The role of religious actors in peace-building

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ISLAM, CHRISTIANITY AND EUROPE

2nd series of seminars - 2009-2010

"The role of religious actors in peace-building"


Jawdat Said Mohamed


Praise be to God, and peace be upon those whom He has chosen, who endorse and promote justice.

Introduction

Half a century ago, I wrote a book about the intellectual and his role in times of trouble and crisis. Although my main focus was on issues pertaining mainly to the Islamic world, and despite the fact that it was written a half a century ago—a long time considering the changes that have taken place in a dynamic and ever evolving world despite all that, I still believe that my book can still provide an effective instrument with which to tackle the crisis in the world we live in[1]. I borrowed the book’s title from a Quranic phrase: “Until they change what is in themselves”. My main argument was that a crisis (or any problem) exists in the mind before it manifests itself in reality; the crisis is an intellectual’s problem before it is politician’s problem. The world is in crisis because the intellectual is in crisis, and this applies to all global issues: the environment, global warming, the food crisis, the financial crisis, the coexistence crisis, conflicts and wars. It concluded that all crises have their roots in the mind; all begin with crises of ideas. Such was my main argument then and I still believe in its validity today.

A crisis begins with ideas and with intellectuals, whether it deals with what they offer to the people or what they do not offer. Therefore, for the intellectual presents himself as a savior in the times of crisis, is a huge fraud. It would be more appropriate if he presented himself as the culprit[2], and more effective if he adopted a humble attitude in order to review and self-investigate; to revisit all the fundamentals and basics. Unfortunately however, the intellectual’s role is deformed by one of the following causes:

- The intellectual is either always lagging behind history unable to understand it, and therefore lacks provisional ability to foresee the future to afford the politician with suitable advice to bring about timely change. We see this born out in the current crisis-generating international path we are all on.

- Or an intellectual is silenced by the status quo and lured by personal privileges, turning a blind eye to what is taking place in this world and offering the politicians what they want to hear, not what they need to know and do[3]. This, according to Pierre Bourdieau, is the main reason for our current situation.

Today, I feel that it is my duty to explain my point of view as a human being observing this world, in which gains and disbursement are entangled, a world in which one fifth of humanity enjoys wealth, knowledge and advantages, while the other four fifths live in poverty, hunger and corruption.

I will try to explain a difficult human dilemma; difficult not because it is not clear, in fact it is very clearas clear as the sun—yet herein lays the ambiguity[4]. People thought, for a long time, that they understood the sun, and that the sun was orbiting the earth. We are still faced with such riddles, very clear yet very vague—more like the issue we are tackling here today. We experience many things openly and secretly;the subject which we are considering is invisibility of this kind.

In today’s world, less than 20% of people own 80% of the wealth and the bottom 20% of people has a share of less than 1.4%. This is true on the international level as well as on national and even lower levels. It seems that the current world order is designed to protect these advantages and maintain the status quo. No wonder that people on the top are anxiety-stricken when faced with the prospect of new nations ascending to the upper echelon of power by acquiring sophisticated destructive technologies like nuclear weapons. This anxiety is fueled by the desire to maintain the unjust distribution of power and wealth on all levels.

Corruption and bloodshed continue to be the problem of all beings; that is the reason for this meeting!

As a human being who has faith in reason and in God’s revelations to humanity, and as someone who reads the Holy Texts and strives to interpret the universe, opens his ears and eyes to what is happening in the world, shifting between scripture and reality, and living the tension between revelation and history, I find an easier path to this research through the Quran. The Quran assigns great value to history and in particular to consequences of events[5]. It stresses that the universe follows the rule of continuous evolution and expansion, and that this evolution is progressive by nature[6]. Moreover, the Quran emphasizes what we can call "the seal of prophethood", or the end of the era of prophecy, when heaven closes its doors, thus allowing people of knowledge and those who call for equity and justice to inherit the role of prophets[7].

