Saturday, October 10, 2009

Learning Salaam, Making Peace on Earth

Learning universal `Salaam', making peace on Earth

Muhamad Ali , California | Wed, 09/23/2009 12:19 PM | Opinion

If one walks along the Ganges River in Benares, India, one keeps hearing the phrase "Shanti, shanti, shanti", meaning "peace, peace, peace", and when used in English, one understands it as "farewell", or "Rest in Peace", or in Hawaii, Aloha. When one sees Jews greeting each other, one hears, "Shalom", and from Muslims, one hears "Salam" or "Al-salaam mu *alaikum: "Peace be upon you." Salaam has many meanings: safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune, friendliness, and peace.

There is no religion, faith, or spiritualism that does not preach peace, yet one or some religious traditions are singled out as "a religion of the sword", "a religion of violence or terrorism", whereas others as "religion of peace", religion of pacifists, and so on.

It is often forgotten that religions and ideologies have to face occasions when tensions, conflicts, violence, and sometimes wars become inevitable for complicated different reasons: Political, economic, cultural, as well as religious.

Peace is sometimes understood as an absence of aggression, war, violence, or hostility. Peace is when there are healthy interpersonal, inter-group, inter-family, inter-church, international relationships. The causes for the absence or lack of peace can be insecurity, social injustice, economic inequality, ignorance, religious fanaticism, or chauvinist nationalism.

Indeed, some Muslim groups use the sword either in defending or expanding their universalizing faith. But Islam, like any other religion and ideology, can be used for that expansionist zeal as well as for protecting, supporting, and making a difference to make a world a better place to live.

A violent leader is more likely to see the texts such as the Koran as justifying his violent acts against the others he sees as "the enemy".

A peaceful, tolerant leader will see the Koran in an entirely different way. For him and many others the Koran is an inspiration for love of others, coexistence, and peace. They cultivate the ethos of tolerance and non-violence.

Therefore, for us, it is a time to choose whether we act as a loving, peaceful personality or otherwise. As a rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book "the Dignity of Difference", says, "if religion, or faith, cannot be part of a solution, it will certainly be part of the problem."

Islam shares such common values as love, compassion, freedom, responsibility, and interconnectedness. A Muslim is anyone who loves his or her brothers and sisters and does not kill nor incite killings of self or others. A Muslim is someone whose heart fluctuates but remains controllable and peaceful.

Peace is not a state where there is no noise, trouble or hard work: peace is in the midst of those things and still to be calm in our heart.

Islam also endorses "no coercion in matters of faith", because a coerced faith is neither genuine nor sincere. Islam emphasizes that mankind is made up of brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, race, gender, politics, and economic standing.

Global brotherhood and sisterhood manifests themselves in very local, very personal lives. "And the people of God are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "peace"(Guidance: 63) . "Had not God checked one group of people, there would surely have been destroyed monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is much remembered." (Pilgrimage: 40)

Faith-based communities, local or global, were born out of concern about surrounding social problems. Faiths operate to make a difference. It is therefore necessary for faiths to listen to each other, to understand what the others are working on, to seek common concerns and work in co-existence, while symbolic and ritualistic differences are simply respected and valued.

A basic understanding of humanness and human kindness (that everyone has equal dignity as human before being Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, straight, gay, and so forth). If people believe in God, but they use different terms for God, then they share that humility before God. If some believe and others do not believe in God, they still share that human kindness. The Koran uses the term "children of Adam".

Peace can only last when there is such basic understanding of equality of every single being. German religion scholar Hans Kung, for instance, says, "no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions, and no dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions." I would add that there is no sound investigation of the religions without the understanding that every human being has inherent dignity.

What is sometimes missing in many peace efforts has been "an affirmation of the convergent spiritual and cultural bases for peace". There are Muslims who view God as scary, a punishing judge; but there are other Muslims who view God as a primarily loving, compassionate, forgiving power. There are Muslims who thinks that others do not deserve religious freedom, but there are other Muslims who struggle to uphold religious freedom.

