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Notes and Comments: Religious Tolerance

4 The Review of Religions – December 2003 Religious Tolerance The Anglican Church is passing through testing times. The recent consecration of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire, USA has threatened to split the Church, as he is the first openly gay Anglican bishop. There are 70 million Anglicans worldwide and many of their leaders have been outraged at this latest appointment. The strongest criticism has emerged from the African continent that is home to nearly 30 million Anglicans. Bernard Malongo, the Archbishop for Central Africa said that the appointment brought darkness, disappointment, sadness and grief to his province. Archbishop Peter Akinola – leader of Nigeria’s 15 million strong Anglican community – has been the most vociferous in his opposition – he has rejected homosexuality as being contrary to the teachings of the Bible and in his statement on behalf of the Primates of the Global South (representing some 50 million Anglicans) he added that the consecration ‘…clearly demonstrates that the authorities within Ecusa [Episcopal Church USA] consider that their cultural- based agenda is of far greater importance than obedience to the Word of God.’ (BBC News, 3 November, 2003) The spiritual head of the Church, Dr Rowan Williams has been relatively quiet on the issue and noted that the emerging divisions were ‘a matter of deep regret’. He has set up a Commission that will report back in a year’s time, with the hope that it could preserve the unity of the Church. For some, however, it is already too late. The current episode in the Church is a classic example of a religious teaching being pulled in different directions due to societal pressures. It is this constant trend towards greater moral freedom that generates such an extreme religious parallax – to the extent Notes and Comment 5The Review of Religions – December 2003 that the debates over interpretation often overlook the simple and clear message of religious teachings themselves. By focussing on a single issue it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. In this case that bigger picture is the basic belief that religions do not originate from man but rather from God. As God is perfect and the source of truth, then His underlying teaching should not only be flawless but also be consistent across the religious spectrum. If that is so then this could provide a useful source of guidance for mankind. For example on the paramount principle of the unity of God we find repeated reference to this key principle in all religions. If we look at the world’s three main religions, for example, then we see that their scriptures are full of this message. The Holy Qur’an states: And your God is One God; there is no God but He, the Gracious, the Merciful. (Ch.2: v.164) and S a y, ‘He is Allah, the One…And there is none like unto Him.’ (Ch.112: vs.2,5) The Old Testament states: ‘…The Lord our God is one Lord.’ (Deuteronomy 6.4) and, ‘…and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a saviour; there is none beside me.’ (Isaiah 45.21). The New Testament is also clear and says: ‘And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.’ (Mark 12,29) and, ‘And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said Notes & Comment the truth: for there is one God and there is none other but he.’ (Mark 12,32). The similarity of the emphasis and even the wording is striking. Returning to the issue facing the Church today, can we find any similar parallels in the religious teachings? Interestingly enough a similar pattern does emerge. The Holy Qur’an states: And We sent Lot – when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit an abomination such as no one in the world ever did before you? You approach men with lust instead of women. Nay, you are a people who exceed all bounds.’ (Ch.27: Vs.55-56) It also quotes Prophet Lot as saying: Do you, of all peoples, a p p roach males, and leave your wives whom your Lord has created for you? Nay, you are a people who transgress. (Ch.26: vs.166-167) The Old Testament makes clear: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.’ (Leviticus 18,22) In the New Testament, Jesus(as) also reaffirms the rule of the Mosaic Law by declaring that: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets.’ (Mathew 5:17) Further guidance is found in the letters of St Paul: ‘And likewise also the men leaving the natural use of the woman, burned their lust toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly…’ (Romans 1,27) This indicates that the issue is indeed serious and was considered important enough for God to address this through His prophets, not just once but several times. As is the case today, there must have been a need for this instruction in 6 Notes & Comment The Review of Religions – December 2003 the past also because society must have departed so widely from the original religious teachings. When any religion departs from its origin it runs into problems as the Divine consistency and purity of the message becomes polluted. This corrosive process stems from human egotism and the belief that ‘man knows best’. This is why God sends prophets to either impart new, clearer guidance or to revive earlier guidance. In other words they are not sent to tell people that what they are doing is right but to tell people that in the sight of God what they are doing is wrong. Inevitably the initial reaction of the people is negative; they find the words and deeds of prophets unacceptable, unpopular