If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred. For religion is the remedy for every ailment, and if a remedy should become the cause of ailment and difficulty, it is better to abandon it. – Abdu’l-Baha
As a non-Muslim living in the West I am expected to bash Islam whenever another paradise-bound youngster shouts “Allah-u-Akbar” whilst unleashing his Kalashnikov in a crazed fit against innocent bystanders. In solidarity to the victims I should at least quip sarcastically about “the religion of peace” once again carrying out “business as usual”.
Many blame Islam for the barbarism in Paris last week. Many have blamed Islam for the travesty in Peshawar and Sydney last month. Should we also blame Christianity for the massacre of Oslo in July 2011? Norway is gradually recovering from the terror attacks where seventy-seven people, mostly youth gathered at a summer camp, were gunned down in cold blood. The shooter was a self-identified Christian and an Islam-hater. But by doing so he made a mockery of the noble name of Christ. Ironically, an attack perpetrated by a Christian fundamentalist rather than a radical Islamist remains the most barbaric terrorist attack on European soil in recent years (albeit this record may still change).
It needn’t be reminded that these fanatics make a mockery of the high-minded moral virtues enshrined in the Bible and the Qur’an. But remind we must. Both blaspheme against the God of Christianity and of Islam. Both seek to justify vindictive and violent personal motives by ripping isolated and often mistranslated verses out of their original scriptural contexts where they read in a much more balanced way.
We are living in an age where mankind is painfully learning the evils of particularistic creeds, ones that elevate one particular group of people above another. Such creeds breed prejudice and conflict. What happened in Paris last Wednesday is simply three angered and impressionable youngsters having been persuaded to embrace an extreme version of such a creed. Exclusivist religious doctrines embraced by millions of good faithfuls morph in the hands of a fanatic into a hate creed. It is not enough to develop early-warning systems to detect the psychological cues among the youth pointing to personal grievance or mental breakdown. It is equally, if not more essential, to uproot prejudice-breeding creeds and preaching from the face of the earth. Occasionally it may even require some theological self-cleanup within major salvationist world religions. God does not breed conflict but unity. If anything, Oneness is one of His names.
Let us as Baha’is be distinguished by our adamant refusal to label people or groups into saved or unsaved, pure or impure, progressive or backward, based on their views and behaviours. Not all the intolerance in the world can be blamed on questionable religious dogma. Even the most “tolerant” amongst Western liberals often betray a strong tendency of condescension towards those that disagree with them. It produces a fleeting self-serving thrill to belittle the more traditional communities as “backward”, “medieval” or “barbaric”. The Baha’i way differs starkly from both of these divisive tendencies, which is one of the reasons Baha’is do not become embroiled in partisan politics — even when they have an opinion.
The Muslims, the Jews and the Christians are not the problem. Let alone the Tanakh, the New Testament or the Qur’an. Prejudice is the bane of our time. Religious prejudice is particularly stubborn. Prejudice colours how we interpret one another’s holy books, religious histories, policies, public statements and newstories. Prejudice gives rise to bad policies. Bad policies justify counter-prejudice. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle. Ultimately the most powerful means to fight prejudice is not by rallying against a certain party, a group or a government, but by education — starting from home. Educating our children to become authentic world citizens and to recognize divine revelation in every great religion, without any claim to exclusivity and finality regarding one’s own brand of truth.
A faith which thrives on denouncing others is a fragile one. It is easily shattered by the mere existence of alternative takes on life, man and God that sound convincing. True faith, if it really is true, is rather consolidated by the review of alternatives. While they are by no means the only factor behind mindless killing sprees at Norwegian summer camps or French newsdesks, particularistic creeds by their very existence, and the mere fact of their widespread adherence, lend powerful moral justification to the actions of a few who are prepared to go a step further — using violence for their promotion.
Baha’u’llah, severely persecuted by fanatical Muslims for his Message of tolerance and unity, defied vengeful instinct by writing:
Consort with all religions with amity and concord. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpower you.1
These mighty systems have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light.
Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire.2
It’s time to put an end to mutual finger-pointing and to point fingers at the real Devil — Prejudice. Gandhi was right, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. At this rate there will be only one Finger pointing at all of us. We’re not born with prejudice. We learn it. Try putting a black boy and a Jewish tot in the same play pen with a Muslim girl and a Protestant toddler.
The great Varqa who felt honoured to have met Baha’u’llah on several occasions wrote about once asking Baha’u’llah “how will the Cause of God be universally adopted by mankind?”3
Baha’u’llah said that first, the nations of the world would arm themselves with infernal engines of war, and when fully armed would attack each other like bloodthirsty beasts. As a result, there would be enormous bloodshed throughout the world. Then the wise from all nations would gather together to investigate the cause of such bloodshed. They would come to the conclusion that prejudices were the cause, a major form being religious prejudice. They would therefore try to eliminate religion so as to eliminate prejudice. Later they would realize that man cannot live without religion. Then they would study the teachings of all religions to see which of the religions conformed to the prevailing conditions of the time. It is then that the Cause of God would become universal.4