Where Unity Is Strength
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A Report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has found that the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world amounts to what some see as near genocide. Millions of Christians have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.

Sadly, the experience of Christians is mirrored in the experience of other faiths. Looking at my own faith, Sikhs are prohibited from opening a gurdwara in Saudi Arabia and most Middle East countries. In Afghanistan, a prosperous Sikh population of more than 20,000 has been reduced to a few hundred. Similarly, once thriving Sikh communities in Tehran and other cities in Iran, have almost disappeared without trace. Regular reports of the All Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Belief and other agencies, remind us of similar suffering of religious communities across the world.

A follow up report to examine the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to growing religious persecution will be published later this summer. I do hope that this will lead to positive initiatives to counter world-wide abuse of the UN Universal Declaration of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

I feel part of the problem is a failure of religious leaders to interpret religious texts in the context of today’s very different times. Candle lit vigils and expressions of religious solidarity following an atrocity are fine, but in the Sikh view such sentiments must also be carried to our different places of worship, to replace centuries of easily exploited bigotry and misunderstanding, with emphasis on respect and tolerance for all beliefs.

Two of the Sikh Gurus gave their lives stressing the importance of inter faith understanding. Sikh believe that our different faiths are like paths up a mountain towards an understanding of God through pursuing truth, equity and justice in our daily lives. The further we go, the greater the similarity of the view ahead. Guru Arjan, our 5th Guru, included some writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in our holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise that no one faith has a monopoly of truth. The freedom to practise our religion, of whatever tradition, should be similarly valued as an important universal freedom in our strife torn world.

The weekend post brought its usual appeals for donations to help in alleviating suffering in Syria, Iraq and other areas of the Middle East The scale of suffering, wrought by internecine political, religious and ethnic conflict, is truly devastating and it is important that we support such appeals and help those risking their lives to help the victims of war and violence.

Next month representatives of different faiths and secular society will meet at a service at Westminster Abbey for Humanitarian Aid workers killed in conflict. At the inaugural meeting, 4 years ago, I referred to the extraordinary dedication and concern for others of an American, 26 year old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS and reportedly killed in a Jordanian air strike. In a letter smuggled to her family, she wrote: If I have suffered at all throughout this experience, it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you through….The thought of your pain is the source of my own.

No self-pity; no harsh word about her captors. Only a concern for others. There are many others like Kayla, and they all deserve our prayers and support. The reality however is their dedication and international aid efforts alone, cannot cope with the suffering of those caught up in the fighting, and in the huge displacement of people we have witnessed, which just goes on and on.

I believe it is important to look more closely at the causes of such suffering. True, that violence begins with local rivalries, but unfortunately, these are magnified and made more horrific by larger factional rivalry between the great powers, supporting rival factions with ever-more sophisticated means of killing in pursuit of strategic interest. The Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Dass, looking at the dubious alliances fracturing the society of his day wrote:

I am of Gods Faction. All other factional alliances are subject to death and decay.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective, if we wish to avoid the continuing man made suffering of innocents, I believe we must continually remind all in power to look beyond, solely, their own self-interest, to what Sikhs call Sarbat ka Bhalla, a single-minded resolve to secure the well-being of all.

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