Thus, by declaring the end of direct revelations from God, the Quran opens the door to history and to consequences as sources of knowledge and permanent revelation ("Say: ‘Travel through the earth and see how God did originate creation’") [Quran 29:20]. With this declaration, religious activists and intellectuals are now bound to complete the prophets’ task of reform, which I assert is the goal of this conference.

The Quran addresses the topics of this conference from three angles, and with three different stories:

- The first story is about humans and corruption.

- The second addresses human responsibility.

- And the third talks about non-violence and reason.


It is irrelevant in this context whether those stories are perceived as historical facts or as symbolic myth. What concerns us here is the meaning and the message they convey[8].

1 - In the first story, angels, in the first moment of creation, protest at the idea of creating humans, on the pretext of their (humans’) tendency to corruption and bloodshed, yet God’s response was (("I know that what you know not.")) [Quran 2:30]. This script depicts the path of human evolution, where the period of wars and corruption, as history tells us, represents only the beginning of this evolutionary path. And even if people today still live by the expectations of the angels, both history and the Quran teach us that man is moving towards God’s prediction, and that God's knowing will unfold.

2 - In the second, Quran narrates the story of Adam and Eve when God commanded them stating: “approach not this tree”. But they transgressed his command, then God confronted them both equally with their sin: ("Did I not forbid you that tree..?), and their answer was: ("Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves) [Quran 7:19-22]. This act of confession, moral accountability and taking responsibility for one's actions is yet another answer to the angels' accusation in the previous story. It again demonstrates humanity’s ability to evolve throughout the course of history. Satan, on the contrary, tried to justify his wrongdoing instead of confessing it, one time by referring to his racial origin ("I am better than he”), and the other was a philosophical reason, when he instead blames God. He says to God: “Because You have tempted me into error” [Quran 7:16]. The Quran, thus, shows us that accusing others and acquitting ourselves will only keep us from resolving our problems. To this day, most people are still more tempted to follow Satan's way and do not incline to the path that Adam and his partner chose, a path backed by the laws of history, the facts of life, and the doctrine of Quran as it states: “Whatever of evil befalls you, is from yourself” [Quran 4:79].

3 - The third story is about a dialogue between the two sons of Adam. Cain, who failed in his quest, resorted to killing instead of reviewing his own mistake “I will surely kill you,” he said to his brother, while his brother, who became conscious of his own humanity and aware of the blessing of human intellect, refused to resort to violence. He responded “If you do stretch your hand to kill me, I (surely) will not stretch my hand to kill you: for I fear God” [Quran 5:28]. Abel was determined and willing to face the consequences of his stance, and refused to respond. He realized his ability to utilize the power of human reason. This stance of non-violence, as shown above, inaugurates a new era of humans' evolutionary consciousness.

Thus, the beginning of human history was not marked by murder nor by crime. On the contrary, it was marked by a unique humanist option fully commensurate with the creation of human consciousness. The first act in history was an act of non-violence, a refusal to kill, to decline, even in self-defense[9]. The same moment has been recorded at numerous times in history. It repeats itself most visibly in Socrates, who accepted death, refused to evade dialogue with the neurological system, and assumed his responsibility as a human.

The three stories are similar in how they imply trust in humanity, and in its potential to build and to evolve. In the ability to stand against corruption and to promote justice they stand as precursors to faith. People, and particularly intellectuals, must begin by taking their historical responsibility, and not wait for a savior, for all of us humans are saviors if we follow the rout of God, the doctrine of Adam's son, the path to respect of the human mind, and the belief in reason as a means of resolving disputes, as opposed to resorting to force, violence and killing.

The Oneness of God is justice

Justice, according to the Quran, is the starting ground for a new theology. The Oneness of God in heaven is not merely a metaphysical matter but rather a social and political matter; it means there are no human gods on earth. For as long as there are those with privileges there will not be peace or sparing of blood. Rather, there will be wretchedness on one side and anxiety and fear on the other side. Wretchedness and suffering on the side of the majority of the inhabitants of this planet; and fear and worry on the side of the privileged minority. This means that all of humanity is trapped in the hell of suffering and fear, for some merely to survive, andfor others to protect their privileges[10]. According to the Quran, the aim of the prophets and messengers is “that people may conduct themselves with equity” [Quran 57:25]. When the Prophet Muhammad addressed the rulers of his time, he sent them the Equality Verse: “Come to a Word of Equality between us: that we shall not worship except God; that we never set up anything besides Him, nor take each other as lords above each other beside God.” [Quran 3:64] This verse is a clear reference to the notion that believing in God is not only a heavenly matter but that it requires belief in equality on earth. This understanding of monotheism and justice makes idealism realistic; it brings the unknown into the realm of the witnessed and brings the divine to the human, and the supernatural into the natural. Thus religion becomes a science, and as science is universal, religion then becomes universal.

You are now discussing the role of the religious in areas of conflict. But I would like to say that all of earth is an area of conflict, and the smaller local conflicts and regional wars are only a reflection of the greater corruption that afflicts the United Nations. The privilege the Great Powers want to preserve as a monopoly is the seed of all evils. As long as justice[11] is not presented as the viable choice in resolving these conflicts, as long as we all revere and worship force and as long as we sit mute and in complacency before the veto right in the Security Council which is hindering the onward march of humanity; as long as we maintain these conditions there will neither be peace nor security in this world. We read in the Quran, “nor did we destroy the cities unless its people were unjust.” [Quran 28:59].

I really wonder sometimes if Nazism and Fascism won in the war, could have they created an institution worse than the United Nations? What would have Hitler and Mussolini done besides confer upon themselves, along with Japan, the Veto? The world order in which we live today engenders the law of the jungle. It is an order imposed by force by the winners of the Second World War, and the United Nations is the temple where the idols of power are worshipped and revered. It like fig leaf which instead of hiding the shame of humanity, exposes it. How do we call for human rights and democracy when we at the same time accept a principle that goes directly against human rights, democracy and against humanity itself? Those who do this are like those who live in glass houses, yet persist in throwing stones[12]. The silence over injustice and corruption is political, religious and cultural hypocrisy, but history tells us that those with privilege do not give up their privileges voluntarily.

I find clarity in this analysis and it gives me great comfort. How could I not when I am relying on historical facts, the teachings of the prophets and sages and upon the facts of life. How could I not when I am calling for the word of equality where no one is god above another to use the Quranic formulation. The Quran says that all can be forgiven except association with God. What this means is that when some make themselves gods, they set themselves above the law. This is the gravest of sins, the greatest injustice, the moment when all our other devotions and great works become obsolete. This is the source of all historical tragedies. Let those who have ears hear[13].

It has become necessary to renew our world and create new principles. The old paradigms of warfare and the worship of power can only create a sick world in a state of constant crisis like the one we see today. Look at it. It is a world where force has the final word. It is a world overwhelmed with oppression and injustice and run by the Veto Right, a remnant of the Roman legacy without relevance to modernity[14]. All these factors are creating a perpetual, glaring violation of the principles of human rights and hence giving capital and justification to the small dictators of the developing world.

It is to the Europeans’ credit that they not only invented means of transporting people and information but also means for transporting power in ways other than assassinations and killings. They institutionalized democracy, a means of transporting and exchanging political power which respects the human mind, giving life to true legitimacy and giving value to people's choice: all things that the Prophet Muhammad practiced in the 7th century. Humanity is the pinnacle of God's creation, and democracy is the pinnacle of humankind's creation. Its essence is when all believe in not resorting to force to resolve conflict; but to persuasion and ballot counts. Democracy is a new-born creature, constantly growing, and hence the concept of Democratization (I mean the spread of democracy in the world) is the challenge that awaits the intellectuals and politicians of the world so that all can live in comfort and safety.

