How many times have you heard it said that religion is the cause of war and discord? These are among the chief issues religion is blamed for in the world. And yet, the central message of each of the world's religions is one of love and peace.
It is true that many appalling acts have been, and continue to be, committed in the name of religion -- some truly terrible acts. Even so, the blame for these acts should not be placed solely on religion, but on human cruelty.
The events of the last century suggest that the eradication of religion will not necessarily lead humanity toward more peaceful days. States that forbid all forms of religion were also unable to stop human perversion, instead enabling cruelty and fanaticism to take root among their people.
The problem today is not that religion still exists or that some people are religious. The problem lies in the animosity that persists between the different religions. The reality is that religious diversity is not likely to disappear. Acceptance and encouragement of coexistence between all religions is what will bring us toward a more peaceful society.
A promising public discourse encouraging religious coexistence is beginning to emerge in regions that have been historically closed to religious tolerance. Over the past weeks, the concept of freedom of religion has been at the centre of an animated discussion in Islamic circles of the Arab world. The discussion is being advanced by enlightened Islamic leaders and thinkers aware of the negative effects of persecution and marginalization of religious minorities in their region.
Many commentators have been inspired by the actions of Iranian Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani who recently offered a piece of calligraphic artwork to the Baha'i community, Iran's largest religious minority. Taking into consideration the historical animosity of Iranian authorities toward the Baha'i community, the Ayatollah's gesture was even more remarkable by the fact that it was accompanied by a statement underlying the importance of a peaceful coexistence with Baha'is. In the past, the Baha'is have been systematically persecuted in Iran, and have also suffered hard conditions in most Arab countries.
Es'haq Al-Sheik, a respected journalist in Bahrain, recently published an article titled "Allow for the Baha'i Faith amongst us," commenting on the Iranian Ayatollah's gesture and calling the Arab world to realize the necessity of promoting religious coexistence. He wrote that this gesture by a member of the Iranian clergy created an invitation for pacific religious coexistence, deeply rooted in tolerance toward all religions. He added that Baha'is have the right to practice their religion, and that countries of the Arab gulf and peninsula should revise their concepts of citizenship based on principles of justice and equality between all religions present in their societies.
Professor Suheil Bushrui of the University of Maryland, an authority in matters of religious coexistence in the Arab world, said the region "is an area where there are without any doubt tremendous forces of fanaticism, but at the same time there is an opening of the mind, and a tremendous desire to create a new way of thinking."
These circulating new ideas emphasize that violence is not part of religious teachings. Rather, the liberty of religion is an important principle guaranteed by the Quran itself.
These developments in some Islamic circles of the Arab world give hope for a peaceful religious coexistence at the international level. Such discussions indicate a return to what all religions have best to offer: a moral basis to foster peace among all the peoples of the earth.
Broadcast journalist for about ten years in Montreal, Maëlle Turbide is now working in Public Affairs in Quebec for the Baha'i Community of Canada.
Holding a Master's in Political Science and Bachelor's in Journalism, she is a mother of two.
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