By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
31 August 2016
Recently, someone wrote to me, saying, “Many people, who are probably well-meaning, say they are working for communal harmony—harmony between people of different faith communities. But basically, what they are doing is fighting what is called communalism. They criticize people and groups who are spreading hate in the name of religion and issue statements and take out demonstrations when a particular community is attacked by members of another. In other words, while they say or think that they are working for peace, what they are essentially doing is condemning communalism and hate in the name of religion.”
“Do you think,” this person asked me, “that this is a useful method of promoting peace?”
I replied, saying that those who adopt the method of issuing statements against others or holding demonstrations should instead explain to people that differences are part of nature. Rather than attacking members of other communities, I explained, one should adhere to the principle of mutual respect. People who seek to promote harmony and peace between members of different communities must educate people to accept differences rather than becoming provoked or trying to eliminate differences.
According to me, the formula for communal harmony is based on mutual respect. In other words, the formula that people should adopt in this regard should be: “We both may have differences, but we will accord complete respect to each other.”
My experience is that often, people organise meetings in the name of promoting communal harmony, but these turn into communal debates. This is wrong in terms of method. The right way is that meetings for communal harmony should not be for eliminating differences, but, rather, for fostering the spirit of respecting each other in spite of differences.
Protesting against those who engage in promoting what is called communalism is not a successful method in terms of its results. Far from succeeding, it is only to make another mistake. Those who attack members of another community are at fault, and those who demonstrate against the attackers are also at fault. The result-oriented approach in this regard is to counsel people to cultivate in them respect for people who follow different faiths. Demonstrating against others is a negative approach and has no positive aspect at all. Instead of solving the problem, it can only create more problems. This method of working for harmony cannot bring about change in people. It cannot transform their hearts. This approach is unnatural. The right response to those who are prejudiced against others is to try to educate them to understand that nature abhors uniformity and to recognise that differences are a part of creation. People should learn to live with differences, rather than try to get rid of them.
Changing people’s minds in this regard can be achieved by adopting a realistic approach. Those who issue statements against others and take out protest demonstrations are only stooping to reactionary conduct. Instead of doing this, they should train people along the lines of peaceful living. They should live with people of different faiths in the spirit of mutual respect.
Not everyone who calls himself a peace activist is really so. Many such people are only critics of others in the name of promoting peace and inter-communal harmony—‘peace critics’ you might want to call them, not ‘peace activists’. A peace activist, according to me, should possess the quality embodied in this famous saying of Jesus Christ: ‘Love your enemy.’ Even if someone appears as one’s enemy, one’s conduct towards him should be determined by high moral principles. This is a trait a peace activist ought to possess, and she or he must also impart this teaching to others.
There are some more qualities of a peace-activist. Someone who is not at peace with God, with himself, with his family and with his neighbours but yet claims that he’s working for inter-community peace or even for world peace cannot be a true or successful peace activist. In other words, peace work, like charity, begins ‘at home’. Those who preach peace must first be peaceful with themselves and with their surroundings. Those who are not peaceful with themselves and others are only ‘professional’ peace activists, not peace activists in the true sense of the word.