and unnecessary. To them prophets seemed to preach practices that are intolerant, intolerant that is of the vices of society that have become the norm. This is something that we can relate to in our world today. The church and perhaps all religions face this constant call to adapt religion to allow it to be more tolerant and embrace the modern world. The definition of tolerance in this context is always towards a relaxation of religious laws and never the opposite. If that is what God had wanted for man then He would never have sent any prophets because man always gravitates towards the easier option. The fact is that prophets have been sent making clear that God has deemed such ‘freedoms’ to be harmful for man. Thus the case is clear – we can move away from religion and create a society that God has considered harmful for us or adhere to what He has deemed beneficial and uphold the teachings of prophets. Why must man insist on changing the teachings of God to match modern trends? Such an act would indeed be intolerant towards the teaching of God. Real tolerance in religion is not achieved by changing the principles. The issue facing the Anglican Church is inconceivable in the Muslim world. What is forbidden in the Qur’an can never be changed to a permission with the passage of time. Fareed Ahmad – UK 7 Notes & Comment The Review of Religions – December 2003 8 The Review of Religions – December 2003 [ Tr a n s l a t o r’s Note: All refer- ences to the verses of the Holy Qur’an are given in Arabic as they occur in the text. The English translation, presented in Italics, is taken from the translation of the Holy Qur’an by Hadhrat Maulvi Sher Ali S a h i b( r a ). Where the Promised Messiah(as) has himself stated a certain interpretation of an Arabic verse, this is incorporated in the main body of the text]. God is the source of eternal happiness and pleasure for man’s life. When a person separates from Him or leaves Him in one way or another, about such a state of a person it is said that he has sinned. Furthermore, keep- ing in view the nature of man, God has further defined as ‘sin’ those acts, which through their Sin Defined The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as). In 1891, he claimed, on the basis of Divine revelation, that he was the Promised Messiah and Mahdi whose advent had been foretold by Muhammad, the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) and by the scriptures of other faiths. His claim constitutes the basis of the beliefs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Presented below is a compilation in translation, of excerpts taken from Malfoozat. This is the title of ten volumes containing the collection of discourses, speeches and addresses of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Translated by Amatul Hadi Ahmad 9The Review of Religions – December 2003 finer implications, prove to be harmful for man himself, even though a person sometimes may not be able to appreciate such harmfulness. For example, theft and harming others by taking away their rights, harms the purity of one’s own life. An adulterer’s act of adultery and his taking what may belong to someone else destroys his own piety and engulfs him in various physical and spiritual problems. Similarly those acts which are against the nature of man’s purity and piety are also referred to as ‘sin’, as are all the related acts, whether related closely or distantly – these are also considered as types of sin. God Almighty is greater than all else. He has the most knowledge. He is the true creator of man and of every particle that exists. It is He who is also the creator of man’s nature and He is All Wise. If it is the case that with His complete wisdom and complete knowledge, He suggests that something is harmful for you and that indulging in it would not benefit you at all, then it is not for a wise person to go against this. We see that when a physician advises a patient to abstain from something, the patient acts on that advice without any argument. Why does he act in this way? He does so because he considers the physician to be in possession of much greater knowledge than he possesses himself. Similarly, there are things that are harmful for man’s body or spirit whether man himself understands that or not. There are some things that would be harmful even if God had not given a ruling about them. In medicine also there are some things that are considered to be ‘sins’ [that is, they prove very harmful for a human being] and lack of medical knowledge is no excuse for the person who goes against the medical principles. [He would still suffer the harmful consequences were he to indulge in such things]. If someone chooses not to believe this, he can check this with doctors and physicians. Sin Defined 10 The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined The point to remember is simply this that the root of sin is those actions that lead man away from purity and righteousness. The true love of God and union with God is the true pleasure and real comfort. Thus, moving away from God and being distant from Him is also sin and is the source of pain, sorrow and hardship. All that God dislikes because of His own sanctity is ‘sin’. There are some matters on which people may not agree but the greater part of the world is jointly agreed that lying, stealing, adultery and cruelty are acts that all nations and religions jointly consider to be sins. Remember, however, that the root of sin is precisely those acts that distance man from God, that are against His sanctity, against His wishes and