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Religions going off the Path – Need Midway Corrections

Dr Gurbakhsh Singh USA

The Oct. 2008 massacre of innocent human beings by Muslim terrorists in Bombay, India, has reminded us again that hatred for people of other faiths is not the way of God. The polluted politicians, for their limited selfish advantages, exploit their co-religionists; they fan the flames of their hatred to such intensity that many naïve non-violent devotees of the faith are motivated to join suicide squads to kill/harm the crowds of the hated people. To top such heinous crimes, actions of such squads are regarded as the most sacred service to the faith and, therefore, they believe that their sacrifice qualifies them to the highest award from God, their Lord.

Earlier in Gujarat, thousands of Muslims, the largest minority in India, were tortured, murdered, raped, and even burnt alive, and their property looted and destroyed. No punishment was given to the culprits, their guides, or their protectors (the politicians). In 1984, the same was done to the Sikhs in India, especially in Delhi. All of this was committed by the Hindu extremists because of their religious hatred and hence intolerance for the members of other religions.

Brutal murders are not recent phenomena. History books are filled with this type of inhuman behavior over the entire globe. Even in the educationally and industrially advanced West, we read of political and social powers being abused for torturing and butchering weak and helpless people. Just as a reference, we may read:

“Thousands of knights and adventurers of all kinds joined the crusades. Those who did so were specially blessed by the Pope, and the crusaders were promised that, through fighting for God against the heathen, they would be forgiven for their sins.” - Page 246, Children’s Britannica, Volume 5, Fourth Edition (copyright 1988).

Earlier, when they were in power, Muslims had fought to take over the areas of the Mediterranean region up to Spain but were stopped by Charlemagne and his Frankish army. The Muslims already had conquered the Arabian Peninsula, northern Africa, and far into Asia.

One wonders at the human nature of asserting one’s thought on others, whatever the cost. Not only inter-religious hatred takes control over the Homo sapiens species but the intra-faith rivalries (between sects/divisions of the same faith), jealousies, and even mutual hatred many times leads them to self-destruction. Again as an example, we may read:

“In England the Reformation took a special form. King Henry VIII (reigned 1509-47) quarrelled with the Pope about his marriage, rejected Papal authority, and claimed to be head of the English Church. But he made few other changes. Under Edward VI, his son (1547-53), Protestantism was established, but his sister Mary I (1553-58) brought back Catholicism and the authority of the Pope and burnt many Protestants to death.” - Children’s Britannica, Volume 15, pp 30-31.

These happenings tell us that:
“Practically nobody at this time believed that there could be more than one religion in a country, and most thought it their duty to persecute those Christians with whom they disagreed. So all over Europe people were put to death, imprisoned, or deprived of rights or property for their religion. Catholics persecuted Protestants where they had the upper hand and Protestants persecuted Catholics in countries where the Reformation was supported by the government.” - Ibid., page 31.

The media reminds us that, because of the vices hidden in our minds, the senseless violence continues to be a part of the social life. As recent as the latter half of the 20th century, Christian communities all over the world were intensely worried by the violence between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

In the Middle East, Shiites and Sunnis fought in an intra-Islamic war. “In 1980 war broke out over Iraq’s claim to the east bank of the Shatt al-Arab and during the 8 years of fighting much damage was done to the country’s cities and industries. The war lasted until 1988 and cost more than 500,000 Iraqi lives.” - Page 35, 36 Children’s Britannica, Volume 10, Fourth Edition (copyright 1988). “Iran suffered deeply from the Gulf War. As many as one million were killed or wounded in the fighting. The economy was ruined.” – Ibid., page 33.

The cause of the problem is that some people claim, and therefore want to assert, their religious/racial superiority over others. Claims of racial superiority by the Nazis of Germany during the rule of Hitler are a very recent example and the ripple effects of the heartless killings and the destruction caused by them have been documented in books; after reading about it, society will ever regret letting this horrendous event occur.

In India, caste superiority divided the people a long time ago, but it is still being practiced today, though it is against the law. The grading of the people into castes, an anti-human principle, resulted in violent clashes between the high caste and low caste Hindus. It needs to be told here that the Vedas do not make any mention of caste classification; it was later that Manu Simriti (authored by Manu) which introduced the grouping of people by birth into castes and also their grading, the lowermost were declared untouchable. Buddha also preached against it; but it is still continuing today because of the vested interests of the high caste (Brahmins).

For keeping peace on this globe it is essential that people cleanse their minds of such merciless and barbarous human behavior. We are already late to re-orient our religious preaching to achieve this goal. Modern science and philosophy agree that this belief (superiority of a race/caste/ethnicity over the others) is not tenable if the world has to live in peace, but our low-class, short-sighted politicians continue to support this belief, unembarrassed. They have little concern about the welfare of the people inhabiting this Earth.

Mid-way Corrections Suggested
Maybe, all of this was in the minds of the members of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) that they, in their meeting in 1979 in New Jersey, USA, resolved:

“Too often the names and practices of our religions have been associated with warfare and strife. Now we must reverse this by:-

i. Breaking down barriers of prejudice and hostility between religious communities and institutions.

ii. Confronting the powers of the world with the teachings of our religions, rather than conforming to them, when they act contrary to the well being of humanity.

iii. Building inter-religious understanding in our local community.”

