His Eminence Athanasios, chair of this session, my distinguished co-panelists, sisters and brothers,
We are discussing a very important subject today – ‘Religions and Violence’.
It is ironical – and, in some sense, hurtful to the soul of any truly religious person – that we should be juxtaposing ‘Religion’ and ‘Violence’ in this manner, and uttering the two words in the same breath.
This is because, the very life-breath of every religion is Peace. It is Nonviolence. It is compassion and mercy.
Religions were born to spread the message of peace, harmony, universal brotherhood of man, and the essential unity of mankind, despite all the differences and diversities.
Every religion in the world forbids killing of man by man. At any rate, the killing of innocent men is strictly prohibited.
Even the killing of non-innocent persons is permitted only in very rare cases, and with strict ethical constraints, when there is an inescapable need to protect a larger, defenseless section of humanity from aggressive acts of violence.
Islam, for example, teaches its followers that to kill even one innocent human being is akin to killing the entire humanity, and to save even one innocent human being is equivalent to saving the entire humanity.
The common teaching of all the religions that were born in the Indian subcontinent – namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – is that NONVIOLENCE IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF RELIGION.
In Sanskrit, we say: “Ahimsa ParamoDharmah.”
This being the essential teaching of all religions, we are today confronted with a sad reality when religion itself is being misused to perpetrate violence – indeed, mass-scale violence.
Of course, it can be said that this is nothing new.
Violence in the name of religion is a long and unedifying story in human history.
Therefore, we see an unbearable paradox: on the one hand, religion as the source of nonviolence and sustainer of life; and on the other hand, religion as a pretext for hatred, conflict, attack and, sometimes, even genocide.
We need to understand and resolve this paradox.
And based on this understanding, we must act.
In this session, I would like to offer five reflections and suggestions for action aimed at peaceful co-existence among various religious communities.
Firstly, violence in the name of religion will not stop unless the followers, and especially the leaders, of all religions learn to not only tolerate, but also accept and respect other religions.
The differences and diversities in the religious sphere are not accidental. Nor are they antithetical to, and a burden on, the unity and harmony of mankind.
The differences and diversities in the human realm, as well as the differences and diversities in the natural realm, are an essential and integral part of God’s architecture.
These differences and diversities have been created by our Creator Himself.
Was it impossible for God, who is Omnipotent, to create the entire mankind in a single religious mould?
Not at all.
So, there must be a purpose behind the religious diversity which bears God’s own signature in the architecture of the human order.
Yet, our Creator has not only created diversities but also created an underlying unity that binds all these diversities and differences.
To claim superiority for any religious community, to consider other religions as false or inferior, and to want to establish religious uniformity all over the world is an ungodly and arrogant thought.
And pursuit of this arrogant goal has always produced bloodshed and misery for mankind.
As Prof. Andrea Riccardirightly said yesterday, there is no country in the world that is homogenous.
Today ourworld has become small and increasingly interconnected and inter-dependent, and every country has become heterogenous.
Therefore, there is an even greater moral obligation on every country to respect diversity, and at the same time work for unity and harmony.
In particular, the religious minorities in every country, without exception, must enjoy the same non-discriminatory rights, freedoms, honour, dignity and guarantees of security as the religious majorities.
Secondly, it is not enough to understand nonviolence in the sense of not doing harm to others.
That is a necessary, but not an adequate, condition of nonviolence.
In its higher and superior form, nonviolence means love.
Love is the active form of nonviolence.
This also is the teaching of all religions.
Today our world is lacking in love and compassion and empathy.
In the absence of love and compassion and empathy for fellow human beings, there is widespread apathy and indifference.
This is what H.H. Pope Francis has described as the “Globalisation of Indifference”.
• Indifference to wars.
• To poverty.
• To human suffering.
• To inequality and injustice.
• Indifference to environmental genocide.
Therefore, we should practice and propagate our own respective religions in such a way that we banish indifference, and make people, make ourselves, practice love in an active way.
Love, not only in the conduct of individuals and families.
But also love in the conduct of nations, governments, professions, businesses, banks, and multilateral organisations.
Understood in this sense, economics and governance cannot claim immunity from the essential principles and values of religions.
Thirdly, and this is important, love in the abstract will not be of much use.
Love must manifest itself as Justice.
There can be no peace without justice.
This truth is as old as humanity itself.
Denial of justice, whether we like it or not, creates conditions for violence.
