Freedom of Religions

Religious Tolerance

24 The Review of Religions – May 2004 If life were to begin with birth at the mid-wife’s clinic and end with death at the undertaker’s mortuary, society could do away with religion. But life has a deeper meaning than that. Religion It is religion that sets for society rules of love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, patience and endurance. These are immutable laws framed by a Being Who knows the hidden and the future and Who has based them on truth and wisdom. Religion should therefore be an instrument for the mental, social, moral, and spiritual development of a nation. The society that isolates itself from religion and therefore ignores the immutable laws of God cannot stand. Similarly, a religion that alienates itself from society and adopts an unsolicitious attitude towards the community relin- quishes the right to be called a r e l i g i o n . We all agree that despite the fact that successive governments have guaranteed for the people of this country freedom of religion, there exists religious intolerance arising from bigotry, ignorance, blind fanaticism and imagined fear of one religious system dominating the other. This attitude has frequently brought religion into contempt, hatred and ridicule. It is therefore not only in the interest of national unity, but the dignity of religion itself that religious leaders should try to effect a change in the attitude of their followers by encouraging the close study of other people’s religious beliefs from their original sources. This would generate an awareness in the fact that all the founders of religion believe in One Supreme Religious Tolerance This article is based on an address to the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences on the occasion of the May 2003 Founders Week celebrations on religious tolerance. The author, is the Amir (National President) and Missionary Incharge of the Ghana Jama’at. By Abdul Wahab Adam 25 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 Being, and that the Unity of God, and therefore of mankind, is the basic reality of the universe. I shall discuss that with the establishment of the Forum of Religious Bodies in this country, the level of co-operation between various religious communities has improved considerably, ushering in an era of relative calm and harmony in the country. There is no doubt that the history of religion dating back to Adam(as) through Noah ( a s ), Abraham( a s ), Moses(as) and Jesus(as) to the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa), is a period during which the world has witnessed as many as 124,000 Prophets, including Krishna( a s ), Buddha(as)), and Confucius(as). This long history presents a consistent and an unchanging picture of the cruelty, perversion and arrogance of man in dealing with these spiritual stars, moons and suns who appear in the world’s spiritual firmament with the sole aim of dispelling darkness and offering enlightenment and hope to a despondent humanity. They were turned out of their homes; they were stoned to death; they were thrown into burning furnaces; food and drink were denied them; they were dragged on hot burning sands and stones; they were crucified! This proves wrong all those who charge religion with intolerance. The whole long history of mankind bears ample testimony to the fact that it is the givers of religion who were persecuted and not the other way round. Persecution The fact is, the religion which believes in and uses persecution and torture as instruments of conversion, is no religion at all. It would have proved from its ungodly methods of conversion that it is a hollow vessel – completely empty and spiritually bankrupt! It is most ironical that with the passage of time when the revealed Word of God becomes mutilated and polluted, adherents of religion themselves become guilty of those self-same crimes that were committed against their prophets! 26 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 Northern Ireland A friend told me a story about his trip to Northern Ireland. When he arrived at the airport, he boarded a taxi that was to take him to his hotel. The moment he sat in the taxi, the taxi driver asked him: ‘My good friend, are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ My friend was perplexed, to say the least. If he said he was a Catholic and the taxi driver happened to be a Protestant, he would be in trouble. And if he said he was a Protestant and the driver happened to be a Catholic, here again he would be in trouble. So he had to think very fast. He told the taxi driver: ‘I have come from Africa. There in Africa, there is a Big Tree and all of us worship under it’. The taxi driver was satisfied with the response and took my friend safely to his hotel! We know that Jesus Christ(as) was a very peaceful Prophet of God who taught that if somebody slapped you on the right cheek, turn the left. Here was a prophet who would not touch a fly in order to harm it. Yet, in his name, today, in a relatively advanced country in terms of education and discern- ment, children are maimed on an almost regular basis, men and women are killed, and violence goes on unabated! So it should be easy to understand that religion may teach one thing and yet a section of its followers may practise quite another thing. And I use the phrase ‘a section’ a d v i s e d l y. The fact that only a section may practise a religious teaching differently also buttresses the fact that their practice may not represent the true teachings of that r e l i g i o n . Teachings It is in the light of the discussion so far that I intend to submit in brief outline, some teachings of Islam in respect of religious tolerance. The world is a beautiful piece of creation. Its beauty portrays the wisdom of the Creator. The pattern