Wisdom September 2011 Issue
Special Edition – Religious Leaders Respond to Troubled Times.
2011 has been a tumultuous year, with political and social upheaval and people airing grievances and demanding change in many parts of the world. We have seen discontented and angry masses in the streets, in the Middle East and North Africa as well as across the UK.
We have asked members of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders to share their thoughts and responses on these events, and to comment on the causes of and appropriate responses to various aspects of the current world situation. We are pleased to be able to provide you with a selection of religious responses to the current turmoil in the world.
Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh
First and foremost, I salute those rare individuals, whose dignity in the face of tragic personal loss, profoundly moves us and transforms the surrounding environment. Accepting the death of a loved one as part of the unfathomable divine will, they choose to exercise forgiveness as opposed to taking revenge. Not only do they avert further tragedy; with courage and humility, they seize their own loss as an opportunity for everybody to take stock and to take initiative to make peace happen.
We, the citizens of Birmingham, have been, and are united in our commitment to peace. We will continue to work and pray for peace.
Sustained peace is a common aspiration for humanity – a shared value for religions and a core goal of the United Nations.
In our pursuit of peace, we shall stimulate a value based civil society with a new consciousness, considering the entire humanity as one large global family. We shall, in our own humble ways, endeavour to empower humans with righteousness – with compassion, forgiveness, benevolence, altruism, honesty, humility, selflessness and abundance of love. We shall promote a culture of service to others. We will glorify responsibilities more than rights – since, responsibility is a precursor to rights.
We shall try to develop a culture of peace, alleviate poverty and hunger through self help, self reliance and community participation; make ‘education for peace’ obligatory; enhance respect for the rights of all, particularly those of women, children, youth, migrants, refugees and displaced peoples. We shall collectively aim for peaceful resolution of conflict with utter humility. Extremism is unacceptable, but retaliation to extremism is also extremism in a different guise. We must not become tolerant of intolerance. The sanctity of life must be protected and preserved at all costs.
We must build more bridges of friendship leading to peace. The time is ripe for multi-faith and secular action, for peace through a comprehensive education strategy. Peace education however needs to begin at home within families, in schools, institutes of higher education and to be promoted by politicians, legislators, multi-lateral organisations and the Government.
The culture of peace must essentially be established by mobilising virtuous values. The quest for finding peace must start within ourselves in order to create peace around us.
Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha
A Jewish Response:
Rabbi Michael Melchior
Ever since the earliest recorded origins of humankind, religion has been the major source of life, future and redemption in its ideal form. At the same time, it has been abused as the ultimate source of fear, hatred, strife, war and death. The Talmud paraphrased this accurately by equating the holy Tora to the tree of life which, when misused, becomes the drug of death…
Religion has been a major factor in relations both between and within countries and nations, playing either a major role, or the major role in these relations, very often at the core of conflicts and wars. While this has been the case throughout human history, this was less true in the 20th century, to a certain degree. The source of the major wars and genocides from the outset of the First World War until the fall of the Berlin Wall cannot primarily be traced back to religion. However, already from the beginning of the 21st century, it can be said that God has returned to the forefront of history as religion has reemerged as a dominant factor all over the world. ..
Again, religion plays a dual role. On one hand, religion enriches the human existence by committing it to fundamental values regarding the human condition and survival, yet, on the other hand, religion serves as a dramatic source of conflict in all of the twenty-odd major battlefields and wars currently raging in different regions of the world. Whether in Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Nigeria, Iraq, Cyprus, or our part of the Middle East, religion is at the focal point of bloody conflicts. And while there can be no peace between nations without peace between religions, to quote Professor Hans Kung, those involved in these conflicts as well as those who are assisting in trying to resolve the conflicts, choose to ignore this truth. And the reasons for this are manifold. It is possible that it is much easier ignoring this truth than dealing with it, or because religion was hardly ever dealt with in the context of conflict resolution, or because of a generally-accepted convention among politicians, the academia and opinion builders, that in any case nothing peaceful could ever emanate from religion.