against man’s nature. It is such acts that constitute ‘sin’. Every person can sense [the aspect of] sin [or goodness in their actions]. If someone slaps an innocent person and knows that he had no right to do so, he will at some later time, when he assesses his action with a cool head, himself feel ashamed and will sense that it was a bad deed on his part. Conversely, should someone feed a hungry person, give a drink of water to one who is thirsty and clothe someone who is without clothes, such a person will have an inner sense of having been good and having performed a blessed deed. A p e r s o n ’s heart and conscience and the light of belief remind him whether his various actions are a good deed or a sinful act. With regard to Satan it should be remembered that in man’s nature and composition there have been included two forces. These are both opposed to each other and it is so that a person be tried and tested and, with a successful outcome, become deserving of G o d ’s nearness. Of the two forces one pulls man towards goodness and the other invites man towards evil. The force that pulls towards goodness is called ‘Malk’ or ‘Angel’ and the force that invites towards evil is called ‘Satan’. In other words, you can understand it like this that there are two forces that work on a 11The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined person, one calls towards good, Da’i khair and the other calls towards bad, Da’i sharr. Someone may not like the use of the terms ‘Angel’ and ‘Satan’ but he would not be able to deny the existence of these two types of forces within man. God never intended any evil – God only does what is good. If sin did not exist in the world there would be no goodness. Goodness develops from sin. The concept of goodness is formed by the concept of sin. If someone has the opportunity to commit adultery and he possesses the ability to do so but then he abstains from this sin, this action is called goodness. If someone has the opportunity to steal or to be cruel and he is capable of doing these acts but he does not do so and positively abstains from them then he is doing a good deed. To have the opportunity and capability of sinning and then not indulging in sin, that is a good and blessed deed. [Malfoozat, Vol. 10 pp.357-358] When a sick person goes to a physician, he cannot begin to cure him until he finds the true cause of his illness and when he finds the true cause he chooses a course of action to heal him. However, until the illness is fully diagnosed he cannot begin the best course of treatment. Exactly the same is true of sin. As sin is a spiritual ailment, a person cannot escape from sin until its true nature is diagnosed. A question can be raised here as to why man leans towards sin and why does the question of sin arise in the first place? The answer to this is that usually it can be seen that the human being sins as long he is unaware of God. Does the person who steals do so when the owner of the house is awake and there is light all around? It is obvious that he steals at a time when the owner is asleep and there is darkness so that nothing can be seen and when he is convinced that the owner is unaware and there is no light. Similarly, when a person sins, he does so when he is oblivious to the existence of God and does not have any belief in Him. He does not sin when he 12 The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined is convinced that there is a God Who watches his deeds and Who can punish him. Nor does he sin when he has the knowledge that if he does anything against the wishes of God, he would be punished. When there is such knowledge and belief in God, there cannot be any inclination and attraction towards sin. When a person believes that he is always under the will of God Who can punish wrongdoing and Who watches over his actions, such a person cannot have the courage [to commit sinful acts]. If a sheep is tied before a wolf, its ability to graze in someone else’s field is not an issue – it would not even glance at the grass that is put before it because it is mortified by fear for its life. Thus, when fear can take such a hold over an animal that it cannot eat, how can a person who similarly sees himself before God, believing with certainty that God does punish sins, how can such a person return to sin when he believes that God would strike like lightning and destroy him? It is this fear created through a belief in an Almighty God Who is Holy and All Powerful that will save him from sin and create true belief. It should be remembered that sins are of two types. One type is known as Kabira, that is greater sins that include acts such as theft, adultery, robbery, etc. and the other type is known as Saghira, that is lesser sins that occur as a result of human shortcomings. These occur despite the fact that a person may carefully safeguard himself against sins, yet his human failings lead him to commit some sins of the lesser kind. Likewise, there are two means of removing sins. Firstly, there is the force of fear. There are many sins that are removed by the overpowering fear of God, that is to say the overpowering fear of God is something that removes sins and safeguards against them. This is similar to that fear of the police which prevents a person from breaking the law. The other means of safeguarding against sin is the attainment of knowledge of God’s mercy that leads to a greater love for God 13The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined and then with this love sins are removed. Sins are removed by both these means. [Malfoozat Vol.4 , pp.308-310] As a result of human weakness, when a person errs and commits sin and then does not care a jot about it, his heart becomes stained with blackened rust and gradually the human heart that was clear and soft with the fear of God now becomes hard and blackened. However, as soon as a person finds out the nature of illness of his heart and strives to reform by being occupied day and night in S a l a t a n d supplicating to the utmost limit with pain and regret, seeking forgiveness, the manifestation of God [in response] would wash away his impurity with the ‘ w a t e r’ of its blessing. C o n s e q u e n t l y, provided he remains steadfast, a human being with his purified heart takes on a new life – it is as if he has been reborn. There are two powerful forces between which a human being walks. One is the force of Rahman and the other is the force of Satan. Should a human being lean towards the force of Rahman and seek help from it, he is granted help by the command of God. On the contrary, if a human being leans towards Satan then he becomes engulfed in sins and tribulations. Hence a human being should come under the protection of Rahman in order to be safeguarded against the poisonous air of sin. It is sin alone that creates a distance and dissension between a human being and R a h m a n. He who escapes from sin finds refuge in the lap of God. In reality there are only two means of safeguarding against sin. Firstly, a person should try himself and secondly he should seek steadfastness from God Almighty who is a very powerful and Omnipotent Master. He should seek help until he is granted a pure life and it is this that is called Tazkia-e-Nafs, that is, purification of the soul. [Malfoozat Vol.5, pp.446-447] In an age when there a multitude 14 The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined of sins committed and people of the world do not understand the true nature of faith – all that remains [of faith] is just the outer shell or bones without any inner kernel or true essence. The force of faith becomes very weak while the domination of satanic forces increases greatly. Moreover, there does not remain any interest or enjoyment in faith. At such times the perpetual rule of God manifests itself, namely, that God appoints a true and sincere servant of His, a servant who is completely immersed in the true obedience of God. Such a person is appointed and ennobled with the rare distinction of commu- nication with God. In this age and at this time God has appointed me [as the Messenger of the time to rekindle in mankind the true love of God] because it is a time when the love of God had become totally cold. Even though it may be generally observed that people believe in [the declaration] La ilaha illalah, i.e. there is no God but Allah, and they verbally attest to the truth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) – they perform Salat and keep fasts but spirituality is lacking. On the other hand, the prevalence of acts and practices that go against the principles of righteousness bear witness to the fact that performance of the stipulated worship is customary and there is not to be found even a hint of true spirituality. Otherwise, what is the reason that their acts of worship are not accompanied by the blessing [in the form] of righteous deeds and by the light [of faith]. Remember this well, unless deeds are done with a true and sincere intention and are accompanied by true spirituality, they can be of no benefit and will be of no avail. Deeds can only be referred to as righteous when there is no corruption in them of any kind. The opposite of rectitude is disorder. The pious person is he who is completely free from all forms of disorder and dissension. Salat that is in a state of disorder and is tainted with ulterior motives, is certainly not for God – it does not ‘reach’ 15The Review of Religions – December 2003 Sin Defined up above the ground by as much as even a hand because such people are devoid of sincerity and spirituality. [Malfoozat Vol.6 pp.236-237] In truth there are only two principles for identifying sin: One is laxity in fulfilling one’s obligations to God and the other is ignoring the rights of other men. These also form the basis of the true principles of worship. That is, the safeguarding of these two sets of rights forms the basis of true worship and sin is nothing but negligence regarding these rights. You should fulfil the promise you have made today and should keep to the words [of Bai’at] you have just pronounced at my hand, remaining steadfast upon them to the end. Man is sometimes deceived. He knows that he has sown for himself a ‘tree’ of repentance and he then expects some fruit from this, or he knows that he has faith so he awaits results. In reality, however, in the sight of God he is neither one who has repented nor one who has true faith. This is because nothing can gain God’s approval and acceptance unless it fulfils the conditions for this and until such conditions are fulfilled, a thing has no value before God. We see that when a person decides to purchase something, he considers things that he does not like to be of no value and buys only that which he likes. Hence, when human beings act in this way, how can God Who is Holy and Pure accept something inferior and of no value. You should know that these are the days of much tribulation. There are epidemics and there is drought. In brief, God’s wrath is descending upon the earth. At such a time do not deceive yourself and with a clear heart make for yourself a place of shelter. [Malfoozat Vol.5, pp.242]