Page 98 World Peace and Place of Religions in the 21st Century, an Academic Analysis. By the Sikh Missionary College (Regd) Ludhiana, Punjab, India, Publication No. 416.

Founding the Peace Process
We want peace because this is as natural to us as the natural flow of water downwards. Peace being our need, and a part of our nature, most people desire it. As a common experience, we observe that whenever two persons argue aggressively and there is a fear of violence, the people around are involuntarily drawn to intercede. After settling the issue amicably, they feel pleased and carry a feeling of success in their hearts - they were able to do what should have been done by the antagonists in the first place (stop the violence and maintain peace).

The question of founding the process for creating long-term peace is the concern of the whole humanity, not just of politicians but all wings of society including religious heads, ethnic representatives, and cultural leaders. After a war, the politicians settle for peace, but it may not even last during their own lifetimes. It is the misplaced ego and ambition of the politicians, as mentioned earlier, that they misguide people to fight and cause violence in the name of religion, economic betterment, political hegemony, or some other social reason.

Religious leaders also have recently formed many world level organizations. They discuss religious principles to develop mutual love and remove hatred among the followers of different traditions. All religions preach peace, desire the devotees to contribute towards the welfare of the needy and want their followers to practice truth.
History tells that these feelings are ingrained in every human being including those who commit violence. After World War I, which saw bloodshed over vast areas of the globe, the leaders of the fighting nations repented the great loss of life caused by them. The human desire for peace made them to agree not to fight that kind of war again. To settle their differences through discussions and to maintain peace, they organized the League of Nations.

After World War II the leaders again joined together and founded United Nations Organization (UNO) to police the world and stop violence in the future, they were convinced that unless they reorganized and assured human rights to every nation, race, ethnic group, and religious tradition, peace cannot be maintained. The Bill of Human Rights passed by them in 1949 is a landmark in the history of the search for peace. It is unfortunate that even the UNO has not been successful in its mission to check violence; peace, as mentioned earlier, still looks to be a dream of the distant future.

The decision of the UK government to end long term violence in Northern Ireland has set a good example to start the peace process in other regions as well. This, inter alia, proves the validity of the above suggestion of the WCRP; human rights have to be provided even to the weak for maintaining peace. The IRA has been disbanded because its mission, to make the UK government agree to the principle of equal rights of people, was achieved.

Religions can help reduce violence if they effectively convince that hurting the feelings of others or usurping their rights is one of the most serious sin. This message is given in Gurbani in the following words:

i. Taking away the rights of others is the greatest sin, like eating beef for a Hindu and pork for a Muslim. – Guru Granth Sahib, page 141.

ii. Do not react aggressively towards bad people (they are already suffering because of their nature) and do not get mad at them but bear with them, this attitude provides peace to the body and mind. – Guru Granth Sahib, page 1381.

During the early 16th century, Nanak preached that we, being the Creation of one Creator (God, Father-Mother of humanity) are all one vast family over the whole Earth. The beauty of this human garden, like the beauty of a plant garden, lies in its variety - different races (size and shape of plants), different languages and cultures (colors and smells of flowers); these God-made variations (both in plants and humans) need to be appreciated and respected.

To preach this, Nanak founded the institutions of Sangat and Pangat. Sangat is a congregation in which all people, irrespective of their faith, caste, or status, sit together as equals to sing the praises of the Almighty by adopting any and all of His names, then used by different faiths/sects. Pangat is when these multitudes sit together as equals to partake of food, which was and still is distributed freely to everyone.

Hindus and Muslims, low castes and high castes, rich and poor, etc., who till then suffered from mutual hatred and violence (which we again find prevailing today) started living together as members of one corporate family. These institutions revived the human bonds of brotherhood that are equality and fraternity. Therefore, the people started enjoying the newly developed mutual love and peace. This is visible today in the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India.

To start the peace process, we must convince the political leaders not to light the fire of violence if they sincerely want peace. The WCRP put it in very appropriate words in their resolution of 1979.

Extremists, fundamentalists, and so on, need to be advised that a father is addressed by many names such as dad, daddy, papa, padre, pita, abba, etc., ... similarly because of our many cultures and languages, the Creator, our Father, is addressed by innumerable names such as: Allah, Ram, Yahweh, Dieu, Father-Mother, God, Guru, etc, … All names and cultures should be welcomed as multicolor and multiform flowers in a garden. All people have been created and are cared for by the Almighty Lord Himself. We should have due regard for variable features, colors, and cultures of humanity.

Let the UNO take the initiative. They may constitute an advisory body, the United Parliament of People for Peace (UPPP). Chief representatives of each religion including the Pope, Dalai Lama, and the heads of other religions be nominated to it.

The UPPP, consisting of brave and truly holy persons, will help us to overcome violence and maintain peace among people. Such an approach to peace in the form of Sangat was proved to be practical by Guru Nanak in the 16th century, we must try it again. There seems to be no alternative to the prevailing shadows of Armageddon.

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