This is an axiom which I, as a staunch believer in religion, can never accept. At the same time, I also cannot deny that there is seemingly some truth to that concept when I see how In contrary to the past, nearly all those involved in the peace efforts today would agree that if it were possible to harness the power of the mainstream religious identities and legitimization, this would create the energy and confidence so sorely lacking, in order to facilitate the paradigm shift that could end the dangerous present stalemate. I stress that this should be done not in order to substitute the political process and its leaders but on the contrary, in order to empower and give credibility to their wish to create a new reality for our peoples…
This must also relate to the opportunities which have presented themselves with the events of the “Arab Spring”. Instead of just looking at the dangers in the processes happening in the Arab world, I believe that there is immense potential in the new situation primarily as it relates to basic Jewish ethics. I believe we should be pleased when nations rise up against regimes of torture, despotism and slavery. Prior to any political consideration, I believe that we should be moved by the magnitude of the change also from the point of view of Jewish ethics, emanating from the belief in a Tora which confirms every human being’s basic rights and which validates the freedom of man and the divine dignity of every human being. ..
While it is true that on the political plain there was a great blessing in the peace agreement with Egypt, at the same time we must not forget that this was a peace agreement contracted with an autocrat and dictator, not a genuine peace based on common values that would have led to the creation of an honest and open relationship with the Egyptian people. Moreover, as is true of all tyrants, the Egyptian despot used anti-Semitism as a shock absorber in order to divert the oppositions’ criticism leveled at him towards the Jewish people and the State of Israel…
The latest developments in the Arab world might help us in creating a synthesis between a deep commitment to religion, traditional ethical and moral values, together with an equally-deep commitment to peace. Many of us, for too long, have sat detached on our little clouds with our totalitarian truths, not relating to events on the ground or truly taking responsibility for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our believers and societies. This period is probably over.
Now comes the real test. I believe that the inter-religious peace dialogue could become the ladder with which we can take responsibility for actual happenings without in any way loosing contact with heaven above. This ladder is well rooted in the belief in one God and His word, as well as the modesty of man, knowing the limitation of human understanding and power, in a conviction that we are here on this earth not to replace but to serve God. God cannot be honored by crushing his creations and creatures. This ladder must be deeply-rooted in ethical values common to the believers in one God, freedom, justice, peace, morality and ethics.
While very well knowing who we are and understanding the boundaries between our beliefs, there we can find a common fertile ground on which a very different Middle East can grow. We need to introduce a religious language which has been excluded from the process until now. In this language land is not real estate which you can annex or get rid of as seen opportune at any given moment. In this language you should not give up your ultimate dreams and quests which are legitimate, but you can support giving up land for true peace if this can promote other religious values such as the good of your community the sanctity of human life, and spreading the respect for religion and religious commitment. The Talmud talks about the decision of a religious court, when two people appear in front of the court holding onto two ends of the same cloth, each claiming it to be their own. The Talmud says that they both have to swear that at least half is theirs, and then they have to divide it into two.
By only swearing that half is theirs, the court in a sophisticated manner, prevents one of the parties from becoming a perjurer which would otherwise happen if both would have to swear that it was all theirs. But at the same time, the court does not exclude either claim or quest to the totality. This is a religious legalistic approach which has deep roots in both the Jewish and Islamic thinking, where both accommodate for pragmatism without loosing sight of the overall vision. Having reached this common ground we might be able to lift ourselves up to the next level in recognition that eventually the land, all the land, belongs to God the Almighty and that we are here on earth as temporary residents. Observing this aspect of human existence we can then turn to view issues of territory and sovereignty with a very different perception No believer can dismiss this concept. And although it might be perceived as naïve in the political context the naïveté itself is a religious ideal.
This message will have a dramatic effect all over the world that if we can – and we can – work it out in Jerusalem, then there is no reason not to do so in Baghdad, Kaduna, Derry or the slums of Paris.
The dramatic effect that this will create inside Israel and for Israel’s relations with the world will be transformative. For too long, our actions and reactions have been built on and led by our fears. These fears have not been without reason. Not for one day have we had peace, not for one day has there not been somebody in the vicinity calling to wipe us out. We have not even for one day known where our borders are. Besides the unnecessary urge to defend ourselves, this fear has led to many destructive results on which it is impossible to build a sane future. The fear has developed phobias inside our society and has built a growing abyss between us and the parts of the world with which we could and should cooperate. The message of religious peace and its consequences for our relations with our neighbors will place us in the role which for many Jews is the essence of our existence – to repair our world by building a new world together with our surroundings. We might even be able to turn the clash of civilizations into a much more productive and even romantic coalition of civilizations, with one foot firmly rooted in a western, democratic, liberal tradition and the other foot rooted in an eastern, religious commitment to belief and obedience towards the word of God.
