In countries, we often hear people claiming they are unified no matter what sect they have come from. Shias, Sunnis and even Christians in conflicts usually unite. In Lebanon, for instance, we find that the Shia group, Hezbollah, is strongly supported by the Free Patriotic Movement, which is a Christian party. My question is: Why do people tend to look for unification and unity of religions only in times of conflicts? And, is unity only present amongst people from different sects who share the same religion?
In this paper, I will state why I think there is a unity amongst all religions, although it is clearly declining and very hard to point.
According to Frithjof Schuon, unity in religions must necessarily exist as “everything both resembles and differs from everything else: resembles it at least in existing, differs or there would be no multiplicity to compare. ” Hence, there must necessarily be a relationship between different religions of the world, all of which are established not only to provide peace to the individual that practices any one of the religions but also between individuals (Schuon).
Still, there are conflicts between people of different religions. Eliade and Trask would explain this conflict thus: In the minds of all those who practice religion there is a difference between that which they consider as sacred and that which they have not believed to be sacred. For unreligious people, on the other hand, there is no such difference because they do not experience the sacred (Eliade and Trask). So, although the Christians believe that their method of prayer brings them quick answers from God, they do not understand how the Jews are also answered by God through the Jewish method of prayer and vice versa.
Yet, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all considered Abrahamic faiths. In my belief, we all have the same God; the only difference is in the way His message was sent. Indeed God is beyond our limits and imagination, and thinking about His powers and greatness sometimes becomes indescribable by both the pen and imagination, but from the scriptures He sent us with prophets, we can understand some of his attributes. He is Al-Aziz, Al-Bari, Al-Fattah, Al-Haleem, Al-Wahad, As-Samad, and much more, even though He remains as One (Al-Ahad).
All these graceful attributes affirm that God is an utter perfection, and since humans are created in the image of God, they should try their best to acquire these traits in order to have purpose in life. If we are the creations of this source of all goodness (Al-Barr), then we should fear and praise Him by being devoted, and devotion does not only come by worshiping and praying in temples, but thinking about God in every step taken in life and taking the step with a purpose.
It does not really matter what religion one follows because at the end we are all praising the same Originator. It does not make sense when someone claims that people who do not follow a certain religion are going to hell. For example, Mother Teresa was a Christian which means from a radical Islamic perspective, she is going to hell, just because she did not follow Islam. I completely disagree with that, because He is the Merciful, and I believe that He has the capability to forgive even the most dreadful people. So, what about those who devote their lives to Him?
God accepts all deeds from all people, and in Islam, it is said that the angels are writing down each deed carried out by a person. If anything, this indicates that all people are accountable for their actions in this lifetime. This accountability is the justice of God that the criminal refuses to believe in even as the victim of crime cries unto the Almighty for mercy and perfect justice expected only of God. All religions emphasize on the ideas of justice, love and peace, which affirms that the basis of all religions are the same, since they share the same foundations and come from the same Creator.
Unfortunately, most people tend to think that there is no unity of religion, which explains why it looks as if we are worshiping different Gods. This is the reason the temple, the churches, the mosque and the vihara are very different from each other. They have different beliefs and teachings, they perform different rights depending on their teachings. The believers have different opinions on who the creator is and whom they should worship as the true God. In fact that is why different believers cannot sit together to argue on who worships a true God because they rarely come to an agreement.
Overall, it seems like each religion is completely different than the other, but I do not believe that this is the case. Once we dig deeper and start thinking, we can see that different ages required different revelations depending on the time and place, which explains why God sent different Prophets with different Books to different nations. It is true that many religions do not believe in certain Prophets; Christians, for instance, believe in Jesus’ revelation but not Mohammed’s. Each to his own – everybody is given the freedom to think and believe what he or she wants to think or believe.
According to me, as a Muslim I follow the true religion; yet, at the same time, I understand if someone from another religion shares the same feeling about what he/she believes in. This is consonant with Eliade and Trask’s argument on differences in belief systems. Whatever is sacred to me is so because I have direct experience of it. Moreover, it remains a fact that each one of us thinks he or she is a follower of the true religion and it is really difficult for one to follow a religion different from that of his or her father. With all these disagreements and predicaments, it seems like there is no longer a unity of religions.
There are a couple of reasons why unity becomes more difficult to comprehend in this age. I would describe the three main reasons thus: • Being religious is not synonymous with being scientific and reasonable. • The contradictions found in each religion compared to the other existing ones. • People may have wrong interpreting of the holy texts. 1- Science and it’s relation to reason: The problem today is that it is not as simple as it sounds for people from different religions to get along and accept that God is God no matter what religion one follows, because the truth in science contradicts that of religion at some point.
However, it is not impossible to be both, a follower of reason and a scientific man, because after all truth is one. Abdu’l-Baha, the founder of the Baha’i teachings expressed this when he said: “If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science.
If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation. ” One of the teachings imparted by Jesus and contained in the New Testament is that the believer who refuses to doubt will be capable of moving mountains with his firm command. Many believers in the world, both Christians and Muslims, have tried out this formula with success, which makes it scientific. Likewise, people have learned that God sometimes answers all their prayers as soon as they make those prayers, which renders prayer scientific.
