By Mujeeb Rahman Kinaloor for New Age Islam
October 21, 2020
Recently, I uploaded a video on my YouTube channel explaining the similarities in some beliefs and customs in two religious traditions—Judaism and Islam. I made the video in order to promote awareness of some of the things that these two religions have in common. This fact is generally not known or appreciated, because a sizeable section of the communities that identify with these two faiths seems to be constantly in conflict with each other. I had hoped that recognizing the similarities between these two faiths, and a third Semitic religion—Christianity—which generally share the legacy of Abraham, would help foster friendship and fraternity among those who claim to be their followers. But the reactions the video elicited were just the opposite! Instead of viewing similarities between Judaism and Islam as something positive, most of those who watched the video and commented on it tried to make it a point of contention!
One response made by many of those who commented on the video was that the Jews were supposedly arch-enemies of the Muslims and that, therefore, Judaism and Islam will always be at loggerheads. For such people, the similarities between the two faiths did not seem to suggest the need for their adherents to come closer at all.
A second response to the similarities of the two religions that the video highlighted was the claim that these similarities existed because they had allegedly been borrowed by Islam from Judaism, a much earlier faith historically. For those who held this view, as in the case of those who advocated the first view, the commonalities between Islam and Judaism did not seem to be reason enough to appreciate the need for inter-community harmony and interfaith understanding between Jews and Muslims.
From this experience I recognized the bitter truth that in the minds of a large section of religionists, religion is often simply a sort of wrestling match, where one argues and fights with others, seeking to defeat one’s opponents and win.
All religions originated in special historical contexts. The common goal of all religions is to lead people to the light and to inspire them to live in peace and happiness. Despite differences in beliefs and practices, the ultimate goal of religions is the wellbeing and liberation of human beings. Despite their unique features, there are many factors that unite the religions. All religions share common values that give meaning and beauty to human life. Love, compassion and justice are important elements of all forms of genuine spirituality.
As long as religions are diverse, differences of opinion between them are natural. But the need of the hour is not to exaggerate these differences. Instead, we need to celebrate their similarities and uphold common values. Religions should not fail to bring up human beings to the noble idea that all human beings are sisters and brothers to each other.
What was lost when religions became large crowds and crowds became large institutions was the dynamic spirituality of religions. It is from spiritual tenderness that all noble human feelings sprout. When that moisture dries up, it is replaced by dryness and barrenness, arrogance and rivalry, very often in the name of God. That is when the thought of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ alone being supposedly right arises. When this happens, one refuses to accept even the possibility of other realities. Instead of reforming themselves, religionists then seek to try to defeat others. For them, religion becomes nothing more than a wrestling match, aimed by a fervent desire to trounce the rest and be crowned the champion!
In all religious communities, those individuals who claim to speak with authority for their faith—as clerics, priests and so on—should set an example, in and through their own personal life, of loving service and recognition of the essential unity of all human beings. Unfortunately, however, often it is people who are considered religious ‘leaders’ who are primarily responsible for hate and conflict in the name of religion.
Many religionists may behave rationally in other spheres but become emotionally surcharged when it comes to religion. They simply do not want to understand religion—their religion as well as others—with a cool mind, without the heavy clutter of emotional baggage. This is what we see abounding on social media, with terrible consequences for inter-community relations and social harmony.
We need to go beyond the external manifestations of the different religions to their inner, essential meaning. People of different faith backgrounds need to change their preconceived notions of each other, which they can if they start talking to, and with, each other and so get to know them as they truly are. But this talking should not be limited just to so-called interfaith seminars and the like, between supposed religious ‘experts’. Human beings live not in seminar halls but in the streets of cities and in villages. Practical ways must be devised to lead them to the recognition of the essential unity of all human beings and, more than that, of the essential unity of all beings.
Mujeeb Rahman Kinaloor is Chairman, Vakkam Mawlavi Study Centre, Kozhikode. Journalist, Teacher and has seven books to his credit as an author.
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