A Muslim Response:
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Why is there widespread social and political upheaval in our present world? It is not due to injustice as is commonly assumed. It is due to an unrealistic concept of justice and an obsession with an unrealistic concept of human rights. People are living in a state of over-expectation and when they find that their expectations are not fulfilled, they react. This reaction begins from negative thinking, and then it takes the shape of protest and, finally, it takes a violent turn. The solution lies in reconsidering and correcting the generally accepted concept of human rights. This is where to begin. Without this, there can be no beginning at all.
In the twentieth century, many movements were launched to champion human rights. But perhaps, there has been no significant movement based on the human duties. Through the print and electronic media, these movements gradually spread all over the world. Now, everyone is obsessed with the concept of human rights. With perhaps no exceptions, individuals and societies have become rights-conscious.
This is against the law of nature. The law of nature is based on the ‘give-and-take’ principle. But, the human rights concept has gone in a contrary direction, that is, ‘taking without giving’ – if not consciously, then unconsciously.
Under the influence of these movements, now everyone talks of ideal justice. But, our world is a world of competition and in a world of competition, ideal justice cannot be achieved. According to the law of nature, only working justice is achievable in this world and not ideal justice.
The only workable formula is that everyone should accept working justice. This will give one enough time to direct one’s energies towards more important issues.
This law of nature is based on high wisdom, that is, everyone should be content with their needs and divert their ambitions to spiritual and ideological development.
Man is an ideal-seeking animal. But the fact is that our world is a limited world. So, material idealism is not achievable in this world. On the contrary, spiritual idealism is completely achievable. So, the best formula for a successful life is, as regards material things, to remain contented and, in spiritual matters, be idealistic. This is the only formula that gives one peace of mind. This is the only formula that prevents a person from indulging in complaining and negative thinking. It frees one of the desire to complain and helps in developing positive thinking. In other words, for a successful life is a two point formula––material ‘status quoism’ and spiritual idealism.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is an Islamic Spiritual Scholar and Founder of Center for Peace & Spirituality International.
A Christian response:
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
The pursuit of peace has always proved challenging. Yet, our present situation is in at least two ways quite unprecedented. First, never before has it been possible for one group of human beings to eradicate as many people simultaneously; second, never before has humanity been in a position to destroy so much of the planet environmentally. We are faced with radically new circumstances, which demand of us an equally radical commitment to peace. ..
Now, the pursuit of peace calls for a radical reversal of what has become the normative way of survival in our world. Peace requires a sense of conversion or metanoia; it requires commitment and courage. Moreover, peacemaking is a matter of individual and institutional choice. We have it in our power either to increase the hurt inflicted on our world or to contribute toward its healing. Once again, it is a matter of choice.
Justice and peace are central themes in Scripture. However, as Orthodox Christians, we also recall the profound tradition of the Philokalia, which emphasizes that peace always – and ultimately – starts in the heart. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian in the 7th century, “if you make peace with yourself, then heaven and earth will make peace with you.”
In an increasingly complex and violent world, Christian churches have come to recognize that working for peace constitutes a primary expression of their responsibility for the life of the world. They are challenged to move beyond mere rhetorical denunciations of violence, oppression and injustice, and incarnate their ethical judgments into actions that contribute to a culture of peace. This responsibility is grounded on the essential goodness of all human beings by virtue of being in God’s image and the goodness of all that God has created.
Peace is inextricably related to the notion of justice and freedom that God has granted to all human beings through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit as a gift and vocation. It constitutes a pattern of life that reflects human participation in God’s love for the world. The dynamic nature of peace as gift and vocation does not deny the existence of tensions, which form an intrinsic element of human relationships, but can alleviate their destructive force by bringing justice and reconciliation. ..
Phone: +972-2-672-9276 , Skype: adminelijahP.O.B. 4069
The Elijah Interfaith Institute is a 501© (3) organization. All donations are US tax-exempt.