Our beautiful world was created by a single Supreme Being -Allah (God Almighty). As Muslims, we believe He (Allah) sent messengers and prophets as at when due to guide man to be able to achieve the ultimate purpose of his (man) creation, which is being His vicegerents (Q; 2:31). Before the advent of a prophet, the people were usually united as a nation, yet they differed among themselves. In this respect, the Qur’an says;
Mankind were one community, then they differed among themselves, so Allah raised prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and sent down with them the Book containing the truth that He might judge between the people wherein they differed… (Q; 2:214)
In other words, the essence of the coming of prophets was to unite a differing people, bring about peace between them and make them true representatives of their maker.
Several prophets appeared in different parts of the world at different times speaking different languages but with a uniform message. As a result, followers of different prophets became adherents of different faiths. In essence, religion; instead of fulfilling its objective, seems to be another major reason why mankind differs among one another. The truth however remains that all prophets are from the same God. Though some principles in the teachings of these prophets could differ in content but they were meant to meet the specific need of their time and to fulfill the same objective of making mankind true vicegerents of his maker. Today, the world boasts of 12 classical religions with Christianity and Islam claiming the largest population of adherents. Others are Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Baha’i, Confucianism, Jainism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism.
The need to focus more on Christianity and Islam when talking of world religions can therefore not be over emphasized. The world population at present is estimated at approximately 7.5 billion people out of whom an estimated 2-13% claims to be atheists. Christianity has approximately 2 billion adherents while Islam has about 1.5 billion. They (Christianity and Islam) have a combined population of approximately 3.5 billion leaving over other religions including the atheists with approximately 4 billion. Surprising it is therefore, that religiosity prevails among man yet the world is devoid of peace. This brings to the fore, the need to analyse how peaceful the teaching of the world religions are.
Peace could be said to be the absence of war, violence and oppression. It could be described as a state of harmony, friendship and calm. Peace, when it has to do with religions, can be examined intra-religiously or inter-religiously. Religious peace refers to religious tolerance i.e. ability to condone and relate with adherents of other faiths almost as if there were no differences.
As stated earlier, man has always differed amongst each other regardless of religious inclination. This could probably be adduced to the fact that man is created to naturally compete with each other. Competition (when not managed) brings about unhealthy rivalry, “survival of the fittest” as it is usually described. Consequently, rights are trampled upon, influence is exerted, the less privileged are oppressed etc. Thus, some gain undue advantage over others. The fifth Khalifah of the Promised Messiah has stressed how hatred and malice is been brewed through injustice. On the other hand, nature has designed that man is not equally endowed (Q 6:166) this as a trial from our creator, that the exalted leads a life of simplicity and the less endowed leads a life of contentment. Q 43:33 states;
… and we exalted some of them above others in degrees of rank so that some of them will make others subservient to them…
Prophets were therefore raised to guide man in his quest for survival, teaching him not to trample over the rights of the less privileged and not to be too envious of the privileged. If it is assumed that religion fulfilled this objective, in that all religious people have become “Godly” to the extent of avoiding both vices highlighted, it appears religion itself has been another major reason why man is divided.
Religious intolerance and extremist ideas prevail in many religions of the world including Christianity and Islam, almost to the extent that a peace-loving atheist is justified in his unbelief. History reveals that during the Middle Ages, the Western Christian (i.e., Roman Catholic) church launched at least nine invasions of the Islamic east, the first one in 1095. These invasions were called the Crusades because they were conducted in the name of the Cross. The purpose of the Crusades was to capture the holy lands from the disunited Muslims. Christian knights and soldiers answered the call for many reasons. The promise of land, booty, and glory was certainly central. Another important reason was the spiritual promise, made by Pope Urban II, that fighting and dying in the name of the Cross would ensure martyrdom and thereby guarantee a place in heaven. Liberation of the holy lands would bring eternal salvation. Thus, a “knight” who with pious intent took the Cross would earn a remission from temporal penalties for all his sins; if he died in battle he would earn remission of his sins.” This religious ideology was reflected in the war cry of the early Crusades: Deus lo volt! (God wills it!). Though, not all Christian Crusades were fought in Muslim lands. The Western Church also purged its territories of Jews and divergent religious beliefs that were denounced as heresies. The zealousness and violence of these purges were legendary.
