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Introduction
Islam
Hinduism
Sikhism
Christianity
Buddhism
Photo Gallery
Paper on
Islam and Other Religions: Spiritual Interrelatedness
For Peace and Progress
Aligarh Muslim University
February 11-12, 2012
 
- Dr M M Verma

Introduction

Mr Chairman, learned panelists and the august gathering, I wish to humbly share some of my perceptions with you on the spiritual interrelatedness between Islam and other religions. I firmly believe that religious traditions were not created in the air. Nor they ever existed as islands. Instead they have influenced each other much more deeply than a common eye can see.

The main problem facing us today is the problem of reconciliation of mankind. We should try (i) to reconcile the varied and apparently intellectual forms of religious consciousness and (ii) emphasize the root conceptions of religion, which are neither ancient nor modern but eternal and which belong to the whole humanity, past, present and future.

History poses new problems and we should restate the old principles in new ways. Such a restatement of the truths of eternity is the only way in which great Scriptures can serve as a living guide to mankind.

Generally, there are two aspects in a Scripture. First, it addresses the immediate problems of its time. Secondly and more importantly it reveals the eternal truth. Therefore, there is a need for caution in understanding and interpreting our Scriptures. Our times are different, needs are different, problems are different, we should keep in mind the thoughts and feelings, which are developing among the thinking people of our time. The perception of truth results in the renewal of life. The realm of spirit is not cut off from the realm of life. Apart from that, the State has also given us a charter of rights and duties along with an exhaustive civil code, besides, detailed rules and regulations governing all walks of life.

Religion is concerned more with true knowledge i.e., knowledge of the soul and the Supreme Soul, their relation and modes of worship and ethical social dealings among human beings. Religion wants to liberate man from the cobweb of materialism and misdeeds. Religion emphasizes on ethical conduct in socio-economic life.

Every society is divided into several religious communities. A person who calls himself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian, a Buddhist or a Jain should know his respective Scripture and follow it in his day-to-day life in order to justify his religious identity. But its irony of the situation that we do not bother to know our Scriptures, much less follow them.

Our religious identities therefore focus more on the outer symbols, rituals, festivals, language and lifestyle. Sukhmani Sahib canto 3 and 4 teach that the external symbols are not important. What really matters is the purity of heart, a clean Mind and a spiritual perspective, besides doing righteous deeds and living universal human values.

Institutions, i.e., places of worship and pilgrimage, rituals and festivals constitute the body of a religion. However, the soul of a religion lies in its value system and the universal human values it preaches.

It is often said that the scientific advancement and higher technology have shrunk distances as a result of which the whole world has become a “Global Village.” But this has a reference only to the physical nearness of the constituents of the world. The Global village is only a body i.e., the physical form. A lot more has to be done by the world religions to put soul into the global village, i.e., to promote the spirit of interrelatedness of the mankind, by living universal human values.

For all this we have to make unbiased interpretations of our Scriptures. It is irony of the situation that the Scriptures are not read and if they are read, they are not being followed. And if they are being followed, people are fed only on stereotyped interpretations and distorted versions, which have done mankind more harm than good. The distorted interpretations might have served the narrow ends of some people, often disrupting peace and progress.

Islam

Islam is a religion of peace. Sura 1 of the Holy Qur’an opens with the following words: In the name of Allah, most Compassionate and most Merciful. Praise be to Allah and Peace be upon the mankind. Sura 2 opens with the words: There is but one God. Don’t compare anyone with Him. God is truth. He is the most high, the Supreme One (31: 30). He is the Lord of the worlds; the Lord of all creations; having power over all things (2:20); knower of visible and invisible (32: 6). God belongs to the East and the West whichever way you turn your face, there is God. We should serve Him alone (2:21). Believers – Jews, Christians and Sabaeans – whoever believes in Allah and does what is right shall be rewarded by Him and he has nothing to fear or regret (2:62).

Purpose of Life -  God has created all of us from a single soul (4:1). The purpose of life is to honour and praise the Lord, morning and evening (48:9). Do not think that God has created you in vain (23: 115). Life in this world is only a sport and a pastime. The abode of God is hereafter and there is true life there (29:64).

Prayers - Let’s fearlessly, lovingly, devotedly, faithfully sing His glory and be at peace. The Qur’an focuses on steadfastness in prayers, paying alms and taxes and help the needy. Your offerings shall not be accepted, if you are wicked (9:53, 9:54).

Tolerance -  God has the most excellent names, call Him by His names (7: 180). Our God and your God is One. God is our Lord and yours’ too. Believe in the book, which God has sent down. We are responsible for what we do and you are responsible for what you do. There is no contention between us and you. The believers should call upon the followers of other religions to unite for the sake of truth, seek mutual help, friendship and cooperation (3:64).