As a matter of fact, scientists around the world are nowadays trying to figure out how prayers can heal patients suffering from various ailments, including terminal illnesses. It has happened, so therefore prayer must be considered scientific without doubt. Another important bridge between science and religion are the scriptures themselves. Jews, Christians and Muslims have all found many passages in their scriptures confirmed in the real world. The Qur’an, for instance, contains a number of passages that reveal in a scientific context that it must certainly have been revealed by God.
One of the examples strengthening the belief of the Muslims is the following: the ratio of the total number of times the word ‘water’ is used in the Qur’an as against the word ‘land’ is the actual water to land ratio on planet earth. Likewise, there are plenty of books written by Christians today that provide information on how the Bible explained the end of times as it is going on at present. Then again, regardless of what we believe in, it is possible to consider religious truth as scientific. And, it is not just the people who believe that can ascertain this fact.
Anybody interested in testing the scientific validity of religions may do so by the use of reason. 2- The contradictions found in religions: Also, another problem is that each religion contradicts the other, for example, Muslims do not believe that Christ was crucified, which is one of the most important beliefs in Christianity. Another example is from the Buddhist tradition. They believe that upon death the individual may be resurrected in the form of a lower being (for example, an animal) or a higher being such as an angel, depending on the actions of the individual during this lifetime.
Because Buddhists believe that human beings may also be resurrected as animals, killing a sacred animal is considered a great sin by a large number of followers of this faith. On the other hand, Islam and various other religions such as Christianity and Judaism consider animals as gifts from God for humans to eat and share. At the same time, these religions differ as to what their followers consider permissible to eat. A common example is how Christianity permits pork and Islam considers it as a sin to consume. So, we realize that every such belief is understood differently by followers of different religions.
When we talk of sacred space, for instance, in Christianity, it is written in the Bible that when God saw Moses moving nearer, He told him not to move any further but to remove his shoes for he was standing on holy ground. This was a sacred space selected aside for worshiping God. This does not now mean that one should go and look for a bush to make it a sacred place. This could even happen in one’s bedroom, living room or anywhere he or she thinks is suitable for sitting back and reflecting on life. In fact, it is possible to converse with the inner self without interference in any suitable place.
Buddha had chosen a tree to meditate under. Others think of transforming their entire rooms into sacred places, which to some people should be small areas that do not inconvenience other people. Sacred time goes hand in hand with sacred place. It is the most valuable commodity a human being has, yet most tend to forget this quickly. Often we hear people saying that they have no time. I think people should take time and analyze themselves, because I tend to think that both sacred time and space are within us. This may not be the case with followers of other religions, where they tend to have a whole holy month or day to worship God.
Also, worshipping may get restricted on holy ground. Why set a certain time and place to worship our God? It is these kinds of beliefs that make every religion different from the other. Complete unity in religion would only be possible when anyone can worship anywhere without bothering the other or making mockery of the faith or another. 3- Wrong Interpretations: The Bible teaches its followers that human beings were made in the image of God, and that, in fact, the Lord of the universe breathed His Spirit into man.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they were sent to earth to work on themselves, with the promise that they would ultimately find deliverance, along with their children, provided that they obey God on earth. The very fact that they were disobedient to God is referred to as the ‘original sin’ of man. Yet, the Nazis who claimed to have been staunch believers of the Bible killed millions of Jews in the name of the Christ. Likewise, although the meaning of the word, Islam, is peace, there have been individuals who claimed to be Muslims but nevertheless took lives of innocents in the name of the God.
Those who consider themselves moderate Muslims do not believe in the ideologies of the terrorists and find it inconvenient to explain radical Islam. The fact remains, nevertheless, that people have wrongly interpreted the scriptures of almost all religions at one point on another and formed large groups of people to substantiate their faulty belief systems. This does not only create a problem for other members of the same faith but also increases misunderstandings among people of different faiths. Conclusion
According to Alan Jones, various translations of the Qur’an must be consulted because translating the book from Arabic to English is almost impossible (The Koran). But naturally, followers of other religions would find this task difficult to perform unless they are really interested in the book. Thus there are differences in belief systems. Furthermore, this shows that even the followers of a single faith do not necessarily have the same interpretation of their scripture. Yet, they remain united in faith. Conflicts are inevitable, of course.
More importantly, this analogy should be understood to apply to people of different faiths. They are all human beings searching for peace through religion. All of them may find scientific confirmation for their faiths and the religions of others to boot. Yet there remain differences in beliefs as everybody is not expected to understand the sacredness of that which is held sacred by another. Wrongful interpretations are another reason for conflicts; after all, the Nazis were imagining they were promoting Christianity as they butchered the Jews.
So although humanity remains united – in my opinion – because we are all living under the same God, unity of religion may not be possible unless all of us agree on the principle of freedom of religion without snatching the freedom of another.
Eliade, Mircea, and Willard Trask. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. London: Houghton Miffin Harcourt, 1968. Schuoun, Frithjof. The Transcendent Unity of Religions. Adyar, India: Quest Books, 1984. The Koran. (Trans. Alan Rodwell). London: Phoenix, 2004.