When invited to a radio programme on the theme ‘what does God think of us, my jaundiced contribution was:’ If God had human emotions they would be of utter bewilderment and despair at the antics of the human race, coupled with a determination to keep us well away from any truly intelligent life in the vastness of Creation. Today, in the aftermath of the religion-linked massacres in Paris and Mali, this seems to be a bit of an understatement.
Such killings are nothing new. At the time of Guru Nanak, whose birth anniversary falls today, Catholics and Protestants were at each other’s throats in Europe and, in India, there was religious conflict between Muslims and Hindus. Why do our different religions with much to offer, ignore important commonalities and focus negatively on supposed difference and notions of exclusive access to God’s truth?
It was a concern close to Guru Nanak’s heart. In his very first sermon, he courageously suggested that the one God of us all was not impressed by our different religious labels, but by what we did for our fellow beings. The Guru devoted his life to stressing commonalities and questioning the validity of some supposed differences.
Today in our demographically changed world, while recognising and respecting genuine difference, there is an urgent need to counter the use of difference to justify hatred and violence towards others. The concern over the capacity of those working with ISIS to persuade young Muslims to leave the UK, to join fighters in Syria highlights the need to reach hearts and minds. I can fully understand the revulsion felt by those who say we should bomb ISIS off the face of this earth, but such statements, can be cynically used by extremist as ‘an attack on our religion’.
A letter in yesterday’s Times by nearly 200 Muslim scholars deploring terrorism in the name of Islam gives hope. They point out that there is nothing Islamic about the so-called “Islamic State” and no acts of terrorism, hate and violence can be justified. Distortion and misinterpretation can happen with many historic religious texts and is why, particularly in the context of today’s times, it’s necessary to stress the important commonalities with other faiths. In this, all who speak out in such a way deserve our full support.