By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
03 July 2017
That there are differences between the different religions is an obvious fact. These differences include differences in beliefs, in doctrines, and in rituals and other practices. But unlike what some people think, such differences are not an evil actually.
At the same time, it is also a fact that religious differences are often used by some forces or people to foment hate and conflict, and even war and terrorism, to promote their own political interests. The question here arises as to how we should relate to or handle religious differences so that they are not used to promote conflict.
In this regard, there is a very relevant verse in the Quran. It says: “For you your religion, for me mine.” (109:6)
It means that if there are differences between my religion and yours, we should not take this as an evil that needs to be eliminated, through hate and violence. Rather, we should accept this as a fact, a fact of life, and learn to manage these differences. That is, we should to adjust to the reality of what is. It is futile, as well as counter-productive, to seek to forcibly eliminate differences. Instead of doing that, we should try to manage our differences peacefully.
This is an eminently sensible way of learning to live harmoniously with others despite our differences.
There is another important point to remember here, and that is that differences are not something to be passively tolerated. They can actually be a great blessing. Based on my own experience and analysis, I can say that differences always provide us a point of discussion or dialogue with people who think differently from us. And discussion and dialogue are a process that leads to mutual learning, to mutual intellectual development. This process awakens our mind. It enhances our thinking process. It engenders creative thinking.
Once, I was participating in a seminar. Almost all the participants were secular scholars. During the discussions I asked one of them, “What do you think of difference and dissent?” And he replied, “I take them as a great blessing, because we can learn something new from someone who thinks differently from us, from someone who challenges our way of thinking. Intellectual differences only enhance the academic process.”
Now, if respect for difference is basic to secular thinking, why do many people who call themselves religious not consider it basic to religious thought as well? It really ought to be. Just as in various secular fields people can benefit from the opinions of those who think differently from them, in the field of religion, too, we can benefit from other faiths and their followers. And that can happen when we regard differences as a blessing.
In theory at least, all—or most—countries in the world have now adopted the principle of peaceful coexistence. This very same principle must be adopted by the various religious communities of the world if we want peace and prosperity. Peaceful coexistence is the best way to manage religious differences.
This same point is also made in the Quran, which tells us that as-Sulh Khayr or “reconciliation is best” (4:128). This means that peace is the best that peace is the greatest good that peaceful relations are the best way to live with others, that peaceful means are the best means for managing differences.
I am a religious person. I am a practicing Muslim. But I can say that I do not have any hate for anyone, irrespective of religion. Some Muslims hate Jews and call them ‘enemies of Islam’. I do not agree with this at all. I think it is totally wrong. I say, “Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs—all of us are creatures of the same God. So, how can we hate anyone?”
In this regard, I often cite an example of the Prophet Muhammad. He was in Medina then, and at that time there was a sizeable Jewish population in the town. One day, the funeral procession of a Jew passed by. The Prophet was seated at that time. On seeing the procession, he stood up in respect. Witnessing this, one of his Companions pointed out to him that this was the funeral procession of a Jew (and not a Muslim). To this the Prophet remarked, “Was he not a human being?”
We can learn a very valuable lesson in inter-communal harmony from this example. The Prophet’s action and statement reminds us that every human being, no matter what his or her religion or ethnicity, has been created by the One God, just like we have been, and so there can be no room for hate and violence. Just as the Prophet showed respect to the deceased Jewish person, we, too, should respect all our fellow human beings, no matter what their religion.