Are Religions Pluralistic or Myopic and Parochial?

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By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The Gettysburg address by President Abraham Lincoln was only two minutes long, yet it is written in golden letters in history for all times to come.

On November 19, 1863 delivered the Gettysburg Address, at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War. Though he was not the featured orator that day, Lincoln’s brief address would be remembered as one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, he invoked the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and connected the sacrifices of the Civil War with the desire for ‘a new birth of freedom,’ as well as the all-important preservation of the Union created in 1776 and its ideal of self-government. (1)

President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address

Lincoln’s deep voice echoed passionately: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (2)

He was inspired by his polished human conscience and his Christian faith. In the Gospel of Mark we read:

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (3)

In the Old Testament that is shared by the Christians and the Jews, we read:

“You must not exploit or oppress a foreign resident, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (4)

“You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (5)

“Do not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you lived as a foreigner in his land.” (6)

“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners who dwell among you and who have children. You are to treat them as native-born Israelites; along with you, they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (7)

The first ideal in Confucianism is “Jen.” This is Confucius’ idea of the ultimate brotherly love. It is the idea that no matter where you live in the world, we are all brothers because we are all humans. To achieve Jen is to be able to devote yourself to making others happy, both those in your community and those within your family. As the old saying goes, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. (8)

Mencius or Mengzi (372–289 BC) was a Chinese Confucian philosopher, who has often been described as the ‘second Sage,’ that is, after only Confucius himself. He is part of Confucius’s fourth generation of disciples.

He believed ‘Jen’ is implanted in the individual by T’ien (Heaven).  One could say Jen is our Heaven-endowed nature.   The Constant Virtue of Jen can be interpreted as the main principle of being Human. (9)

Five centuries before Christ, Confucius set forth his own Golden Rule: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” (10) The teaching of the Golden Rule in each religion is universal and transcends race, religion and gender.

shah_zia

Dr. Zia H Shah, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times and author of this article

All the prevalent world faiths, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, give a universal message. Nevertheless, they have parochial streaks available within their traditions and scriptures that those with myopic vision and ulterior motives can read in limited ways, in service of their nationalist or populist agenda as opposed to a universal one, in service of their political goals.

Read how Reid Turner, who attended Bethel University and Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN and pursued additional graduate studies at the University of Chicago, is reading a parochial message, just for the Christians, in the New Testament and accusing Pope Francis of misinterpreting the Bible, when the Pope speaks for universal brotherhood in our global village:

“In the following examples the Pope appears to be manipulating scripture to deemphasize Christian brotherhood and elevate universal brotherhood.  …

The Pope here is trying to identify the ‘little ones’ of Matthew 10:42 with the Universalist understanding of ‘brethren’ in Matthew 25:40, who he here equates with ‘the vulnerable of the Earth.’

There is nothing wrong or contrary to the Christian message to see the face of Christ in those who suffer. The point here is that Jesus never identifies Himself with them in a general sense in Matthew or anywhere else in the New Testament. He identifies only with His followers.

In my estimation there is evidence of a pattern; the Pope appears to be intentionally manipulating scripture to replace references to Christian brotherhood with the concept of universal brotherhood.” (11)

The New Testament and for that matter all religious scriptures are like a mirror, each reader, whether a Universalist or one with a myopic view, sees himself or herself in the mirror.

Likewise, all of the universal quotes of the Old Testament are ignored when the Zionist and the right wing politicians in Israel, want to insist on a Jewish state, at the detriment of the human rights of all the Palestinians, both the Christians and the Muslims.

Similar exploitation and misinterpretation of the universal message of the Quran by the myopic Muslim leaders can be cited. But, in the interest of space I am not going to pursue that here.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages. (12)

UDHR-70-Web-Banner-460x250-E

The first two Articles of UDHR, among the 30 state:

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (12)

Devouts of each religion continue to claim that their religion is universal and in keeping with the 30 Articles of UDHR.

But, periodically they also come up with a more limited reading of their tradition and scriptures in one guise or the other. Allow me to ask the followers of each and every religion, do you believe in a universal religion or a parochial cult?  Do you read a pluralistic message of justice and compassion for the whole human family in our global village in your scripture or do you preach a limited message of ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ to the exclusion of others, putting one group in ‘the chosen’ sphere and the other in ‘the heathens?’

I for one, by the Grace of Allah, do not waiver from the universal and the pluralistic message of the Quran.  No matter the circumstances or the audience!

This is how I read the Muslim scripture, the holy Quran, the final literal revelation of the All-Knowing God.

zafrullah-khan1

Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan

My task has been made easy by none other than the celebrated polymath, Sir Zafrulla Khan. He became Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister in 1947 and served concurrently as leader of Pakistan’s delegation to the UN (1947–54). From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973. (13)

He wrote a booklet correlating the 30 Articles of UDHR with various verses of the holy Quran. The booklet can be read online. His booklet is titles, Islam and Human Rights. (14)

I hope the Universalists in each religion will create a more comprehensive message from their respective traditions and scriptures and safeguard our one human family from being broken down into factions by corrupt parochial voices whether they come in the guise of patriotism, nationalism, fundamentalism of the respective religions or populism.

With this I rest my case against racism or dividing human societies or countries on the basis of religions or sects.

References

  1. History channel.
  2. History channel.
  3. Mark 12:28-31.
  4. Exodus 22:21.
  5. Leviticus 19:34.
  6. Deuteronomy 23:7
  7. Ezekiel 47:22.
  8. https://worldhistory.us/great-thinkers/confucianism-the-five-ideals.php
  9. Jen in Confucianism.
  10. https://www.amazon.com/Confucius-Golden-Rule-Russell-Freedman/dp/0439139570
  11. https://thefivebeasts.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/pope-francis-scripture-and-universal-brotherhood/
  12. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
  13. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Muhammad-Zafrulla-Khan
  14. https://themuslimtimes.info/2018/05/24/book-review-islam-and-human-rights/
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