May 13, 2014 - DALLAS -- Finding the truth is our own responsibility, as it brings relief to each one of us and removes fears and prejudices towards the others. Indeed, that is the unwritten purpose of religion; to create societies where no one had to live in fear of the other. Isn't that the bottom line of God's will? As a society we have faltered in blaming the religion for the acts of individuals.
A majority of people of faith shrink from the responsibility of speaking up, and instead flame the blame and mess up societal harmony even further. Here are two extreme examples of the brutes in a civilized society like ours and "developing societies like Nigeria" in this case.
In 2009, the words of Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas generated fear, anxieties, hate and ill-will, it was him and not the reflection of his Church, even if the congregation sheepishly clapped and gave a standing ovation in the Church when the pastor said, "Islam is an evil evil religion and Qur'an is a book written by a false prophet" with full passion. The religious clergy of different faiths in Dallas did the right thing; they spoke up and together we held a conference on Qur'an led by Mike Mohamed Ghouse of the World Muslim Congress. The story in video and print is captured at www.QuraanConference.com in its entirety.
Going to the "lower end of the civility" (per bigots) in Nigeria, Abubakar Shekau, the Chief of Boko Haram, shamelessly said that, "God instructed me to sell them (the 276 girls); they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions." Like Pastor Jeffress he has duped his congregation and the world to believe that it is his religion that made him do or say the the wrongs.
The Muslims around the world have avoided their responsibility in asking Mr. Shekau to have a conversation and acknowledge what God says in multiple verses in Qur'an including 4:19 (Asad translation), "O YOU who have attained to faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs to your wives [by holding onto them] against their will; and neither shall you keep them under constraint with a view to taking away anything of what you may have given them, unless it be that they have become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct." These are innocent girls, and this man is holding them against their will.
Muslims rightfully claim that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and he was the first law giver who liberated women from the clutches of men's oppression, and declared that men and women are each other's protectors, and a woman has a right to decide whom she marries (1400 years ago, whereas she was considered a chattel in the west until a hundred years ago), and has the right to divorce and own her own property separately. Mr. Shekau is going against the prophet, and it needs to be called out.
The first word revealed to the Prophet was "Learn" and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had famously said, "Learn, even if you have to go to China to learn, do it, learning is important." He further beefed it up by adding that a woman's education is a must, as she must willingly sign the marriage or a business contract and that obviously required education. Mr. Shekau on the other hand believes education for girls is evil.
Pluralism is the way forward; that is respecting the otherness of others and accepting the God-given uniqueness. Freedom of conscience and speech are the golden rules of civil societies, and Islam emphasizes that there is no compulsion in religion.
The more we push them, we essentially tell them to dig in. Dialogue opens up opportunities with least damage and least cost. On our part in the west, we have failed to communicate to the world that our education system is designed to deliver good for the society at large. It is necessary for us to learn and share about each other in a world of increasing conflicts to mitigate and to nurture goodwill. We had a successful event in Florida when Pastor Jones wanted to burn 3000 copies of Qur'an; full report at www.WorldMuslimCongress.com.
Poor religion has been an easy target of blame for the evils men do, as if it is a tangible being that can be beat up, butchered, buried, and put to rest. Blaming religions does not do any good; it's like barking at the wrong tree; but getting to the individuals and having a conversation with them increases the chance of building cohesive societies.