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Need for Religious Harmony

by Mohammad Khalid

What the world needs today perhaps more than  anything else is an acceptable formula for the  attainment of religious tolerance and harmony.  This is one of the greatest challenges of our time.  A great portion of the world is suffering from the illness of  religious hatred and sectarian violence. The following verse of the  Qur’an best serves as the explanation of our affairs today; “Indeed  the faithful, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans – those of  them who have faith in Allah and the Last Day and act  righteously – they shall have their reward near their Lord, and  they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.” (2: 62)  This verse of the Qur’an rules out the concept of community  superiority for any given group. The content of this verse makes it  very clear that salvation by Islamic standards depends upon the  individual’s actions and sincerity and that it is not the prerogative  of any group. No man or woman can earn his or her salvation by  the mere fact of associating with a particular group or  community. Salvation will be achievable only by a person who  truly believes in Almighty God and the Life Hereafter and who  has given genuine proof in his life having lived a life of righteous  deeds.  Another important aspect of the faith of Islam is that it explains  the concept of Monotheism (Al-Tawhid) quite in explicit terms  without leaving even the slightest room for ambiguity and  confusion. Let us deal with the fact that in practice different  kinds of religious groups do exist. Given the various kinds of  differences, let us consider how best to bring about harmony  between them.  Islam’s approach to the entire problem is much more realistic in  that it accepts ideological differences. Having accepted these  differences, it then advocates the policy of tolerance and respect  for one another in everyday dealings. This is on a parallel with  the principle expressed in the English saying, “Let us agree to  disagree.” In this connection, one of the commands of the Qur’an  is that in principle “There is no compulsion in religion”…(2: 256)

“…wherever religious harmony has existed, it has been on unity despite retaining mutual differences, rather than on unity eliminating all differences which is not possible in this world.

At another place it declares that “You have your religion and I  have mine.” (109: 6)  It was as a result of this commandment that when the Prophet of  Islam migrated to Madina, he issued a declaration reaffirming his  acceptance of the religion of Muslims for the Muslims and the  religion of Jews for the Jews. In order to perpetuate the  atmosphere of mutual harmony, the Qur’an commands the Muslims, in their dealings with unbelievers, not to revile (the  idols) which they invoke besides God, lest in their ignorance  they should spitefully revile God Almighty. (6: 109)  This principle, formulated by Islam, is best described not as  religious harmony, but as harmony among religious people. This  is a principle whose utility is a matter of historical record. It is  evident that in the past as well as in the present, wherever  religious harmony has existed, it has been on unity despite  retaining mutual differences, rather than on unity eliminating all  differences which is not possible in this world. It is not based on  agreeing to agree, but on agreeing to disagree.  Many people hold that the removal of all differences is the sin  qua non for bringing about unity. But this view is untenable as it  is not practicable. In this world, unity is achievable only by  learning to unite in spite of differences, rather than insisting on  unity without differences, for their total eradication is entirely  impossible. The secret of attaining peace in life is tolerance.  There is nothing wrong in the diversity of opinions if they are  expressed in a good and acceptable manner and also tolerated.  The beauty of the garden of life is enhanced if the flower of  unity is accompanied by the thorn of diversity. The adoption of  the policy of tolerance in the face of controversy is not a  negative step, rather it is a positive course of action.  Divergence of views plays an important role in the development  of the human psyche. A society whose members hold identical  views and never have any dialogues or critical discussions will  soon find itself in the doldrums. The intellectual development of  the members of this society will be frozen because personal  evolution takes place only where there is interaction of divergent  thinking.  But this process needs proper healthy dialogue between the  followers of different religions and also the adherents of the one  and same religion. For this process is based on sincere  discussion with a view to understanding each other’s views in  their genuine context for the sake of unity and harmony. The  notion of debates must be avoided as this has caused mutual  hatred, misconceptions and serious divisions. As we know, often  the prime objective in the whole process of debating is that of  proving the superiority of the own religion or ideology at the cost  of demonising the opposing ones.

 

Dr Mohammad Khalid is a Research scholar and lecturer at Birmingham University. He is also Head of Education in Jami Masjid Sparkbrook Islamic Centre Birmingham

 

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