Subsequent to inhumane attacks in 09/11 in USA and 07/07 in London, the use of disgusting words Islamic terrorism, Islamic militancy and Islamic fundamentalism make me crushed inwardly. In Western society, the name of Islam and Muslims is analysed within the prism of these heinous terms. Under current scenario of suicidal attacks by the Muslim not only on non-Muslims, but on different sects of Muslims like Shia and Sunnis, comes to fore the bleak picture of Islam. The waves of attacks on minorities groups in Pakistan which make five percent of the total population including Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and Zoroastrians under the cover of Blasphemy Laws more worsen the situation towards understanding of Islam by the Westerns. Whereas the objective analysis of Islamic teachings compels ones to dispel such misconceptions the universal religion of Islam is plagued with. During my study at the University of Nottingham, I was flabbergasted over the opinion of not only mature students but teachers as well concerning Islam. The beard of Sikhs is nothing to do with terrorism; however, the same appearing on the Muslims’ face starts breeding concerns invoking likely presence of some extremists and terrorists. This distorted thinking of the West poses major challenge to the followers of Islam that how to put the actual friendly image of Islam before the world?
Being a Pakistani Muslim, I have the personal experience of my people disgusting non-Muslims particularly the Americans, British and Israelites. Many occasions, I have been hearing Imams (Minister of Religion) in religious gathering like Nama-z-e-Jumma (Religious conglomeration of Muslims in mosques on the day of Friday) saying and imploring destruction and annihilation of America, Britain and Israel. No doubt, there is not even a single sermon devoid of such curses by the Imams or religious preachers. Since I crossed the stage of adolescence, I never ever heard in my life any Imams presenting those lessons showing the areas of commonalities between Islam and Christianity or Bible and Quran. Though many other political factors may be involved for creating of Jihadi organisations like fighting of (Mujahideen) freedom fighters in Afghan War under military regime of Zia-ul-Haq with the support of United States to defeat the communism against the capital democracy. It is recognisable fact that at the hands of some social factors emerged extremist forces in Pakistani society like the negative role of religious institutions. The continuous hatred-oriented sermons by ordinary and not well-educated religious leaders of the Muslims have given credence to the emergence of extremist elements and causing an atmosphere of hatred towards Western culture and people.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, only the Wahabi version of Islam is acceptable; and under the strict monarchical political control the publications, sermons and religious preaching of other sects or the activities of missionaries are prohibited. In Pakistan, the religious political parties advocating Wahabi version of Islam are the major recipient of Saudi financial aid. Jammate Islami, one of the religious political parties organised on Wahabi pattern, is always on the forefront of anti American or anti Britain campaigns, but never bother to say that the current political system in Saudi Arabia is entirely anti-Islamic as there is no concept of monarchy in Islam. During my talk with a Nigerian colleague in university, I have been told that Saudi government has adopted the same policy in Nigeria and such religious schools imparting Wahabi model of Islam deserve large chunk of financial assistance. While the other with different Islamic version remain deprived. The aim of this exemplification is to indicate the state of unawareness by layman Muslims and willing distortion of facts at the hands of which peace and security of the world is in danger.
Not only the Muslim society is suffering from this social evil, same sort of situation rather I will call it state of ignorance can be observed in Western society. Once during a discussion on religion with a British lady, she was surprised to know that belief in Jesus Christ is part of Islamic faith without which one cannot claim to be the real Muslim. To her utter surprise, along with Hazrat Muhammad (P.B.U.H) we Muslim also believe in all the prophets; but consider Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) to the final source and medium of salvation-an uncompromising belief to the Muslim.
In United Kingdom, the role of the most of the Imams (minister of religions) is not praiseworthy. It is common observation that majority of such Imams have their education base from Madressas (Informal system of religious education in Pakistan) where the concept of the study of modern subjects like civic education, sociology, political science, comparative religious studies and many other is entirely absent. Teaching of English is totally ignored. Their mode of teachings and sermons, in most cases, is tinge of teaching style adopted in Pakistan. Half an hour sermons usually compose of recitation of some verses of the Holy Quran and historical Islamic stories. As per my analysis of these ministers of religion, only two out of hundred will be able to pass the IELTS if they sit in the examination. So how they can convey the enlightened and liberal teaching of Islam to the British Muslims generation? We can’t observe any serious and concrete attempts aiming at creation of interfaith harmony and social cohesion of other religious groups in English society. It is not the cooperation among different communities but the strict rule of law keeping the society united and intact. For justification, some common examples are religious festivals of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and many other in which intermixing is very scant. Being a Muslim, I first time openly celebrated the festivals like Xmas and Happy New Year in United Kingdom, because I was told about these to be an anti-Islamic activities and that the negatively implemented social pattern I was nurtured in; prevented me from an open participation in Pakistan. The celebration of Valentine Day, Bassant Festival (a social gathering in which people fly kites together on the happy arrival of spring), and Happy New Year are considered to be the religious taboos by many religious parties especially the Taliban-esque. There is a group of fanatics by the name of Shabab-e-Milli Party who hinder and beat the people celebrating or try to celebrate these days.
This whole mess is, unsuspectedly, the result of the lack of interfaith cooperation and impervious response of the communities, to put it precisely, of religious leaders towards the teaching of each other religions. In Pakistan, I have personally seen Imams and parents forbidding their children not to study Bible or any other missionary literature lest they religiously corrupt. On the basis of such socialisation, the gulf between different religious communities widens and widens; and in consequence; arise the incidents like 09/11, 07/07, Gujrat and Ahmad Abad in India, Shia Sunni riots and current waves of suicidal attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan by religious zealots.
As per my observation, even in religious teaching of different communities; there are many areas of common belief on account of which interfaith harmony and mutual cooperation can be brought about.
Concerning end of this world, Bible says;
There would be, as in the days of Noah, the activity and stir of worldly business, and pleasures seeking-buying, selling, planting, building, marrying, and giving in marriage-with forgetfulness of God and future of life. For those living at this time, Christ admonition is: “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your heart be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of man”. Luke 21:34, 36
In Holy Quran it is said;
And they say: “When will this promise (i.e. Resurrection) be fulfilled, if you are truthful?” They await only but a single shout, etc. which will seize them while they are disputing! Then they will not be able to make bequest, nor will they return to their family. (36) 48-50
Both verses of Quran and Bible convey the same concept with different expression.
Commenting upon the existence of God, Bible Says;
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:14)
Quran proves the existence of God/Al-Mighty Allah in these words;
Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, – there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. (3) 190
Both Muslim and Christians believe in the second arrival of Jesus Christ. The holy Quran say;
When Allah said, “‘Isa (Jesus Christ), I will take you back and raise you up to Me and purify you of those who are disbelievers. And I will place the people who follow you above those who are disbelievers until the Day of Rising. Then you will all return to Me, and I will judge between you regarding the things about which you differed. (3) 55
In Bible this phenomenon appears like this;
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 25-28
There are so many other verses both in Quran and Bible showing common lessons but with in different expressions having the same aim, but the need is to reason on the facts beyond ethnocentrism. Here comes the duty of religious scholars working at local communities particularly in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States and United Kingdom as well to make people aware of such common lessons of Quran and Bible. By doing so, we can move forward towards achieving the goal of interfaith harmony.
(The Writer is associated with Press For Peace (PFP) as Director Research. He could be reached at: email@example.com)