On the other hand, the Order of Assassins, sometimes referred to as the Brotherhood of Assassins, was founded by Hasan ibn al-Sabbah (d. 1124) in 11th-century Persia. Al-Sabbah was a caliph (religious head) of the Ismaili sect of Islam. He espoused a radical version of Ismaili Islam and founded the Order of Assassins to defend this interpretation of the faith. Beginning in 1090, he and his followers seized a string of fortresses in the mountains of northern Persia, the first of which was the strong fortress of Alamut near Qazvin. Because of these origins, al-Sabbah was called The Old Man of the Mountain.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) recently released an in-depth report on terrorism cases in the US between 2009 and 2015 titled “The Age of the Wolf”. SPLC asserted that the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attack remain the deadliest in the history of the US. But noted that second to this was carried out by a non-slamist –Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City on 19th April 1995. Alternet (an online press) lists six modern day Christian terrorist groups the media ignores, including The Army of God and Eastern Lightening, (a.k.a. church of the Almighty God). The names Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko haram here in Nigeria on the Muslim side cast fear and terror in the minds of innocent victims and the world at large. All these organisations cannot generally be accepted as the representatives of the faiths they profess and also their actions cannot be justified by the scriptures they claim to believe in. An analytic review of the teachings of Christianity and Islam with regards to love and peace rather reveal the opposite of what these groups represent.
Arguably, these terror-wielding groups can attempt to justify their inspirations from the scriptures of both religions. I Samuel 15:3 states
“Now go and smite Am’alek, and utterly destroy all that they have, do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
Only a corrupt mind can justify the level of cruelty and inhumanity perpetrated by these groups with such evidences. This is because the preceding verse explains why the Bible declares war on Am’alek which a callous mind must be blind from. It states “…I will punish what Am’alek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt” (I Samuel 15:2). This and few other verses like this seem to be the cases for which the Qur’an justifies meeting oppression/cruelty with its match (appropriate punishment) with the objective of protecting all places of worship and ensuring religious freedom.
Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged, and Allah, indeed, has power to help them. Those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they said ‘Our Lord is Allah’. And if Allah had not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues where in the name of Allah is oft remembered, would surely have been destroyed. And Allah will surely help him who helps Him, Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. Those, who if we establish them in the earth, will observe prayers and pay the Zakat (give alms) and enjoin good and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the final issue of all affairs. (22: 40-42).
Thus the essence of religion from the verse above is enjoining good and forbidding evil. Enjoining good includes establishing peace. Islam teaches absolute justice (Q 16:91), this demands repelling oppression with punishment at times and meeting oppression with forgiveness at some other times, if doing so is more effective. In a situation where an act of oppression if left unpunished, such events could lead to widespread oppression or greater oppression. Nothing will be better than punishing the oppressor so as to serve as deterrent to others who habour similar thoughts in their minds. On the other hand, forgiveness is justified when the oppressor is remorseful and only forgiveness can bring about peace. The marvelous teaching of Christ recorded in (Mattew 5:39) “but I say on to you, do not resist an evil person, who ever shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other” seems to be an extreme of patience and tolerance in the face of oppression. The Qu’ran therefore declares that such actions of forgiveness endear your enemies to you.
“Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he, between whom and thyself was enmity, will become as though he were a warm friend” (Q 41:35).
The Bible teaches that Jesus rebuked his disciple for their desire to call down fire to consume a village and its dwellers (Luke 9:52-56). Acts 10:28 teaches that God has taught that do not call followers of other faiths common or unclean”. The Qu’ran on the other hand declares that “there should be no compulsion in matters of faith” (Q 2:257). It further teaches that everybody should be free to practice his faith (Q 109:1-7). To further avoid religious crisis it declares that do not make jest of the gods of other faiths (Q 6 v 109)).
The foregoing makes it unequivocally clear that religion itself was revealed to man to enjoin good and forbid evil thereby bring about peace and make mankind the true vicegerents of his maker.
Prayer: I pray that Allah almighty enable all religious extremists irrespective of the faith they profess understand the essence of their religion and desist from all forms of cruelty and inhumanity so that love can be proclaimed for all, and hatred for non.
Wa akhiru dawana anilhamdulillahi rabbil alameen.
- The Holy Quran, Arabic Text with English Translation and Short Commentary. Published by Islam International Publication Limited. 2002
- The Holy Bible (RSV) Thomas Nelson and Sons LTD, Printed in Great Britain. 1965