Respect can solve religious differences

Published: 05 December 2010
Respect can solve religious differences
Religious differences

While I was celebrating the Eid ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ along with the world’s one billion Muslims last month, I received many good wishes from friends all over the world. But there was one that stood out from the rest. Andrew Findley, the grandson of former US Congressman the Honorable Paul Findley, wrote this in an email:

“I write to wish you and your family a successful celebration of Eid al-Adha this year. To my mind, the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son is one of the most potent displays of faith found in the Bible. (My wife) Grace and I recognize Eid al-Adha as a major moment which both Islam and Christianity #can share as a celebration of faith in God and the importance of charity for fellow mankind. If only the Festival of Sacrifice was widely celebrated among all Christians as it is in the worldwide Islamic community!”

I was deeply touched by Andrew Findley’s heartfelt message, which reminded me of something I have long known. The heavenly religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism are all rooted in the faith in the one God. All three monotheistic faiths hold that Adam was the first man, share a reverence for the Prophets Noah, Abraham and Moses. Surah 2, verse 285 of the Quran reads “The Messenger (Muhammad PBUH) believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and so do the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. They say, ‘We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers’ - and they say, ‘We hear, and we obey. We seek Your Forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the return of all’.”

All devout ‘Peoples of the Book’ believe in angels and the inevitability of ‘the Day of Judgment’. Surah 2, verse 62 of the Quran reads “Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”

The Holy books of these three great faiths recount the same stories albeit with certain variations; in particular the story of Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s (Ibrahim) sacrifice, Joseph’s (Yusuf) prophetic dreams  and Moses (Moussa), who led his people out of Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

Christians who haven’t read the Quran may be surprised to learn that Islam considers Jesus (Isa) as a Messenger of God and a Messiah with the ability to perform miracles and respects his mother Mary (Maryam) who was informed by the Angel Gabriel that she would be honored among women by giving birth to a son who would become a great prophet. Surah 3, verse 42 of the Quran reads “And the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds’.”

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, as related by Imam Ahmad in his quotations from the Hadith of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), “All the prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one. I am the closest of all people to Isa, son of Maryam, for there is no Prophet between him and myself.”

The theological core is the same in all three religions, which is a belief in the One God. In the sight of Allah, the true religion is Islam, which means to surrender or submit to the one God, as the Prophet Ibrahim did long before the word of God was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. This is why Islam considers Ibrahim and subsequent prophets to have been Muslims.

The basic values of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are also similar, including regard for human life, respect for one’s parents, sacrifice, altruism, charity, modesty, and tolerance. Moreover, the Peoples of the Book are all required to pray, fast, pay tithes and help the less fortunate. However, there are fundamental #differences between the faiths in terms of interpretation, emphasis, dogma and ritual.

Those who maintain that religion is a source of conflict are mistaken; all three religions are based on the concept of doing good to benefit mankind. The followers are to blame for #religious wars because they have failed to understand the common message of peace and love.

Surah 5, Verse 32 of the Quran reads “…We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole of humanity…” Similarly, Judaism and Christianity put a high value on the sanctity of human life. Therefore, any self-confessed believer who sheds innocent blood in the name of his religion is, in fact, wounding his faith. The hands of believers should not be stained with blood.

If the Peoples of the Book adhered faithfully to their respective religions, they would live side-by-side in peace, harmony, tolerance and mutual respect. Unfortunately, in the case of the Middle East, which has never managed to escape from #religious turmoil from the Crusades until the present day, politics is the main culprit. Politicians have separated neighbors, friends and even families over and over again by their ruthless exploitation of #religious #differences.

There have been many periods throughout history when Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together, studied together, socialized together, and, on occasion during #religious celebrations, even prayed together.

This was the case in the once cosmopolitan Egyptian city of Alexandria prior to the establishment of Israel and the 1967 War and was also the norm in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the North African Maghreb and elsewhere. It should be noted too that before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraqi Jews and Christians were under government protection.

I’ve recently returned from the Russian Republic of Tatarstan which stands as a fine tribute to multi-ethnic, multi-#religious accord. There, as the President disclosed to me, people are not necessarily aware of their neighbors’ religion unless they see them enter a mosque, church or synagogue.

It seems to me that we #can hold fast to our own beliefs while understanding and respecting the beliefs of others. Our respective #religious convictions are a gift from God; they should not be in competition. If only we could learn to accentuate our commonalities instead of our #differences. Surah 6, verse 108 of the Quran reads “And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge. Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them of all that they used to do.”

My young friend Andrew has the right idea. If only there were more people around with half his wisdom this region and the world would be a far better place.

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