The Fourteenth General Conference : The Truth about Islam in a Changing World
PROMOTING RELIGIOUS HARMONY IN PLURAL SOCIETIES: THE PRESPECTIVE OF ISLAM
PROMOTING RELIGIOUS HARMONY IN PLURAL SOCIETIES: THE PRESPECTIVE OF ISLAM
By: His Eminence, The Sultan Of Sokoto Al-Haji (Dr) Muhammadu Maccido, CFR. The President- General Of The Nigerian Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs. Sultan's Place, Sokoto, NIGERIA.
In the Name of Allâh the most Beneficent the most Merciful may the peace and blessings of Allâh be upon His Prophet and Messenger, his family, his companions and all those who follow their path till the Day of Judgment. I am indeed grateful for having been invited, once again, by His Excellency the Minister of Al-Awqaf and Head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA) in Egypt to participate in this year's conference whose theme is "The Reality of Islam in a Changing World". Your Excellency let me start by pointing out that this conference is taking place against the background of two powerful events both of which have series of consequences on world peace and harmony. These are the tragic events of September the 11th, 2001 in the U.S. and the current intensification of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In this sense the present conference is not only crucial but also timely. It is my hope and prayer that this conference will go a long way in finding solutions to these and similar problems that touch the heart of relations among nations and societies around the globe.
Pluralistic Nature Of Human Societies:
Pluralism has been at the base of mankind right from creation which is a reflection of the Creator's sign (inspiration) in man. Hence whether people are prepared to live in harmony or not, the Creator has destined that human society be plural in nature. This is clearly stated in the Qur'ân:
?O Mankind, We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other. The best of you in the sight of Allâh is he who is most conscious of Allâh. ? (49:13)
Thus, the pluralistic nature of human society cuts across several levels- racial, ethnic, religious and, indeed, even at the levels of the types of food people eat and their modes of dressing. As the Qur'ânic verse above clearly states, the end or goal is for human societies, as individuals, groups and communities, to strive, in spite of diversities, to always be conscious of their duties to Allâh, the Most High.
The geographic and demographic constitutions of the world as well as the diversity of the human race are Allâh's signs as explained in the following Qur'ânic verse:
? And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and variations in your languages and colours; verily in that are signs for those who know ?. (30:22)
According to Yusuf Ali, the famous Qur'ânic translator / commentator, “the variations in languages and colours may be viewed from the geographical aspects and periods of time. All mankind were created from a single pair pf parents; yet they have spread to different countries and climates and developed different languages and different shades of complexions. And yet their basic unity remains unaltered. They feel the same way and are all equally under Allâh’s care...”
In short, Islam teaches mankind to convert its natural and social diversity in life to the service of Allâh (SWT) and for all mankind to join hands together so as to promote peace and harmony in the world. Therefore man's life can only find harmony and lasting peace in society, when he truly and fully submits to the will of Allâh (SWT). When man truly submits to Allâh's will, the negative consequences of pluralism such as racial hatred, ethnic or tribal conflicts, and other negative human tendencies are neutralized in society. This is what Islam has always taught mankind- that reverence for the Creator and obedience to Him are over and above all other loyalties and desires. Unfortunately mankind has often pursued primordial and / or parochial tendencies to achieve its goals in life.
Thus, even before the events of September, the 11th, the entire world has become engulfed in one form of crisis or another at virtually all levels- social, political, economic, religious, etc. In Nigeria, we have had our own share of religious and communal crises. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is now seriously raging. And in Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan tensions are still rising among communities. The examples I have cited above are only a fraction of a wider circle of political and social tensions with religious underpinnings that currently threaten world peace and harmony, indeed, the relations among communities and societies.
The Basis For Religious Harmony:
Islâm is categorical about religious harmony and how it can be achieved. First, Islâm values and protects human life and sanctity such that Allâh, may He be Exalted, equates the killing of an innocent person to that of annihilating the entire human kind.
?…..We ordained for the children of Isra'il that if anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people? (5:32)
Thus, any society where human life is respected and protected is bound to enjoy lasting peace and harmony among its people regardless of its pluralistic nature. Besides respect for human life and its protection, the freedom for an individual to choose his faith and be allowed to practice it should be guaranteed. This is in line with the Qur’ânic injunction which says:
?Let there be no compulsion in religion; truth stands out clear from error, whoever rejects false deities and believes in Allâh has indeed grasped the most trustworthy hand- fold, that never breaks and Allâh hears and knows all things?. (2:256)
Islam also prohibits the demolishing of places of worship, be them mosques, churches or synagogues, as enunciated in the following verse:
?They are those who have been expelled From their homes in defiance of their right (for no cause) except that they say "our Lord is Allâh". Did not Allâh check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of Allâh is commemorated in abundant measure?. (22:40)
Another basis for religious harmony is to accord each person his rights. Not only has Islam prohibited the Muslim to trample upon the rights and privacy of a fellow Muslim, but these have also been extended to cover the non- Muslims. So a Muslim is the protector of the rights of all, by virtue of the Islamic teachings which guarantee that harm, in whatever form, should not be caused to anybody.
