QUESTION: How can we use religion to promote democracy, understanding and human rights in the world? In the face of all inequalities in the world today, how would you rate the role of religion in conflict resolution and social understanding?
ANSWER: Religion is not only used to promote democracy, understanding and human rights, but we can say that these values can also be guaranteed through religion.
God chose religion for humanity’s individual and collective welfare in both worlds. It is based on belief in and worship of One God. Such belief and worship require all believers to be concerned deeply with all of creation, whether animate or inanimate. The deeper their belief in and submission to God, the deeper their concern for all creatures.
Religion, which is in fact, a contract between God and humanity all of whose conditions favor and benefit us, is based on submission to the Divine system to which all creatures, except humanity, have submitted. That is, the vast universe, including our own world, obeys a set of laws established by God and so displays a coherence and harmony.
Unlike the rest of creation which obeys God willingly or unwillingly, we have free will. We have this gift of freedom and its accompanying obligation to harmonize our life with the rest of nature in the realization that such harmony is the path of our exaltation and progress.
This is the path upon which God has created human nature:God does not approve of wrongdoing and disorder, for He wills that we live in peace and according to justice. Thus all believers in and worshippers of God are expected to work to secure peace, brotherhood/sisterhood, and justice in this world.
In general terms, religion means for human social life the knowledge, discipline, and science of humanity’s rights and obligations and of what is good and bad for humanity on the individual and collective levels.
Thus the religious view of life consists of a set of rights and obligations by which the followers of religion are expected to live. Broadly speaking, religious law deals with our life in terms of our relationship with our Creator, ourselves (our rights upon ourselves), other people, and our natural environment (the rights of the resources that God has given to us for our benefit).
As a result, regardless of to what extent they are observed in practical life by its followers, values that are generally accepted today like love, respect, tolerance, democracy, human rights, forgiveness, mercy, peace, brotherhood/sisterhood and freedom are all values exalted by religion.
Religion teaches that all people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. It does not discriminate based on race, color, age, nationality, or physical traits. Religion declares: “You are all from Adam, and Adam is from earth. So O servants of God, be brothers [and sisters].”Religion also upholds the following fundamental principles:
- Power lies in truth, a repudiation of the common idea that truth relies upon power.
- Justice and the rule of law are essential.
- Freedom of belief and opinion, and rights to life, personal property, reproduction, and health (both mental and physical) cannot be violated.
- The privacy and immunity of individual life must be maintained.• No one can be convicted of a crime without evidence, or accused and punished for someone else’s crime – even this someone else be his or her closest relatives.
- People should co-operate for a peaceful co-existence.
Religion also teaches us that whoever kills a person unjustly is like one who has killed all humanity, and whoever saves a person’s life is like one who has saved all humanity (Qur’an, 5:32). This is so because every individual represents the humankind and the rights of every individual are as much valued as the rights of all humanity. In addition, the murder of one person gives the idea that any person can be killed.
All rights are equally important, and an individual’s right cannot be sacrificed for society’s sake. Religion considers a society to be composed of conscious individuals equipped with free will and having responsibility toward both themselves and others. As religion holds individuals and societies responsible for their own fate, people must be responsible for governing themselves. The duties entrusted to modern democratic systems are those that religion refers to society.
The social life religion envisages seeks to form a virtuous society and thereby gain God’s approval. It recognizes right, not force, as the foundation of social life. Hostility is unacceptable. Relationships must be based on belief, love, mutual respect, assistance, and understanding instead of conflict and realization of personal selfish interest.
Right calls for unity, virtues bring mutual support and solidarity, and belief secures brotherhood and sisterhood. Encouraging the soul to attain perfection brings happiness in both worlds.
Religion also teaches that there are two cardinal causes of social turmoils in the world: the ideas or attitudes of “let everyone work so I can eat,” and “I don’t care if others die of hunger so long as I am full.”
Religion eliminates the first by banning all unjust dealings and transactions involved with bribery, oppression, usury, exploitation and cheating, and the second through prescribed alms-giving and charity, which serves as a bridge between a society’s various economic levels.
Again, religion teaches that people are God’s creatures and therefore no one enjoys any superiority coming from birth (race, family, and color, etc).The rule of law is indispensable to a social order. No one is above the law or can transgress its limits. The law is to be enforced without discrimination, and courts are to be free of outside pressure.
Religion also provides for the freedom of opinion. Promoting virtue and preventing vice is more than just a right for people-it is their essential duty. Freedom of conscience and expression of thought is the pivot that ensures the correct functioning of a virtuous society and administration.
Religion regards the public treasury as a trust. Everything should be received through lawful sources and spent only for lawful purposes. Rulers have no more control of the public treasury than trustees have over what is entrusted to their custody.
Religion also teaches:
The theft and plunder, murder and rapine, injustice and cruelty, and all the vices are sins in God’s eyes. Speak the truth. Be just. Do not rob anyone, but take your lawful share and give that which is due to others in a just manner.
Treat your parents extremely kindly. Give your relatives their due. Help the needy and do not be wasteful. Do not kill your children because you fear poverty or for other reasons. Avoid adultery, for it is indecent and evil.
Fulfill the covenant, because you will be questioned about it. Do not cheat when you measure and weigh items. Do not act arrogantly on the earth. Speak kind words to each other, for Satan uses strong words to cause strife. Do not turn your face in scorn and anger toward others.
God does not love those who boast, so be modest in bearing and subdue your voice. Do not make fun of others, for they may be better than you. Do not find fault with each other or call each other by offensive nicknames.
Avoid most suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin. Do not spy on or gossip about each other. Be staunch followers of justice, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and relatives, regardless if they are rich or poor. Do not deviate by following caprice. Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity, and do not let your hatred of others seduce you to be unjust toward them.
Restrain your rage and pardon the offences of others. Good and evil deeds are not alike, so repel the evil deed with a good one so that both of you can overcome your enmity and become loyal friends. Avoid alcohol and games of chance, for God has forbidden them.
You are human beings, and all human beings are equal in God’s eyes. The only high and honored people are the God-conscious and pious, true in words and deeds. Distinctions of birth and glory of race are no criteria of greatness and honor.
One day you will die. You will appear before a Supreme Court and account for all your deeds, none of which can be hidden. Your fate will be determined by your good or bad actions. In the court of the True Judge there can be no unfair recommendation and favoritism. True faith and good deeds alone will benefit you at that time.
In short, if taught correctly and practiced in individual and social life, religion will guarantee the basic human values and freedoms and humanity’s ensuing happiness in both worlds.