Monday, July 11, 2016

I Am Blind, and I Am Blind to People’s Religious Differences

By P. Waei, New Age Islam
11 July 2016
The other day, a friend of mine asked me: “How do you think all this hate, violence and terror that’s happening in the name of religion can be stopped? How can people of different faiths live together in peace?” He thought I might have something useful to offer.
Now, I don’t read the newspapers—and that’s because I can’t, since I lost my eyesight several years ago and turned completely blind. I don’t even listen to (because I can’t watch) the TV. And so, I really don’t know much about what’s happening in the world—including all that conflict in the name of religion—except for what someone might tell me once in a while. But even then, I do know one thing: and that is, that interfaith harmony is actually very simple! Yes, I really mean it! I really think it is very simple for people of different faiths to live together in peace. In fact, religion itself is very simple, but we humans have unnecessarily complicated it.
That’s what I told my friend. I said to him: “If people realize that God is One, although He is called by different names and worshipped in different ways, it’s all they need to live together in harmony.”
Really, you don’t need anything more than this for peace and love between people of different faiths!
I’ve been working in a social work centre for many years now. People come to me for help. They are from various communities and religious (and non-religious) backgrounds. The vast majority are from faith communities other than the one I was born into. When I relate to them, religious differences don’t come in at all. There’s no religious talk when we meet. We are simply two people enjoying our relationship.
In my office, I am one of the very few people from the particular faith community to which my family belongs. Yet, I get along wonderfully with all my colleagues. I get amazing help from them. I need help to go to the washroom, and they take me there. These days, I can’t walk without someone holding my hand (this is a new development, a nerve-related issue), and of course that someone is almost always a person from a community other than mine. For me, and for them, our common humanity that bonds us together.
So, to reiterate what I mentioned to my friend, peace between people of different faith can only come about when we realize that the God we all worship in different ways and call by different names is One. Once we realise this, where is the room for conflict?
Along with this, we need also to realise that in terms of ethics, all religions, if understood correctly, are very similar. Of course, many of their dogmas, doctrines and rituals are different, but at their core, the values they stand for—love of God and one’s neighbour, compassion, honesty and so on—are identical. This, too, is a firm basis of inter-community peace and understanding.
If we want to promote peace between people of different faiths we need to focus on the commonalities that lie at the core of various religions—faith in the One God or Reality and ethical values—instead of harping on the differences of dogma and ritual that make them appear to be different. 
What matters is pleasing God. Performing this or that set of rituals or praying in this or that way or in this or that language, or going to this or that place of pilgrimage—does not matter. It is the purity of our intention of pleasing God—by loving Him and all His creatures—that counts. Make your personal relationship with God your major concern and you will find yourself at peace inside. Focus on the common values and ethical teachings of the different religions and you will be at peace with people of other faiths.
If people were to understand that God is One, they would seek to please Him by praying to Him and serving His creatures. By fighting in His name, you are definitely not going to please Him. God is pleased when you accept others, including people of other faiths, with a pure and loving heart. We are meant to love each other. Love alone can win hearts—that’s the best way to handle all relationships and resolve conflicts, including between communities. It’s a sure recipe for harmony between religious groups.
God does not say that we should fight in His name. Some people, however, completely misinterpret the religion they claim to follow and wrongly claim that it sanctions violence against others. This is really sad. Religion can be, and continues to be, interpreted in two very diametrically opposite ways—to promote love and harmony, and to foment hate and violence. It is up to us to make the right choice—by choosing the former.
If people of different faiths are to live in peace, there’s another important thing for them to do—and that is, they should learn about and appreciate the good things in other religions. That’s a solid basis for good interfaith neighbourliness. It can take the form of something as fun-filled as celebrating each other’s religious festivals and having a good time together.
If people who claim to follow different religions are to live in peace with each other, there’s yet another thing they should do. And that is, they should not mix religion with other issues. Religion, as I said earlier, is a very personal thing. That’s what makes it especially beautiful, because it means you can really focus on this relationship without it being distracted by other things. Enjoy this personal relationship with God, and automatically you will be at peace with others. But the moment you don’t let religion be a very personal relationship between you and God and you start mixing other things—such as politics, communal prejudices etc.—with it, your relationship with God suffers, or even severed altogether, and you start fighting with others. That’s what terrorists are doing. Instead of loving God, they hate fellow human beings. Instead of glorifying God, they are planting bombs. In this way, they are destroying their relationship with God, and also destroying others and themselves, too.