There are Muslims who emphasize a Koranic passage "There is no coercion in religion" (2:256), but others stress "fight against infidels". There are Muslim women who wear headscarves, but others who do not; and so on. Among Muslims you have people who judge other Muslims as *less Islamic', not part of the Islamic community. Healthy and unhealthy relationships have started since the rise of humankind and continue today.

Why not embrace diversity when diversity is more beautiful and meaningful than homogeneity? How else would one understand a Koranic verse that says "Had your Lord so willed, He would have made humankind one community, but He made them different in order to try you with that which He had given you." (5:48)?

Peace in the heart would make it easier to accept and to cherish peace in society. A genuine, comprehensive and lasting peace will only be possible if it is based on peace within the hearts of each participating individual (fi qalbun salim). If our heart-mind is peaceful, our relationships with each other will be peaceful. If one's mind is in a mess, then our actions will be a mess.

Before anything else, we need to have "inner peace": by valuing the life we are in, realizing weaknesses we are attached to, hoping that a better one is possible. That inner peace can be realized at the very individual level as a mom, dad, daughter, son, partner, teacher, student, neighbor, citizen, immigrant, black, white, brown, purple, yellow, green, and so on.

Inner peace does not depend on symbols, cloths, flags we wear. It is deeply inside our own hearts. The Prophet Muhammad once reminded his followers, "Arabs are no better than non-Arabs, what defines them is their piety", "it is not about what you wear, nor about your body appearance, it is what is in your hearts." In other times, when asked to make decisions, he would reply, "consult your heart".

The idea of Islam as being "submission to the divine and the spiritual" is not to make human beings puppets, incapable, powerless, submissive, inactive, reactive, violent, unjust, discriminatory. A Muslim is someone whose words and actions are not harmful to anyone else and to anything, including plants, animals, and the natural environment.

On compassion and mercy or rahma, the Koran says, "We have not sent you except as a mercy for all beings." (21:107) Prophet Muhammad said "Have mercy on people so you may receive mercy; forgive people so you may be forgiven"

Islam states that God is love (hub) and there is no realm of existence where love does not manifest itself in some way. An Iranian-American scholar Hossein Nasr says, "metaphysically speaking, the gravitational attraction of physical bodies for each other is a particular instance of the universal principle of love operating on the level of physical reality." A woman Sufi of Bashra (in today's Iraq), Rabi'ah al-Adawiyyah, describes her love of God in her poem, "Two ways I love Three: selfishly, And next, as worthy is of Thee, Tis selfish love that I do naught, Save think on Thee with every thought."

Jalaluddin Rumi, the most widely read poet in America, says that when the pen comes to the question of describing what love is, it breaks in half. There will be no lasting peace without love. There are people who claim that they love God and because they love God and His prophet, they show hatred to others seen as "the enemy", "a threat", "obstacles", or "heretics". How come they love God but do not love His creations? How come people claim they love human beings when they hate Muslims just because they are Muslims? How come people claim they are compassionate when they perpetuate prejudices of other peoples because of their faith? Love cannot be partial. Love cannot be discriminatory. Love cannot be limited to certain beings while harboring hatred against others. "Wish for others whatever you wish for yourself."

Peace is not a state of being without anger. To abstain from anger and hard feelings is plainly impossible. Those qualities are within everyone, a Sufi philosopher Imam al-Ghazzali said "It is to live in this world productively, constructively, peacefully, not in a utopian kingdom. This world can be a paradise, heaven - when we love and bless each other, serve one another, and become the partners for one another's growth, enlightenment, and bliss".

But this world can also be a hell- in which we experience endless pain, loss of love, lack of caring, and wars. It is to compete with one another in good works, in service to the community, to the environment we live in, and to the world. It is to make peace when there are conflicts, to build and to keep peace when there is relative peace.

Jalaluddin Rumi has invited us in his poem:

Come now whoever you are!

Come without any fear of being disliked

Come whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew,

Come whoever you are!

Whether you believe or do not believe in God

This door is not a door of fear

This is a door of good wishes

The writer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Religious Studies Department, University of California, Riverside.