Of course, perpetration of violence in order to seek justice also leads to new injustices.
Therefore, there is a need to break this vicious cycle by reforming and restructuring social, political and governance realities in ways that promote justice.
To make this clearer in our contemporary world, the conduct of big powers to establish and retain areas of influence and domination has become a source of a lot of injustice – and hence a source of conflicts, wars and violence.
Worse still, countries and corporations that manufacture and export deadly weapons have developed a vested interest in wars and conflicts.
Therefore, we must build strong worldwide solidarity for demilitarisation of socio-political disputes.
We should demand deep cuts in the military expenditures of nations, especially big and powerful nations.
Religious leaders should demand universal and timebound elimination of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
In this, I include the nuclear weapons of my own country, India.
While on the subject of wars, there is an immediate challenge demanding our attention and action.
Religious and cultural leaders around the world must call for an immediate end to the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
We must jointly denounce the ethnic and religious cleansing of Christians and other minorities, and the destruction of the pre-Islamic cultural-archeological heritage, which ISIS and other terrorist groups are perpetrating in different parts of the Middle-East.
This is a crime against humanity in the perverted pursuit of Islamic Rule.
I suggest that the Community of Sant’Egidio and all the likeminded organisations engaged in inter-faith dialogue should set a date in the near future and call for massive demonstrations and marches all over the world for an end to wars in the Middle-East.
The world had witnessed such peace rallies at the time of the Vietnam War. And such protest actions indeed proved effective.
Why has the world become a mute spectator now?
Fourthly, joint action by religions of the world in order to prevent misuse of religions for inflicting violence demands deepening of the inter-faith dialogue to cover those points that may be uncomfortable to us.
Here I would like to quote a thought from Hans Kung’s book ‘The Religious Situation of Our Time’. He says:
No peace among the nations
Without peace among the religions;
No peace among the religions
Without dialogue between the religions;
No dialogue between the religions
Without investigation of the foundations of religions;
This means that by religions leaders should not hesitate to re-examine and reject those theological foundations of their respective religions – or wrong and self-serving interpretations of those foundations – which have time and time again been misused for acts of bigotry violence.
Fifthly, and lastly, I strongly believe that there is a special responsibility on Muslim religious and socio-political leaders to stop the misuse of Islam for committing acts of violence against innocent fellow-Muslims themselves – and also against innocent non-Muslims too.
I had made this point yesterday, but I would like to briefly elaborate it today.
Dr. Muhammed Tahir-ul-Qadri, a renowned Islamic scholar from Pakistan, is one such courageous person who has raised his voice against terrorism in the name of jihad.
I have been working closely with Dr. Qadri and his followers in India and Pakistan to project the true knowledge about Islam as a religion of peace.
I would like to quote here fromDrQadri’s‘Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings’.
Dr. Qadri’s does not mince words in denouncing the misuse of ‘Jihad’ for perpetrating acts of terror:
“The horrendous onslaught of terrorism that has continued unabated in recent years has brought the Muslim Umma(nation) in general, and Pakistan in particular, into disrepute. The overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose and condemn terrorism in unequivocal terms and are unwilling to accept it as even remotely related to Islam. However, a negligible — albeit highly visible and vocal — minority amongst them seems to openly approve of terrorism, and instead of opposing and condemning it, resorts to misleading and fallacious reasoning.
“It may be conceded that the local, national and international factors underpinning global terrorism include the injustices inflicted against Muslims in certain areas, the apparent double standards displayed by the major state powers and their open-ended and the long-term military engagements in a number of countries under the pretext of combating terror.
“That said, the terrorists’ recourse to violence and indiscriminate murder has become a routine affair, taking the form of suicide bombings against peaceful people, as well as bomb blasts directed towards mosques, shrines, etc: heinous, inhuman and barbarous acts in their very essence.
“The perpetrators of these crimes justify their actions in the name of jihad, and thus they distort, twist and confuse the sacred Islamic concept of jihad.”
A couple of years ago, Dr. Qadri asked me to write an Introduction to the Indian edition of his book ‘The Supreme Jihad’.
His book deepened my understanding of the true meaning of Jihad as nonviolent self-striving and self-purification in order to become a human being.
This is what Mahatma Gandhi had also meant by ‘Satyagraha’, his nonviolent method of creating a better human being and a better society.
I gave the following title to my introduction to Dr. Qadri’s book:
“If this is true Jihad, I would like to become a Jihadi!”