Supplication as World Relief
Role of Prayer in World Peace
“Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who came before us into the Faith and leave not in our hearts rancor (or sense of injury) against those who have believed our Lord! Thou art indeed Full of Kindness Most Merciful.” (Al-Hashr/10)
Human life has never been free from violence and fury; as history has so abundantly proven, religion has been the subject of numerous sectarian controversies. What’s new, however, is the generation of widespread public acceptance of interreligious dialogue contributing to peacemaking on a worldwide basis. In their essence, religions seek peace and reconciliation, mainly concerned with values and principles that pave the way to Peace. If influenced by foolish bigotry, the most peaceful religions, however, will contribute to nothing but violence and aggression; sadly, world religions have been witness to this ominous phenomenon. Nevertheless, the religion itself is not the sole reason for any conflict, and identity, racial, political and at times economic competitions over resources and interests and/or unsatisfied needs of human beings play a vital role in most religious conflicts.
The truth is that the contribution of religions carries great potential for making the dream of world peace come true. As Hans Küng, a Roman Catholic and the Founder of Global Ethic Foundation, truly remarks that “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions”. Hans Küng’s words uphold the potential capacity of religions to build up peaceful mankind co-existence. We also believe that one of the neglected capacities of religion, particularly divine religions, in realizing the world peace is turning to “Prayer”.
From the very dawn of creation, human existence who struggles to seek knowledge and truth, based on his Fitrah (nature), has found prayer, supplication and appeal to Kingdom of God a source of emancipation from the cycle of material and spiritual sufferings. Therefore, a great portion of the world’s religious heritage is devoted to prayer. Prayer, from the viewpoint of religions, is a necessity arising from the current situation of humankind. When the existence of human being on the Earth is explained by a creation that occurred due to separation from the Divine World, thus prayer becomes necessary.
The image of human life presented in divine religions has a three-stage evolution: 1. when man was in the world of al-Quds (Period of Attachment); 2. when a gap occurred between man and the world of al-Quds (Period of Detachment); 3. finally, the period of re-attachment. Prayer is a prescription for the perplexed man in this period of detachment; a means by which the veil between man and the divine world is removed, even for a moment. Prayer is man’s endeavor to rejoin the holy and divine world.
Nonetheless, the question raised here is that how can prayer solace the world and the worshipper? And how can supplication, which is like the hidden soul in all religions, help realize and expand peace for humankind?
From a macro perspective, it seems that the nature, themes and structure of the prayers embedded in the heart of religious traditions aim to shape various aspects of human relationships, and if applied correctly, it can contribute to a desirable model of human relationship with himself, God (The Ultimate Truth), and his fellowmen.
With respect to the Abrahamic religions and especially the sacred texts of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, one must say that, in all three religions, the door of prayer is open to humans, the significance of prayer is implicitly and explicitly reminded, the very essence of prayer is inspired, and prayer has been regarded as a natural and necessary issue. An overwhelming deal of Quranic verses on supplication teach invocation, its theme and its rituals. The Bible also follows the same rule in its verses about practical Sirah (life) of prophets or Jesus Christ, and the promise of acceptance of prayers is clearly seen in both Books.
Reflection on the language of religious prayers illustrates clearly that the prayer that flows, at the same time, from within and without is admirable. In religious view, human soul is like a world which needs peace and it cannot give peace to its outside world unless being in peace itself. Today, more than ever, we need to embrace this common doctrine of all religions that the external status of mankind will not be cherished unless their internal status is desirably transformed. This is the Quran’s statement that: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Surah Ar-Ra’d- 11).
In other words, peace starts within each individual, and one of the most important goals of prayer is that human being be transformed from deep within himself, and there is no hope of permanent peace in the external world unless such individual peace and serenity is obtained. Individual peace is the result of man’s reconciliation with himself and with God, both of which are emphasized in religious prayers in the best way possible.
The first and most important objective of prayer is deepening theology. Although true prayer requires a brief knowledge of God Almighty, the very spirit of prayer gives rise to a deeper knowledge of God Almighty and His Attributes. Collection of prayers of holy texts, regardless of their various themes, is a chain of enlightening teachings regarding Being and its origin, such that we can regard the theme of theology as an essence governing prayers of all religions. To confirm my contention, I borrow an interpretation by William C. Chittick, a renowned contemporary scholar of Islamic philosophy, in description of prayers of Imam Sajjad (AS): “Supplication provided a means whereby people could think about Allah and keep the thought of Him present throughout their daily activities. It was an intimate expression of tawheed or the ‘profession of Allah’s Unity’ which shaped their sensibilities, emotions, thoughts, and concepts.”
Another amount of supplication themes in religions deals with the issue of “self-knowledge”. During prayer, the worshipper confesses to his poverty, the frailty of his strength, flaws, inadvertence and negligence, sins and all his faults and imperfections before God, and presents himself as he is before Him. A person has two types of identity: real identity and imaginary identity. Forgetting Origin and Resurrection leads man towards an imaginary image of himself, in light of prayer, however, man recognizes his True Self which is a divine spark and becomes more aware of his situation.
Therefore, by depicting a desirable model of man’s relationship with himself and with God (Transcendental Truth), prayer aims to reconcile man with himself and with God, it can as much guarantee peace within mankind as it can be successful in such reconciliation.
As regards the external peace, yet despite all the conflicts between the adherents of different religions throughout human history, religious doctrines call upon their followers to establish reconciliation and peace. The internal peace, moreover, is the fruit of amendment of man’s relationship with mankind and other human beings, and religious prayers have provided man with a huge heritage in this regard.
Not only do all religions lead to transcendental truth, but they also, persistently and simultaneously, admire the unity of mankind and hold the status of neighbor in high regard. In this view, if others are not our fellow men, they are at least human, and as humanity requires, our relationship must be based on peace and reconciliation. All religions teach infinite love. For Buddha, all virtues were valueless compared to virtue of love, and in the Bible we read that all possessions and gifts are nothing unless we have love and are filled with love. Surprisingly, such love must be for enemies as well, as the holy Quran says: “Repel [evil] with what is best. [If you do so,] he between whom and you was enmity, will then be as though he were a sympathetic friend.” (Surah Fussilat, 34).
The principle of common love to one another has best been put forward in religious prayers. Primarily, the prayers of sacred texts of divine religions are characterized by attention to social aspects of prayers that establish unity between the one who prays and his other fellow men, and teaches him to recognize himself in relation to others thereby not viewing prosperity and happiness of society as separate from his own prosperity and happiness. Hence, as the worshipper stands to pray and opens his/her mouth to praise the creator, he/she invokes God’s blessings not just for himself/herself but for the entire community of believers as well as human society.
“Universal and pervasive love” that is a gift and guidance of religions, refers to reconciliation and peace with one another. The pinnacle of this view is expressed in terms of love for enemies, where we find in New Testament: “You have heard that it was said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … that you may be children of your father in Heaven” (Matthew 5: 43-45).
Such spiritual growth when we face one another including friend or enemy paves the way for us (the believer) to share divine blessings for free with others and pray to God Almighty for good of all others. Such themes and teachings are abundantly found in verses about prayers.
In sum, it can be said that prayer is the extract of religions; therefore, despite their abundant differences, religions share a lot in common in terms of prayers and supplication. The main task of prayer is to give meaning to human life and amend human relationships. In the light of man’s reconciliation with himself, with God and with his fellow men, world peace is facilitated and can be realized.
We would like to conclude the current writing by quoting the “Peace Prayer” by Saint Francis, which beautifully presents an image of world peace in an invocation to God:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in forgetting ourselves that we find ourselves,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”