God has sent to every people some prophet to give them His revelations and purify them of their sins and reveal to them the knowledge that they don’t have (2: 151). The names of prophets like Musa, Isa, Ibrahim, Ismail, besides others, are mentioned in the Qur’an. Don’t discriminate among the Prophets and the Scriptures (2:136, 2:285). You can give the Holy book to others and ask them to surrender to God but there is no compulsion in religion (2:256, 109:6).

Deeds - The Qur’an’s gives highest emphasis to good deeds. Good deeds consist not in whether your face is towards the East or the West but it lies in helping the needy and the weak. Heaven or hell in the next life is according to one’s own deeds. Virtue lies in piety, purity and righteous deeds (2:177). Attend to your prayers and pay the alms and taxes (2:83). If you buy life at the price of the life to come, you are a big loser. Don’t barter away your soul for the wealth of the whole world (2:86). God does not charge a soul with more than it can bear (2: 286). Emulate one another in good works (2:148). God is with the righteous ones (29:69). Charity is good for your soul (64:16). Set aside a due portion of your goods for the needy and the poor.

Hinduism

Ekam Sad Vipraha Bahuda Vedanti - (Rig Veda).  Truth is one, the wise call it by different names. Sangach dhvam Samvad dhvam Savomansi jantam Let us work together with a common goal. Let us converse with a common purpose. Let our minds meet together in the quest for true knowledge. Gather information from all sides (Vedas). A sage is one who is comfortable in all quarters. Let all sides be my friend (Yajur Veda). All paths lead unto Me. Worship Me alone. Don’t worship other gods (also in Gita). Worship Me in the well-being of all (B-G chp XII). You can worship the formless Truth or the Truth manifested in several things. What really matters is not the form of worship but the purity of the heart with which worship is offered. Although bhakti of the Lord is important but karma yoga (duty) is absolutely essential. After death, the soul enters another body with his balance sheet of the deeds of his previous karmas (B-G, Theory of transmigration of soul).

Sikhism

God is one, mankind is one; castes are man-made. “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim….There is no high, and there is no low. If there is any low caste, I am lowest of the low,” said Guru Nanak. Truth is highest but truthful living is higher still, said Guru Nanak. Mandir, Masjid, Gurudwara and Church are the same. Prayer, Namaz, Ardaas and Mass are the same, said Guru Gobind Singh. The praise of the Lord and his name is the subject which all Scriptures have addressed (Sukhmani Sahib, canto 24). His worship and worshippers are of the same hue (canto 17). You should have the power to see mankind’s equality and realization of oneness in diversity (canto 22). Purity is not merely the outer symbols (canto 3). Garbs are not enough (canto 4). His true servants can reduce other’s pain and help the whole world become one (canto 16). Earn by legitimate means and hard work. Give 1/10th of your income towards charity for the weak and the needy. Humanity, charity, hard work, sharing and caring for others, along with utmost respect for woman and the highest sacrifice are some of the fundamental tenets of Sikhism.

Christianity

Jesus said: Hear, O’ Israel, your Lord, our Lord, is one Lord.” When your heart is pure, you can see God. Evil mind can’t speak well. Evil eye pushes you into darkness. If you follow your soul, you are not in darkness. Jesus said: “Why do you call me good. God alone is good.” There is reward after death for the one who has surrendered and abandoned. Work for God, cast out the devil. God will decide your reward. In matters of charity, let your left hand not know what your right hand does. Don’t worry; it is the problem of the Father to feed His children. Have trust in God and worry not for tomorrow. Ask God for forgiveness of your sins. You also forgive others if you want God to forgive you. Jesus advised his Apostles: Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out devils.

Buddhism

Truth can’t live where passions and attachments live. Buddha rejects wrong notions – false presumptions, vanity, ignorance, lust, worldly profits and loses. Establish authority of the soul over the body. You can give sermons only after you have delivered your own soul from the physical bondage. Do only good deeds, both in mind and outside by following the Eight Fold Noble Path. Do action as a sacrifice. A good deed implies Nishkam karma. A word spoken in wrath is the sharpest sword. Man’s own deeds like fire of lust will consume him. Our physical eyes drag us into the world of illusions. Buddha said: Enlightenment is for all.

The Golden Rule

The social concept termed as “the golden rule” is found in almost all sacred writings, as well as popular philosophical sources. Sometimes, it is worded in the positive “Do unto others,” sometimes in the negative “Do not do to others. Choose for thy neighbours that which thou choose for thyself. “Hurt not others in the ways that you yourself would find it hurtful (Udaan Varga 5, 18). Consider others as yourself (Dhammapada 10). Therefore, whatever you want them to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets, the rest is only a commentary (Mathew 7, 12) “There is one maxim that ought to be acted upon throughout one’s whole life. Surely, it is the maxim of loving kindness.

Don’t take vengeance on and bear a grudge against any of your people, rather, love your neighbour as yourself.” What is hateful to you; do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire law, all the rest is commentary (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 3la). Regard your neighbours gain as your own gain and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss.

Essential Unity in Diversity

The praise of the Lord and His name is the subject, which all Scriptures have addressed (Sukhmani Sahib, canto 24). Praise be to Allah (Qur’an sura 1), is just the same as in Gayatri Mantra (Hinduism) or in Mul Mantra (Sikhism). Of all Holy places, the most sacred is the heart, wherein lives the name of God (SS, canto 3). God dwells in it, keep your heart pure, clean and free of filth. The Lord dwells in the positive mind (SS, canto 4). Advaita, oneness, Unity and no duality are also discussed (SS, canto 11). It is the same as in Qur’an and Gita. You should have the power to see mankind’s equality and the realization of Oneness in diversity (SS, canto 22).

A Hindu who mediates on Brahman, a Muslim who praises Allah, a Sikh, who sings songs of devotion of the Akal Purakh (The Timeless Being), a Christian, who magnifies Jesus, a Jew who magnifies Adonai, and a Zoroastrian, who honors Ahura Mazda (The Wise Lord) are all in essence generating devotion towards the One they consider to be the Supreme Power. They may have differing interpretations of God’s nature, name and ways, but in a united way, they are all reaching out to the same Creator.

The Yajur Veda calls for good thoughts to come from all sides, annoo bhadra krtavao yantu vishvataha. It says; “One who is the permanent friend of all, who is engrossed in the interest of mankind by his action, mind and speech, is the one who knows the real religion.” Charity means to extend the hand of friendship to him whom one knows and to him whom one knows not, and to the one antagonistic to you,” said Prophet Mohammad.

Love is more emphasized in Christianity and also amongst the Sufis, who called it Ishq. Nonviolence is more emphasized in Hinduism and Jainism. Compassion is more emphasized in Buddhism. Equality and justice are more emphasized in Islam. Truth of course is common to all religions. Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Confucianism stressed on balanced living, which later became the kernel of Guru Nanak’s teachings. The founder of Sikhism gave the message of the freedom of choice. Individuals should learn from their own experience and thereby modify their future choices and decisions, said Guru Nanak.

Just as coexistence is valued in Hinduism, similarly, it is valued in Christianity and Islam. If differences arise, they do so as a matter of rationale and not of actual practice. The goal of coexistence is achieved in Hinduism through co-recognition, while in Christianity and Islam, the goal of coexistence is achieved through mutual coexistence. It is ultimately the people who have to deal with one another and must finally decide all crucial issues. Let the people of the world assert their sense of understanding and unity.

In essence, we have to convince each other that there is something greater than our differences and distinctiveness, which binds us together. And that is the principle of unity. From all religious writings people can derive benefit. Blind rejection of one faith in favour of another is absurd.

Summing Up

In view of the current events and unanswered questions, shaking our faith, we need to become more acquainted with all prophets through the cascade of familiar, forgotten, rejected and unheard teachings. Let us admit that similarities and commonalities do exist among all faiths. Let some True Light radiate from each one of them. Every civilization should be enriched by the treasure of other religions and civilizations. The followers of all religions should work for peaceful coexistence. Let’s make efforts to find a common theological platform in a dialogue with adherents of different faiths.

Here, India is most favourably placed in a multi-religious situation. In a secular society, the most important thing is that the followers of every religion must learn to practice their religion, so as not to create problems for others or hurt the susceptibilities of the followers of other religions. In the Indian context, we must accept the reality of pluralism. Of course, Indians are religious by nature.

The value system in any religion is its soul, whereas institutions and rituals represent only its body. As every body has soul, every living religion has its value system, which gives it identity. Sometimes, we focus more on the body system and less on the Soul. While we create institutions, we neglect the most essential values, which relate to Soul. However, there is consensus that the most fundamental values common to all religions are love, nonviolence, equality, justice, human dignity, compassion and truth. Every religion must emphasize on good deeds and moral values. All Scriptures are great guides and can substantially contribute to world peace and progress.

As religious people we owe a responsibility to mankind. We have to change our mindset. There is need for honest religious leaders and bold scholars to liberate religion from the control of motivated leaders. Religion must not be misused. We need a united vision. We have to reaffirm the truth contained in our Scriptures by relating them to our life and experience.

We seem to be moving towards the world culture and civilization. Today, different cultures and spiritual traditions are deeply interrelated and interconnected with each other, influencing each other much more deeply than a common eye can see. Huntington’s theory of “The Conflict of Civilizations” is lopsided, absurd and motivated. There is a greater truth in Lenin’s diagnoses of capitalism leading to wars on account of conflict of economic and political interests, rather than conflict of civilizations.

However, much needs to be done to bring people closer to each other culturally and spiritually without tempering with their distinctive religious identities. Liberal religious thinkers, scholars of different persuasions and genuinely secular political leaders are making efforts to give the people unbiased interpretations of their Scriptures and explain to them the essential interrelatedness and interconnectedness of mankind to promote spiritual environment conducive to peace and progress. International conferences on interfaith dialogue have also significantly contributed to creating positive atmosphere for peace without which no sustainable progress is feasible. 

 
 
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