Religion must not stand in the way of your interaction with others. I should love people for who they are, not for what religion they follow or claim to follow. It’s really pathetic when some people choose to limit their friends only to their own religious community. That’s being biased and close-minded. How can you grow if you have a closed mind, if you aren’t open to people of other faiths? The grass on the other side of the fence is also green—it may even be greener than on your side, so why not take a peek and see what’s there? Why not see how other people are handling life? You can learn and gain a great deal when you interact with people from different backgrounds.
As I said, I don’t know much about what’s happening in the world, but I do know there are some people out there who are fired by a hate-driven exclusivism in the name of religion. They may take God’s name to seek to justify this, but their judgmentalism is actually just power politics. They want to appear ‘great’ in the eyes of their followers, but I’d rather be great in the eyes of our Creator. They wrongly imagine that by hating and killing others they can become great in God’s eyes. They are totally deluded. Theirs is a completely useless power struggle, because ultimately, one day, they—like you, me and everyone else—will return to the dust from where we have all come from. Really, life is just too, too short to hate and kill in the name of religion or anything else.
Some people say they face discrimination or injustice because of their religion. They use that as an excuse to resent others and stir conflict. Now, I don’t say there’s no discrimination at all in the world. But just because some people are biased, it doesn’t mean that you should behave in the same way as they do. If you do this, how are you different from them? Why let their behaviour make you become like them? Why should you allow their attitude to damage your value-system and dehumanize you? When we treat people nicely, irrespective of how they treat us, that’s all that matters. You’ll be surprised at the immense transforming power of love. Love can make the most hard-hearted opponent melt. That’s the only way to overcome discrimination and hatred.
Many people destroy themselves because they harbor hate for what others have done to them and because they refuse to forgive. The same happens in the case of entire social groups. They cling to hatred, and it only magnifies further and turns into a vicious circle of violence.  How to deal with this is something that needs to be addressed. At the inter-personal level, this can happen through cultivating empathy, mediation, negotiation and so on. Maybe the same skills could be used to resolve conflicts between communities. But it isn’t that easy actually, because for that you need community leaders—people like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, for instance—who genuinely want peace and harmony. Often, however, people who claim to be community leaders thrive on fanning conflict. That’s the only way, they think, they can remain ‘leaders’. If there’s no conflict, they’ll lose their jobs.
Here’s another recipe for peace: Mind your own business! Don’t poke your nose into other people’s affairs! Along with this, love your neighbours. That’s a very Christian statement, but it belongs to everyone actually. You can win over others through your love, charity, service and kindness. Religions stress service of God and His creatures. If all of us, no matter what religion we claim to follow, were to serve others, imagine what a difference it could make to the world! Imagine how that would impact on inter-community relations!
God doesn’t want us to pray all 24 hours of the day, seven days a week. He wants us to spend much of our time doing acts of service to others, too—and not just to fellow humans (irrespective of religion) but to all other creatures as well, including plants, animals and birds.
It’s really amazing the contentment you get by serving any living being. Do this, and you can do your bit for world peace that way!  It may be even just watering a plant, if that’s all you can do on a particular day. Wear your pant or coat according to your size, I’d say. Do whatever good you can and don’t worry about the results. The fruits of your actions will come when they have to. Success is not always about winning. Even just an attempt can make a great difference!
My eyes were a gift from God. One day, God decided to take that gift back. And when He did that, He also took responsibility for my life. I cannot sin now, because I don’t have eyes that can see. And you know what? Although I cannot see people’s physical form, I can “see” them more clearly now, more as they really are—and I’m thankful to God for this. When I meet someone, I can make out the sort of person she or he is. I can now look at his or her inner person, rather than forming an opinion about him or her based on his or her external appearance. I can now love a person for what he or she is, rather than for what he or she looks like or what community he or she belongs to. I am blind, and I am blind to people’s religious differences.
Isn’t That Beautiful?
Each of us is but a small component in the huge machine called Life. If we run smoothly and allow others to function likewise, the machine can function well. Otherwise, it won’t work. Live without wanting to hurt others—that’s a simple way to promote harmony, whether at the interpersonal or inter-community or international level. Try and get to know and befriend people from different backgrounds, including from different religious communities. Reach out to them with love. Every person can do this. And that means that each one of us has a valuable and unique role to play in promoting world peace and inter-community harmony!
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