By Ram Puniyani
18 January, 2014
The global scenario is full of violence in the name of religion. The acts of terrorism are attributed to religious teachings at times. The local violence, the attack on religious minorities is also presented as a religious phenomenon. The last three decades have seen this tragic phenomenon where the political agenda of super power on one hand and the agenda of fundamentalist-fascist groups on the other have been given the veneer of religion. The major theory underlying the US policy in the oil zone has derived its legitimacy from Samuel Huntington theory of ‘Clash of Civilizations’. In South Asian countries spanning from Pakistan to Myanmar to Sri Lanka, the religious minorities have been on the firing line, have been facing a violence orchestrated by those practicing ‘religious nationalism’, those who on the pretext of defense of their religion, target the religious minorities. Be it the Hindus and Christians in Pakistan, Christians and Muslims in India, Buddhists and Hindus in Bangla Desh, Muslims in Myanmar or Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka, the violence has been stalking them in one or the other form. This has increased the feeling of insecurity of religious minorities and also has eroded their rights as citizens.
What has the moral teachings of religion to do with all this? Nothing whatsoever. Still the popular perceptions and propaganda of the religious nationalist groups has been so pernicious that a ‘social common sense’ has been created, which gives credence to the role of religion in this violence.
It is in this light that three major statements from leaders, two of them religious and one political have come as a breath of fresh air, delinking religion from violence and espousing the peace making role of religion. Surely, religion is the most complex social phenomenon. It does encompass the element of moral values, values of humanism, so to say, on one side. At the same time it encompasses more visible facets of identity like rituals, Holy books, places of worship, the clergy and Holy Scriptures. At another level it has the element of faith in the supernatural power, deities. Surely, some of the religions did not talk of the supernatural power. In those religions, the prophets of the religions themselves, in due course have been given the exalted position of the God. This element of faith in supernatural is varying in degrees but is present all the same in different religions. These three statements, which struck the author all, came from people of diverse religious streams.
The first one came from Pope Francis while deliberating on the future of the church and redefining long-held Catholic doctrines and dogmas. The recently held ‘Third Vatican Council’ concluded with Pope Francis announcing that Catholicism is now a “modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone….” In a very profound manner he went on to say that “God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace… Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice!”
He added “because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God...Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a Mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!” “God is changing and evolving as we are, for God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it.”
This lengthy quote from his speech demolishes so many of the intolerant attitudes towards, ‘others’, towards those having different norms, towards those having different sexual orientation as well. We witnessed recently in India that most of the clergy of different religions welcomed the Supreme Court decision whereby same sex relations are regarded as a crime. This quote from Pope also goes against the ideology of “Clash of Civilizations”; and the media propaganda whereby people of other religions are looked down upon, and Muslims in particular are demonized by large section of people. The biggest contribution of Pope is to emphasize on respect-tolerance for those who are different from us. It also outlines that we cannot stick to dogmas which were brought in the name of religion at particular time, in the times gone by. This is an extremely welcome stance taken by the highest authority of Catholic faith, something which can be the role model for clergy of other religions to emulate.
Not to be left behind, the founding-leader and patron-in-chief of Minhaj-ul-Quran International and author of the acclaimed book Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri condemned all acts of terrorism and said that the concept of “Jihad has been hijacked by terrorists”. He is precisely on the dot as the word Jihad has been given the dastardly meaning by the Salafi version of Islam, a version picked up by the US for trainings in especially set up Madrasas, from where the Mujahidin, Taliban, Al Qaeda were brought up. The politics of control on the oil resources took an inhuman form where United States proactively picked up the pervert version of Islam and popularized as ‘the Islam’, aided and assisted by its minions and large section of World media aping US in most of the matters. Dr. Mohammad, is in line with the Sufi version of Islam, where tolerance for others and celebration of diversity has been the norm. In the name of this Jihad; so much damage has been done to the human race, to redo which massive efforts are needed and one lauds the efforts of those scholars and clerics of Islam who have presented the human, tolerant face of Islam Worldwide. One cannot forget to mention the great Islamic Scholar, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, who strove till the end of his life to present the Islam in the proper light, in the light of values of amity and peace. Surely even today there are many who are aggressively promoting the intolerant versions of Islam, the likes of Dr. Zakir Naik, who are doing great disservice to Islam and human society.
Swami Vivekananda is the latest icon to be hijacked by the politics of intolerance. Those who have spread hatred for religious minorities are projecting him to be their messiah. In this light Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh statement is very praiseworthy. Dr. Singh points out that “true religion cannot be the basis of hatred and division, but of mutual respect and tolerance for faiths and beliefs of all.”
One does note the glaring differences in the interpretation of same religion. One can note the diverse and opposite ways in which political actions take place in the name of same religion. Two or three examples are very obvious. From Hinduism one can see Mahatma Gandhi on one side and Nathuram Godse on the other. In Islam one can see Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on one side and Osama bin Laden and the Muslim nationalists on the other. Same way one can see Pope Francis on one side and Anders Berling Brevik (Norwegian terrorist who killed 86 youth) on the other. It is the same religion in whose name such opposite stands are taken. We need to wake up to free ourselves from the ossified, intolerant views of religions and stand for humanistic teaching and tolerant traditions of religions.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades. He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD.