Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Praise of Tolerance.

There is a disturbing article by Sally Neighbour in the Enquirer section of the Weekend Australian newspaper, July 3-4, 2010 headlined, “Extremists with caliphate on their minds, not bombs in their belts”. It is about the Islamist organisation – Hizb ut-Tahrir.

While I have heard of it I will admit that I know nothing about this organisation other than what has been written at various times in the press. Their expressed desire is to return, apparently, to the (presumably) golden years of Islam when the Islamic Empire – if that is the correct term – stretched from the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Portugal and Spain), across the whole of North Africa, the Middle East and as far as India. The armies of Islam invaded and subjugated the original inhabitants of those countries by force of arms and driven by a religious belief (remember this when they condemn Israel for the same thing).

Underlying the expansion of Islam was a spiritual core and a deep learning which gave the world Algebra and a great deal of medical knowledge. It is from the ancient Arab and Muslim scholars that today we have our numerical system including the figure Zero and the decimal system (knowledge they gained from their contacts with India). They understood the principles of gravity and the relationship between weight, speed and distance severa1 centuries before Newton; they measured the speed of light and computed the circumference of the earth to a surprising degree of accuracy. They invented astronomical instruments, navigated the high seas and laid down the foundations of modern chemistry. This was all during the European “dark age”. We all owe the ‘classical’ Arabs a great deal.

But what have we learned since those times from the Arab (Islamic) world? I am prepared to listen and learn but, me-thinks, it is not very much!

The followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir aim to re-establish a caliphate which would include what they naively determine as all Muslim majority countries “including lands previously under Muslim rule, such as Spain and the Philippines”. This is all to be achieved by “grass roots support and military might.” It is also stated that “Christians and Jews will be welcome as long as they submit to Islamic law.” This from a faith that allowed an army lead by Mohammed himself, in 627AD to raid the Jewish tribe of Qurayza and behead 800 men and sell all the women and children into slavery! While this took place some 14 centuries ago if this is what living under sharia law in a caliphate means then they have some convincing to do! And what in God’s (or Allah’s) name is such a caliphate supposed to accomplish? Would mankind be better off – would there be less conflict? The various sects of Islam cannot even agree between themselves - note the continuing conflict between Shia and Sunni.

This very organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to the article, is banned in the following Muslim/Arabic countries – Egypt, Jordan, much of the Middle East and Central Asia and also in China. This in itself tells a story about the organisation. It does not sound very spiritual to me. It may be religious but it is not spiritual and there is a world of difference between the two – a “religious” priest is not spiritual when he sexually molests children and a religious Islamic leader is not very spiritual when he tells his followers to kill “unbelievers.”

My understanding of Islam – and it is one of the great religions of the world - is that it tolerates all people because all people and all things are from Allah. Nothing can exist without Allah. Now in my English language version of the Koran (Penguin Classic, 1968, translated by N.A Dawood) there is a chapter (No. 35) entitled “The Creator” the last paragraph of which states:

“If it was Allah’s wish to punish men for their misdeeds, not one creature would be left alive on earth’s surface. He respites them till an appointed time. And when their hour comes, they shall know that Allah has been watching over all His servants.”

He “respites them”. This sounds remarkably like tolerance and compassion, references to which can be found in any number of verses in the Bible, in the Bhagavad-Gita and in the Dhamapada (the sayings of Budda). This is Love, unconditional Love for the, so far uncounted, examples of the manifestation of Life that He has seen fit to create on this infinitesimally small planet in an unimaginably large universe. So who or what gives a group of people the right or the power to dictate how anyone should (or should not) worship at the feet of the Almighty if they desire to do so?

The Koran is a book – so is the Bible – so is the Bhagavad-Gita and all books are actually written by human beings (no matter how inspired) with all their faults and hang-ups. Remember that neither Jesus nor Muhammad ever wrote anything themselves.

The whole point of a book – a scripture – is to guide the reader to a higher level of consciousness; to reach their own fulfilment as a Human Being. I am not you – and you are not me. My beliefs come from my heart because I have resolved the issues in my life my way and I have derived a great deal of comfort and inner strength from my readings of the various scriptures – including the Koran. I do not need someone, however noble, however inspired that person may be to tell me how to live my life. That person does not know the troubles I have seen – they may offer advice – but they cannot direct me to live and love in a certain way. That is my problem and I have to live my life my way, not theirs. I am me, not them!

He “respites them”. This is tolerance. This is living and letting live. This is inclusion. This follows the “Golden Rule” to always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Remember He “respites” us all and we are all children of Abraham. We do not need another organisation preaching divisiveness, intolerance and a “them or us” attitude.

The poets often get it right. John Donne, the 16th Century poet and sermonist, penned the famous lines:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Tolerance is the only way - Hizb ut-Tahrir want, indeed demand, that we tolerate them but they do not tolerate us. The followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir need to closely attend the words – “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

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