NOT too long ago, the events at Christchurch (New Zealand) mosques and Sri Lankan churches once again highlighted the crucial need for interfaith harmony. This means that followers of all religions, though they belong to different parts of the world, speak different languages, and profess different interpretations of their faiths, should live together peacefully as good neighbours.
The world is a family of religions. Like in a family, its members contribute and strengthen to make the family unit stronger. Similarly, all religions provide inspiration to build a better world.
In order to create interfaith harmony at the global level, it is also necessary that the contribution of all religions to the development of a common humanity must be recognised, highlighted and be made part of the school curriculum internationally. All religions have made notable contributions in the areas of spiritual enlightenment, moral inspiration and social cohesion.
All religions provide inspirations to build a better world.
Religion has been with us since time immemorial and most people spontaneously adhere to the religion of their forefathers. Every religion has changed the course of history and uplifted societies. It has demonstrated its relevance and usefulness throughout history, and the modern age is no exception.
There are certain areas where the contribution of religion is above board. The first such area is that it has instilled faith in a Higher Power. Every individual is regarded as a manifestation of divine will. We are born for a purpose and achieving the same gives us a sense of fulfilment. Religion connects individuals and communities to their Creator informing them about the purpose and meaning of life.
There are countless different faiths, religions and schools of thought; all of them provide an answer for how we got here, where we go when we die and why we are here. Islam, in particular, says that humans have been created with a mission of ibadat [worship]. Allah says “I created not the jinn and humans except they should perform [ibadat] (51:56)”. The word ‘ibadat’ is literally translated in English as worship but in Islamic parlance it means submission to the will of Allah. This implies acceptance of conditions in which humans are born.
The second area where religions’ contribution is noteworthy is highlighting the transitory nature of physical life. The latter is limited in time but religion encourages human beings to become immortal by contributing to their societies. Some are lucky enough that they make contributions in uplifting their societies. In this way, they live in the hearts and minds of people even after their physical death. When a person dies, his actions come to an end. But religion gives him an opportunity to earn a reward even after death for the actions done during earthly life. Islam calls it ‘sadaqah jariyah’ which means continuous reward for an action that someone does in his or her life.
Similarly, life and death are major topics of all religions. No human is born through his own volition or at his own behest but his life is gifted by the Divine to perform righteous actions. All religions encourage their adherents to do good deeds in this field of action for onward transmission to eternity; good actions are the only ‘assets’ to be sent forth for eternal bliss. This helps change the course of peoples’ lives by changing the shape of their character.
This life involves ups and downs and religion provides consolation and relief to individuals who pass through these ups and downs. It encourages and inculcates values of patience, tolerance and striving for self-improvement.
Most religions reject self-aggrandisement and warn humanity against over-involvement in material pursuits. In other words, humans should not be living in a world of increasing material plenty by forgetting or forsaking the spiritual side of their existence. They have an obligation to uplift their spirit by devoting themselves more to the cause of spirituality.
Normally, all religions state that life on earth is noble; therefore, it should not be wasted in meaningless wrangling. Religion points out that there is an inflated personal ego everywhere — in politics and art, in economics and business — which needs to be subdued. Religion encourages people to strive for peace within and peace across the earth.
These are the basics inherent in the teachings of most religions. Diversity in all aspects of life is a natural phenomenon, therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to be broadminded and open-hearted. Governments should accord equal status and protection to all people no matter what faith they belong to. In this way we would make our world a citadel of peace and tranquillity.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2019