Quest for peace in pluralistic societies

We live in a pluralistic society wherein people of different religions, creeds and languages co-exist and carry on with their lives based on their unique beliefs, rituals and practices. For the most part, there is peaceful co-existence between the members of this divergent society.

However, there are times when differences of opinion crop up among them and, often, lead to violence that results in suffering and bloodshed. If we were to observe the reasons for this flare-up of emotions, we would find that, in nearly all cases, people automatically supporting their own respective group, without impartially analysing the problem at hand. This is so because we have a natural tendency to support the group we associate with the most.

The moot question to ask then is this: while partiality to one’s associated group is a natural tendency, should we support our group even when it is in the wrong? An anecdote from the life of Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, is instructive in this regard. 

Advising against discrimination among people, he was always for living life as one big family. It was in this context that a companion once enquired with him thus: “O Prophet of God! Is it then wrong to love our own people in greater measure?” To this, the Prophet replied: “No, it is not wrong to love your own people more than others, but your love for your own people should not be the cause of your becoming unjust towards others.”

Such wisdom from the Prophet, if followed by all, can transform our society into a peaceful one, even while it maintains its melting-pot character. 

To be sure, the Prophet stressed on justice because Truth and Justice are fundamental principles on which the super-structure of Islam is built. The place of Truth and Justice in the Islamic scheme for man’s life is so high that these principles have to be upheld eve n if they go against our own interests, indeed, our very lives, for that matter. Not surprisingly then, the Qur’an’s command is thus: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest ye swerve and if ye distort (justice), or decline to do justice, verily, God is well acquainted with all that ye do.” (4:135)

Therefore, Truth and Justice should be the guiding principles of all human endeavour; firstly, by establishing them in our own lives and then through sustained effort to establish them in society so that peace and harmony may eventually reign supreme.

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