard. By the way, I have the honour to correct the Chairman, who made the grave mistake in introducing me by saying that I belong to the faith of Muhammadanism. That-is a common mistake which has gained currency in the Western world. There is no such thing as Muhammadanism; it does not exist in the Muhammadan world. There it is Islam, which is a word meaning peace and resignation unto the will of God. According to this meaning, the significance of the name Islam is the attainment of a life of perfect peace and eternal progress through complete resignation unto the will of God. Islam emphasizes the basic unity of all religions. According to the conception of Islam from the earliest dawn of history, there has been but one and the only religion, and up to the end of time there will be but one and the only religion. These differences are man-made. Whenever spiritual darkness spreads over the face of the earth, God sends a messenger forth to enlighten the hearts of benighted humanity with the light of truth and knowledge. But all the founders of the different faiths came with the one and the same religion. So, a Muslim believes not only in Muhammad but in the founders of all faiths. I cannot be a Muslim unless I believe in Jesus, in Moses, in Abraham, in Solomon, in David, in Buddha, in the founders of all the faiths of the world. This reminds me of an interesting experience I had last spring in the city REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 9 of Grand Rapids, Michigan. There I had a debate with a Christian missionary who had just returned home from Africa on a vacation. Before the debate took place, we had a conversation during which discussion I wanted to bring out the fact of the unity between Christianity and Muhammadanism, as you wrongly call it. I made a statement to the effect that Jesus was a Muslim. The missionary thought I was foolish in saying such a thing. Muhammad was born 570 years after Jesus Christ, how could Jesus be a Muhammadan? That’s how he regarded the matter. Immediately he challenged me to a debate. I accepted the challenge and a public debate was arranged. The missionary desired that I should speak first. I was to have an hour in which to discuss my side of the question and then he was to have the same amount of time in refuting me. But I told him that in order to prove that Jesus was a Muslim I needed only a few minutes. The following day the debate took place and I started this way: You have a Lord’s Prayer in which Jesus says Our Father who art in heaven, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth asitisin heaven. So, to do the will of God seems to be the religion of Jesus Christ. The very word Islam means resignation unto the will of God—to do the will of God. The Quran elaborates this by saying: The pleasure of God — the wffl of God is the greatest of all things. Therefore, Jesus was a Muslim! Then I gave him a second proof which was that Jesus believed in the one and only God. Somebody asked him: ‘What is the first of all the commandments? Jesus replied: The first of all the commandments is, Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. In fact, I showed him many quotations from the Bible to this effect. The most important teaching of Islam is to believe in the one and only God. Therefore Jesus was a Muslim. I have made a thorough and complete investigation of comparative religions and I have been able to make the startling revelation that fundamentally and basically all religions are one and same. If we discover this great truth, religious intolerance and prejudice will be removed to a large extent. As I told the Christian missionary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the first and most important teaching of Islam is to believe in one and the only God; resignation unto the will of one and the only God is the spirit, the essence the sum total and the length and breadth of Islam. Because the foundation stone of all religions is the belief in one God •—• monotheism •— therefore we can satisfactorily answer the question of our Chairman that can religious prejudice be overcome? Thirteen hundred and fifty years ago the Muslim Scripture, the Holy Quran, gave a universal invitation to the followers of all religions — especially the followers of the Christian and Jewish faiths — calling them 10 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS the Chosen People and the people of the Scriptures. It will be of interest for you to hear the words of the Holy Quran, which say: 0, ye people of the Scriptures, come to an agreement between us and you, that we shall worship none but the one and the only God and we shall ascribe no partner unto Him and none of us shall take others for Lords beside God; and if they turn away, then say, — bear witness that we have submitted ourselves unto Him, I want to make two very practical suggestions in consideration of the present day needs. First, let the followers of all faiths mention the names of the founders of other religions,’ or the religious leaders of other religions, or the religious leaders of other faiths, with respect. Do not speak of the leaders of other faiths in a way calculated to offend the feelings of their followers. If you follow this, then I am afraid a large part of the history of the non-Christian faiths in general and Islam in particular in Christian countries will have to be nullified and a new history of other faiths will have to be written. And that will help create religious unity, peace and brotherhood. Secondly, confine yourself to the expounding of the ..beauties and excellences of your faith, because to find fault with other faiths does not prove the truth or superiority of your own faith. If these golden principles are adhered to, then the followers of the different faiths, the followers of the conflicting different groups, could be woven into a harmonious unity for united and concerted action, and we could create a new heaven and a new earth in which there would be peace and brotherhood, joy and happiness. Closely related to religious prejudice is the race and colour prejudice. The contribution of Islam in this uespect is unparalleled. All religions propound the common fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. When Islam came, it also propounded this golden truth (and I claim a distinction and the superiority of Islam especially in this respect). The test of the pudding is in the eating. The superiority of any doctrine does not lie only in the beautiful wording of it but rather as to how it actually realizes the ideal in the actual life and action of human society. Islam came at a time when even in Arabia race distinction and colour prejudice’ loomed large. Muhammad, the founder of the faith of Islam, brought the greatest spiritual dynamics and within a short period of 23 years a moral revolution took place in Arabia which finally overspread the entire face of the earth. During the 1350 years, wherever Islam has gone, it has exterminated the colour and the race prejudice and REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 11 established common brotherhood of man. Islam has taken slaves and actually raised them to royalty,;— made a king and an emperor out of a slave. History presents no such parallel. Today go to any part of the vast Muslim world and in every Muslim mosque you will find the coloured and the white, the Occidental and the Oriental, the king and the subject, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, forming one line and thus demonstrating the universal brotherhood as taught by Islam. Islam is the most dynamic democratic force in the world. This race and colour prejudice is very initmately connected with religious prejudice. The United States of America is perhaps the sorest spot in that’disease, because in this country there is one Christianity for the coloured people and another Christianity for the white people. The same thing is happening in Europe and elsewhere too. We will not succeed in doing away1- with religious prejudice unless .we recognize this fundamental truth; that the. lineage of all humanity is to be triced to the same tree, fed by the same root, and supported by the same trunk. All men are common children of one God. This is about all I can say during the time alloted to me. There is the tragedy of lengthy speech in the United States of America. That reminds me of a minister who was in the course of making a very .fine speech. One of the people in his congregation-was so enthused that he made up his mind to put-five”dollars in the basket when it was passed around to him, but the speaker made his speech a little lengthy, with the result that the listener got disgusted and said to himself: Five Dollars is a little too much; I believe I will put in only three’dollars. The speaker.! however, continued to prolong his address until this man became so exasperated that, when the basket was passed around to him he stole a dollar out of it. I don’t want to let anything be stolen out of my basket. So I close with sincere and grateful thanks and with the humble request that these practical suggestions of mine which have been made in a spirit of universal love will not be forgotten. If I knew you and you knew me— If both of us could clearly see, And with an inner sight Divine The meaning of your heart and mine, I’m sure that we would differ less And clasp our hands in friendliness; Our thoughts would pleasantly agree If I knew you and you knew me. (Nixon Waterman)