of colour, the pattern of size, the pattern of height, the pattern of density of palpable things, then the 27 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 emotions of fear and jealousy, of love and hate, of contentment and satisfaction and then things of the spirit which are best experienced than described, all are part of our world. God says in the Holy Qur’an: And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of thy tongues and colours. In that surely are Signs for those who possess knowledge. (Ch.30: V.23) When we look around ourselves, we see diverse things created by God – the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, the rivers and the oceans, the trees and the mountains and the valleys of diverse hues and colours – each of these has its distinct characteristics. Yet despite their distinctiveness, they all work together in unison to make the world beautiful and give the world stability and provide comfort, progress and prosperity for man. In the Qur’anic verse quoted earlier, we are told that despite the diversity of our tongues, tribes, religions and stations in life, we must realise that having been created by One God, we all are, as it were, from one source, ‘children of one father’ and should, therefore, try our utmost to live in peace and harmony and co-operate to make life worth living for all! We may look again at the story of Northern Ireland to draw a few more lessons from it. It is amazing that our taxi driver friend was satisfied with the story about Africans worshipping under a big tree. Imagine all the billions of people of the whole continent of Africa worshipping under one tree! Yet, upon reflection, there is truth in that assertion. It is a fact that all of us, not only those of us in Africa, live under one roof, the heavens, and on one earth, both provided, together with everything we see in them and in between them by the Most Gracious and Ever Merciful Creator. We derive our energy, strength and nourishment from Him. He does not discriminate between any 28 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 human being on the basis of his or her colour, race, sex or creed. When He sends the rains, everybody, worshipper and non- worshipper alike, benefit. So my friend was right when he told our taxi driver friend that we all worship under one tree. It will interest you to learn that, according to the Holy Qur’ a n , Christians are the nearest in love to Muslims. And you shall assuredly find those who say, ‘We are Christians’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. That is because among them a re savants and monks and because they are not proud. And when they hear what has been revealed to this Messenger, you see their eyes overflow with tears, because of the truth which they have recognised. They say, ‘Our Lord, we believe, so write us down among those who bear witness.’ (Ch.5: Vs.83-84) Message of Peace The last of the 80 books written by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam is titled Message of Peace. The circumstances in which he wrote the book and dedicated it to all those who truly and honestly aspire for peace between religious communities invest the book with special appeal. That he finished writing the book on the very day that he was called back to His Creator makes the message of the book his last testament to all religious communities in the world. He begins the book with a declaration which is self-evident. ‘That religion is no religion which does not inculcate broad sympathy.’ He continues: ‘God is not a partial Being. He has not withheld His bounty from any people. For all peoples of the world the earth of God serves as a floor and for the sake of all, the sun, the moon and the stars give their 29 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 light and perform such other functions as God has charged them with. All people derive benefit from the air, water, fire, earth and other things created by God and all of them use the produce of the earth – its maize, its herbs, its flowers and its fruits. These liberal ways of God teach us that we also should do good to help mankind and should not have a cramped outlook, or a confined sympathy.’ Causes of Conflict The verses of the Holy Qur’ a n quoted earlier show that one of the causes of religious conflicts is false pride and lack of appreciation of the truth in other religions. Universality of Prophethood The Holy Qur’an affirms the universality of prophethood. Islam teaches belief in all the prophets of God. Muslims are, therefore not to make a distinction between any of the prophets but revere them all. Say ye: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and lsaac and Jacob and his children and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to all other pro p h e t s from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to Him we submit ourselves. (Ch.2: V.137) Again the Holy Qur’an says: We did raise among every people a Messenger with the teaching, ‘Worship Allah and shun the evil one’. (Ch.16: V.37) and again: Thou art but a Warner – Verily, We have sent thee with the Truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and as a Warner and there is no people to whom a Warner has not been sent. (Ch.35: Vs.24-25) Monopoly Commenting on these verses of the Holy Qur’an, Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ra) in one of his books titled I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, states: ‘In view of the above, it is 30 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 manifestly clear that Islam does not monopolise truth to the elimination of all other religions but categorically declares that in all ages and in all parts of the world, God has been looking after the spiritual and religious needs of mankind by raising Messengers who delivered divine messages to the people for whom they were raised and commissioned.’ (I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p.15) Salvation He also states in the same book: ‘The question of salvation, howsoever innocent it may appear to be on the face of it, is potent in its danger to peace in the religious world. It is one thing for a religion to declare that those who see to be redeemed from Satan and attain salvation should rush to the safe haven of that religion, and that it is there that they would find salvation and eternal liberation from sin. But it is quite another for the same religion to declare in the next breath that those who do not come hither to seek a refuge will be damned eternally, one and all, no matter what they do to please God. However much they love their Creator and His creation, however much they lead a life of purity and piety, they would most certainly be condemned to an everlasting FIRE! (I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues p.23) Compulsion Another cause of religious conflicts is the attempt by some religious zealots to impose their religion indiscriminately on others. The Holy Qur’an declares in no uncertain terms: There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely right has become distinct from wrong. (Ch.2: V.257) Compulsion can create hypocrites, not sincere commitment to a cause. For this among other reasons, Islam does not permit coercion as an instrument for the spread of its message. It is clear, therefore, that the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam could not have been 31 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 commanded by the Almighty to compel people to accept his faith. Indeed the Holy Qur’an describes him as a Warner. Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an Admonisher, thou hast no authority to compel. (Ch.88: Vs.22-23) The Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa), is further reminded: But if they turn away, We have not sent thee as a guardian over them. Thy duty is only to convey the Message. (Ch.42: V.49) And I am commanded to be of those who submit to God and to recite the Qur’an. So whoever follows guidance, follows it only for the good of his own soul; and as to him who goes a s t r a y, say, I am a Wa r n e r. (Ch.27: Vs.92-93) Intellect At the same time, the Holy Qur’an appeals again and again to the need to exercise our divine given intellect in determining the truth. It demands proof and authority for claims that anybody may put forth, Or have you clear authority? Then provide your Book if you are truthful. (Ch.37: Vs.157-158) Say: Have you any knowledge? Then produce it for us! You follow nothing but mere conjecture. And you do nothing but lie. (Ch.6: V.149) I take my stand on a clear evidence from my Lord ……… (Ch.6: V.58) Free Will Even the Almighty Himself does not compel people to accept Him but gives each person the free will to decide either to worship or not to worship Him. Say, Allah’s is the argument that reaches home. If He had enforced His will, He would have surely guided you all. (Ch.6: V.150) To avoid religious conflicts, Islam sets out a code of conduct for the propagation of its message: 32 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly e x h o rtation and argue with them in a way that is best. Surely, thy Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He also knows who are rightly guided. (Ch.16: V.126) Foul Talk Even foul talk is to be rebutted with what is best. The Holy Qur’an declares: Repel evil with that which is best. We know very well what they allege. (Ch.23: V.97) Despite the fact that Islam is a purely monotheistic religion, adherents of Islam are, for the sake of peace and harmony, strictly prohibited from speaking in disparaging terms about idols and imaginary gods of the idolators. Revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance. (Ch.6: V.109) Liberty On liberty, Hadrat Mirza Ta h i r Ahmad(ra) has this to say: ‘Islam champions the cause of liberty but not in a manner as to cause disorder, chaos and indiscriminate vengeance causing suffering to the innocent. The message of Islam is: And God does not like disorder (Ch.2:V.206). Islam, like every other religion, emphasises the role of balanced freedom in a spirit of give and take. The concept of absolute freedom is hollow, weird, and unreal in the context of society. Sometimes, the concept of freedom is so misconceived and misapplied that the beauty of the cherished principle of freedom of speech gets transformed into the ugliness of freedom to abuse, hurl insults and to blaspheme.’ (I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p.38) Islam does not accept the breach of the peace on the plea of provocation. Instead Islam advocates a walk out rather than the disruption of the peace. 33 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 The Holy Qur’an says: He has already revealed to you in the Book that when you hear the Signs of Allah being denied and mocked at, sit not with them until they engage in a talk other than that…. (Ch.4: V.141) Protection of Places of Worship Islam, on the basis of the principle just mentioned, makes the protection of all places of worship mandatory for believers: And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. (Ch.22: V.41) Is it not significant that, in the defence of places of worship, mosques, i.e. places of worship of Muslims, is mentioned last? The Holy Prophet of Islam ( s a ), had permitted members of a Christian delegation from Najran to worship in his own Mosque. What a noble gesture of religious tolerance! Islamic Jihad From the discussion so far, it would be clear to all, that Islamic Jihad cannot, by any stretch of imagination, mean that non- Muslims should be compelled to accept Islam, failing which their heads should be chopped off! It should be remembered that: ‘Swords can win territories but not hearts. Force can bend heads but not minds.’ (I s l a m ’s Response to Contemporary Issues, p.42) Nor could the general view of punishment for apostasy or blasphemy be held to be valid when seen under the transparent microscope of Islamic teachings. Islam goes further to urge its followers to co-operate and collaborate with others in beneficent endeavours, despite religious differences. Say, O people of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you – that we worship none but Allah and that we associate no partner with Him. (Ch.3: V.65) 34 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 And let not the enmity of a people incite you to transgress. And help one another in righteousness and piety, but help not one another in sin and transgression. (Ch.5: V.3) Islamic History Islamic history is replete with examples of such collaboration which helped to build peace and widened the frontiers of knowledge. Indeed the Renaissance would not have happened but for such co-operation of Muslims with people of other faiths. There is no reason why adherents of such teachings cannot help, even today, to rid the world of prejudices, encourage it to eschew violence and foster unity and peace for the progress and prosperity of the present and future generations of mankind. Gift One of the gifts for which Hadrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad(ra), the Third Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, will be remembered is the motto he gave to Ahmadi Muslims: ‘LOVE FOR ALL, HAT R E D FOR NONE’ Ahmadi Muslims It is in the light of these authentic verses of the Holy Qur’ a n , Traditions of the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam, and their exposition by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam and his Successors that Ahmadi Muslims all over the world have eschewed violence, intolerance and any utterance or behaviour that tends to disturb the peace. That is why though the Mission pursues a rigorous programme of bringing the beauty of Islam to other people, it has sought to do so through peaceful preaching, lectures, symposia and the distribution of literature. In addition, the Mission has, as a p o l i c y, provided a platform for representatives of the various religions – Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism etc. – to speak on their respective religions. Friendly debates have been held in the most cordial atmosphere between representatives of the 35 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 Mission and representatives of other religions. Muslim – Christian clashes distress us because they give Islam and C h r i s t i a n i t y, in particular, and religion, in general, a very bad n a m e . Peaceful Religious Goal We of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will continue to pursue our peaceful religious goal of bringing Islam to our countrymen. We urge other religious bodies to do the same. If they have to preach their religion, they should ensure that abuse, such intolerable provocative acts as stamping on Holy Books and questioning the mental capacity of followers of other religions should be eschewed. It is to the good fortune of this country that through the concerted e fforts of all well-meaning religious leaders in this country, we have what we call the Forum of Religious Bodies. It is an umbrella organisation that groups the leadership of all the religious bodies in the country. The Catholic Secretariat, the Christian Council, the Federation of Muslim Councils, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Ghana Pentecostal Council, Council of Independent Churches etc. are all members of the Forum. It will interest you to learn that we have been meeting together to discuss matters of national interest. We have been issuing joint pastoral letters addressing all the people of Ghana and drawing their attention to issues of morality, unity, peace and development. I can say without fear of contradiction that the relative peace that we enjoy in Ghana is partly attributable to the spirit of mutual respect and inter-religious co-operation that exists in this country. Only last year under the auspices of Johns Hopkins University, leaders of Christian and Muslim faiths congregated at Akosombo for a workshop on Compassion For People Living Wi t h HIV/AIDS. 36 Religious Tolerance The Review of Religions – May 2004 The interaction culminated in the formal launch by H.E. the Vice President, Alhaj Aliu Mahama, of The Religious Bodies’ Initiative Towards Compassion For Those Living With HIV/AIDS. That ceremony stressed the fact that people of diverse faiths can and should live together in peace and in harmony. The ceremony also stressed the fact that people of diverse faiths can and should collaborate to bring love and solace to all mankind. So, you would agree with me that here in Ghana, religion has come of age. Here we believe that religion should unite and not divide; religion should promote peace and not violence; religion should bring love and solace to our lives and not pain and anguish. Conclusion F i n a l l y, I wish to submit that though there are fanatics in all religions, there are also those who uphold the free and unadulterated teachings of their respective religions. I challenge all such believing men and believing women in the world today to be loud enough and not allow the fanatics and extremists to have their way and destroy the peace which Allah’s Messengers and Prophets have toiled to build for the whole of mankind. This way, the voice of reason will prevail and all of us, irrespective of our religious affiliation, can live together in mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and unity for national cohesion and development.