When we examine Islamic teachings with the seriousness that they deserve, we will be compelled to admit that Islam has a lot to offer to the current search for solutions to world peace and harmony. It is, however, important to stress that even though Islam contains these elements that the world desperately needs to promote religious harmony and tolerance amongst its pluralistic societies, there has to be the political will on all to be able to bring this to fruition. Besides, there is the need to strengthen the mechanisms which support the practical application of these religious teachings in society.
Need For Consistent And Coherent Practical Approach
The efforts by governments worldwide to resolve religious conflicts when and where they occur have generally been encouraging. But it is important to re- examine some of the mechanisms adopted by authorities to overcome these problems. My experiences both at local and international levels have shown that in many countries and communities where religious conflicts occur, attempts at finding lasting solutions to conflicts have often failed largely because of the a ad-hoc nature of mechanisms adopted by authorities. For instance, efforts to control such crises usually come after the conflicts had taken their tolls on the people and their properties. And when one conflict is over, everybody takes a back seat- governments, groups and individuals- until another crisis erupts. I think there should be permanent measures on ground to effectively control religious crises and promote harmony.
No doubt, one of the greatest threats to peaceful communal co-existence is communication gap and lack of cultural sensitization in pluralistic societies. While it is true that dialogue among peoples of different faiths or cultures take place, it is important to realise that the frequency and intensity with which these dialogues take place need to be reviewed. Similarly, such dialogues should not be restricted among people of different faiths or religions alone. Very often, people of the same faiths, because of the differences in the perception of issues, need to have dialogue among themselves. In other words, religious dialogues should be inter- as well as intra- faiths with as much frequency and intensity as possible.
The logic behind the intensification and frequency of religious dialogues among people of different faiths is that it reduces communication gap among the different communities and cultures in pluralistic societies and eliminates prejudice.
Socio- Religious Measures For Promoting Harmony:
Mankind, despite all differences (which we earlier pointed out are naturally and socially ordained), is the same species with the same basic nature and needs. Besides coming from the same origin, mankind has been enjoined to promote love and understanding as well as harmony and piety (49:12:4:1). Hence at the individual, institutional and governmental levels the following needs to be done to actively promote peace, harmony and tolerance in pluralistic societies.
First, understanding among people should be promoted so that they realize the importance of living together. In addition, people should be sensitized to respect minorities (religious & or otherwise). Similarly, governments should take necessary measures to protect minorities, where they face threats of marginalization or other forms of injustice. Second, justice and fair play should prevail in society. Islam is a religion of justice and, as earlier pointed out, treats all with respect. Authorities in Muslim countries should ensure the realization of these praise-worthy virtues of Islam in society. Ibn Khaldun, the 15th century scholar argues that any government that does not uphold justice has equally failed to justify its existence. He emphasized that any government that violates the rights of its people should await its downfall. Similarly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the West African scholar and Mujaddid, Sheikh Uthman bin Fodiyo succinctly asserts that, a nation can endure in unbelief but not in injustice. All these are reminders to rulers that for peace and harmony to reign in society, justice must take its natural course.
Third, governments should do all within their powers to tackle the problem of unemployment as well as improve the economic well- being of their citizens. Economic deprivation and unemployment are permanent threats to the security as well as peace and stability of any nation. Therefore, there has to be the political will on the part of government to bridge the gap between the well-to-do members of society and those sections of those seriously undermined by poverty. Then there is the question of the role of the media. The fact that no government can do without a strong media, shows how important the media is in contributing to peace and harmony in society. This is proved by the immense power of the media to influence people not just within national borders, but internationally. The world now is a global village. If governments seriously support the media within their domains, I believe much could be realized in terms of the role of the media in promoting world peace and religious harmony.
More than ever before serious measures need to be evolved to arrest the rising tides of global conflicts. No progress whatsoever can take place in the absence of peace, fair play and justice for the teeming millions of mankind. No nation, however strong, can remain immune from the consequences of the absence of peace and justice in the world. We are all stakeholders in the search for lasting peace in the world. Religious, community and institutional leaders have an important role to play in promoting positive ideals that are urgently needed in the world. Governments have greater burden of responsibility to promote global peace, fair play and healthy co-existence among mankind. Governments must act sincerely to bring to an end the various conflicts afflicting the world. The Abrahamic faiths have the most invaluable assets to achieve this end. However, this can only be achieved if people adhere sincerely to the tenets of their religious values. In the particular case of Islam, as it has been pointed out, it has ample provisions for peaceful co-existence and the establishment of justice among all sons of Adam. It is unfortunate that the world has not yet fully imbibed and internalized such teachings. I would like to end my speech by borrowing a phrase from the late Premier of Northern Region, Ash Shahid Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto who, while addressing Christian missions, about forty years ago, emphasized that differences in religions need not bar people from working together for the good of all. In the same vein, I say to the pluralistic societies of the world, let not differences in our faiths bar us from working together for the good, progress, peace and harmony of mankind. And I wish to close my speech by praying to Allâh (SWT) to guide us to those thoughts, words and deeds that are to the point and in accord with His will.. Walhamdu Lillâhi Rabbi Alameen.