BY SHAD SALEEM FARUQI
We must expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.
MANY corners of our world are bristling with intolerance and consumed by war and aggression.
Some terrorists and anarchists, like the ones in Syria and Iraq, misuse the holy name of religion to justify their perfidies. Others are more sophisticated. They employ the vocabulary of “democracy”, “human rights”, “humanitarian intervention” and the “war against terrorism” to devastate lands that (not just by coincidence) belong to a race or religion they regard as inferior to theirs.
The motives of both are similar. Both are driven by primordial instincts. Both pursue their goals with religious fervour.
The Hindutva campaigners who murder in the name of God are no better or worse than the secular militants who, in the name of democracy or human rights, kill or maim millions of innocent people; test nefarious weapons of mass destruction on helpless populations; and conquer and colonise lands for geopolitical purposes.
Despite this horrific reality, we have many good people everywhere who preach tolerance, love and forgiveness. Pope Francis is one of them. His recent visits to Al-Azhar in Egypt and to Azerbaijan sought to build bridges with Muslim communities around the world.
The pontiff’s exquisite message of love and tolerance warms the heart. At a peace conference hosted by the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the 80-year-old reminded humanity that “we have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God”.
“As religious leaders, we are called to unmask violence that masquerades as purported sanctity,” he added. “To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred with violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness.”
In New York and Philadelphia, Pope Francis broadened his call from his own Catholic community to embrace those of other faiths, asking them to “join their voices” against modern tyrants who would seek to “suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality”.
Pope Francis’ admonition to the world to not use religion as a pretext for discord and hatred will resonate with everyone who is committed to a brotherhood of peace and harmony.
Religion is one of the greatest forces of human civilisation. Sadly, it has been employed sometimes as a force for good and sometimes as a force for bad. Much depends on how the faithful use or misuse their faith.
Whether it is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, we can find within them whatever we are searching for.
Every religion, without exception, is a mansion with many rooms. Every religion has a beautiful tapestry of doctrines, principles, beliefs, and fables that embrace the inter-connectedness of life, the importance of love, tolerance, sacrifice and peace.
At the same time there is evidence throughout history that all religions have now and then been abused to oppress and discriminate; divide and denigrate; justify wars, brutalities and inhumanities. The holy literatures of most religions contain passages that can be misused by those whose hearts are filled with hatred to demonise and marginalise “the faithless” of other persuasions.
There is, in almost every religious book, something for everyone and for any purpose. Like all laws and norms, religious doctrines are capable of whatever interpretation we wish to use them for.
It is our subjective choice to determine which portion of our ecclesiastical doctrine should be regarded as the “true” mirror of our faith. It is our subjective choice to determine who speaks for our religion – the preacher of hate or the practitioner of tolerance, forgiveness and love.
It is also our subjective choice to determine whether other religions will be judged by their pristine theory or by the horrible practices of some of their practitioners.
The character of the interpreter often gets superimposed on the character of a religious doctrine.
Having noted religion’s mixed record for good or bad, let me quickly add that the same is true for all other ideologies. There is no proof that religion has caused more problems for humanity than political, economic, social or moral systems of beliefs that are often projected as a panacea for the problems that afflict humanity.
Coming back to the Pope, he has exhibited many acts of large-heartedness that must not go unnoticed. For example, he disassociated terrorism from Islam.
“Islam is not a religion of terrorism because a minority from among its followers hijacked some of its texts,” he said.
This is both beautiful and right. To attribute the wrongs of a people to their religion is unfair and ignorant. There is a difference between the faith and the faithful.
Otherwise, critics of Europe and America will wrongly associate Europe’s brutal history with its religion. Side by side with majestic achievements there is a sordid history of colonial conquests, brutalisation of indigenous populations on four continents, apartheid, the holocaust, the nuclear assault on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the genocide in Palestine and Srebrenica, the manufacture and sale of horrible weapons of mass destruction, the pulverisation of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and many more.
In sum, Pope Francis is truly and admirably an exemplar for religious leaders around the world.
His call to leaders of all faiths to leave future generations “a better world than the one we have received” and his firm and clear “No!” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God is sorely needed in many parts of the world, including our own.
Emeritus Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is Tunku Abdul Rahman Professor of Law at Universiti Malaya.