UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter

Peace Among Religions: A Muslim Perspective (LISTENING TO THE OTHER)

By Dr. Muhammad ‘Uthman El-Muhammady*

Bi’awnika Ya Latif!

Due to certain historical circumstances destiny has made it that Malaysia has been given the tremendous task of forging harmonious collective life among its inhabitants consisting of various religious and cultural groups, especially during the post-merdeka [independence] period. The citizens of the country consisting of representatives of such diverse civilizations as Muslims (predominantly Malays), Buddhists (predominantly Chinese), then Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and other, have to live with each other as neighbours. Compared to many societies with such multi-religious and multi-cultural nature, our country, due to the wisdom, tolerance and the spirit of giving – and take of its leaders, has emerged as a successful one. History has proved it clearly, in spite of comments to the contrary from certain quarters which would like to see it otherwise, for reasons known only to them. Malaysia, despite being a small country, has in its own way tried to put into practice the lesson of living in harmony and tolerance among such diverse cultural and religious groups.

There is the condition for realizing peace among religions through cool-headed dialogues among intellectuals and leaders of the cultural and religious groups, coming together with the idea of seeing the intellectual and spiritual contours of the various religions, so that the meeting points can be understood, not with the idea of understanding where there are real differences, so that we respect the differences, and where there are similarities, so that we encourage the improvement in the similarities, for enhancing harmonious and peaceful living.

Then there is the condition for establishing and continuing peaceful living among religions by the adoption of the real attitude of respecting what can be called as “spiritual privacy” of the various collectivities; just as we have psychological privacy, privacy in which we do not expose certain parts of the body, out of natural sense of modesty—barring aside people who already have lost this sense, for some reasons only known to them, the privacy of the bedroom in which we do not expose ourselves in that situation— so there are spiritual aspects of pirvacy. The priest in the holy of holies has got to be alone there, cannot be disturbed in that spiritual privacy; the food in the Muslim yearly festival of sacrifice is of such a nature. This has got to be understood and respected, and this should not be construed as exclusive attitude as opposite of the inclusive attitude. Aspects of the Islamic sacred law fall into this category. Muslims are duty-bound not to do the same thing in relation to others. The Qur’an teaches them not to vilify the objects of worship of ohters deemed not in harmony with the reality of the scheme of things from the perspective, for then others in turn will vilify God worshipped by Muslims, and it becomes like they themselves are vilifying Allah. This serious attitude towards things deemed sacred should be inculcated”; this is not about saying that things should be blurred so that people will think that things are all the same creating spiritual and intellectual confusion, creating more harm than good. This is about understanding things as they are and responding to them with spirituals and intellectual propriety, wisdom and maturity.

When we speak, we do not speak in a vacuum; we speak in space, time, and history; therefore, we have got to know that history well and perceptively, getting lessons from it, not ignoring it-- otherwise we will be victimized by it (God forbid!). Ibn Khaldun has taught this serious lesson aout six hundred years ago. Blessed is the person who learns perceptively from history.

We are also not living in paradise but on the earth and the world-- with all the attending imperfections of the earthly conditions; hence when we see things which we are uncomfortable with, we address them to the proper channels, not voicing them out in combative ways. We should be moral and cultured people of etiquettes speaking gently, in a civilized way, objectively, compassionaltely, not sentimentally, addressing issues as they should be. The Qur’an speaks about Moses and his brother going to Pharaoh ‘speaking gently’ or ‘in words of gentle import’ ‘so that he may learn lessons’ and ‘fear God’. If prophets speak to actual tyrants in words of gentle import, I think we all should all the more do so in the same manner.

There is also a necessity for all to be cautious to the utmost in speaking about doctrinal matters, so that there will not be intelletual charlatanism but ther should be that intellectual professionalism in the real sense. Everyone should speak in the field of his or her competence; for example there is no such thing as ‘do it yourself Islam’ giving out brazen personal opinions about matters of doctrine as if on is the voice of ultimate authority in the area, expressing opinions so confidently in the media. Intellectual and spiritual charlatanism masquerading as authorities can go no lower. The gravity of the matter becomes all the more serious when this is coupled with cynicism, disdain, and a sense of personal superiority and arrogance, as if one has no respect for any form of authority at all on earth of heaven. Matters of concern for , not bordering on the doctrinal, can be voised by anyone concerned, takin ginto consideration the manner of apporach, the channels and so on.

We have achieved relatively – compared to many countries of the world, including ones which consider thmselves as very advanced—successful harmonious and peaceful living in our country. We should do more by taking steps among others as mentioned above.

Wallahu a’lam.
*Dr. Muhammad 'Uthman El-Muhammady is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Integrity Institute of Malaysia (IIM). The article above is an excerpt from his speech presented during the Peace Among Religions interfaith conference organized by InSaF URI KLCC on March 18, 2007 held at the Singghasana Hotel in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.