You the great powers will stand on nothing until the United Nations becomes a true democratic[15] human assembly with its three separate powers; legislative, executive and judicial. We can then say that legitimacy has come about and that justice and peace may therefore spread. And that the wish of all the prophets and sages has come true.

History and the Signs

“We shall show them Our portents (signs) on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Does not your Lord suffice, since He is Witness over all things?” [Quran 41:53] “Say: Travel in the land, and see the nature of the consequence for the rejecters!” [Quran 6:11). “Then see what was the consequence for the [unjust] wrong-doers!” [Quran 10:39].

The Quran quotes signs/evidence from the horizons, from the physical world around us and also from the human self, from within ourselves as two witnesses of justice that cannot be accused of bias and passion. Anyone who is able to use the signs of the cosmos and in the self to testify to his or her cause has met the quorum of witnessing and can bring forth evidence from the world of the unseen to the world of the seen.

The Quran urges us to look at the signs of the horizons (i.e., the outside world) and the signs within ourselves (human mind and behavior). History, according to the Quran, has become a reference for understanding the laws of human behavior. “Laws have passed away before you. Do but travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for those who denied!” [Quran 3:137]. History then becomes the universe where we understand the laws that govern the social and moral realms.

And when the Quran tries to open our eyes to the presence of the external (in the universe and history), it uses a language that cannot be denied except for those who deny the mind. It brings forth one example after another to teach us how to extrapolate from physical and historical phenomena: “Have you not seen what God did to (the tribe of) Aad...” [Quran 89:6-14] “Have you not seen what God did to the owners of the Elephant)) [Quran 105:1], and so on. By pointing to the firm law that is fixed and immutable, which does not change nor alter[16], in ourselves as on the horizon (in the physical universe and in human behavior) [17] the Quran gives us a law-based universe both in the physical and moral realms.

Using the same language, we can now say: “Have you not seen what God did to the Soviet Union”, which imploded internally at a time it had what could destroy the planet several times over. We can also say, Have you not seen what God did to Hitler, Napoleon…) or to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Americans. This is not to list tragedies or events, but to demonstrate the principle of History as a source of knowledge.

At this point I would like to stop and say: Human evolution has pushed humans against their will toward democracy, which also means rationality, persuasion, and peace. According to this understanding of history, I have come to believe in the death of war. With the first nuclear explosion, I announced the death of war. The nuclear bomb was stillborn. Hence big powers are no longer able to war amongst each other, but are taking advantage of the ignorance of the naïve and invest in their ignorance by selling them weapons[18]. Wars are human sacrifices. Murder has never been a solution to a problem, but a means to exacerbate it as history teaches us.

According to this vision, the European Union has ushered the era of the Word of Equality. I consider it a human threshold and one of humanity’s greatest achievements. The European Union stands today as the crown of the human mind. These nations came to embrace and believe in that which is most sacred in religions; they agreed not to take one another for gods, at least among themselves. They liberated themselves from Napoleon and Hitler, and of the culture that made both. This was not a gift from heaven, but grew from pain and suffering and the payment of a heavy price. Napoleon and Hitler could both unite Europe, but only by force and coercion. Today they are united by the human mind, this creature of God which understood lessons of history after trying war of all possible variety; the One-hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, religious wars, sectarian wars and world wars which exacted hundreds of millions of human sacrifices.

This union is not expanding by military conquest or annexation, but by the consent of the parties involved, with a statement of benefits and gains; no one losses and everyone wins. It is a voluntary expansion. Countries are pleading to join, saying accept us and we will abide by your terms. This is an obvious conquest. True that you [the European Union] have not united the world, but you have created the foundations up on which the world can unite. This is nearer to the religion of God, and to His Messengers, and the true nature of humankind than of all people have tried throughout history. It is a new event in history.

Conclusion

This world has not started nor will end with us. Only ten thousand years ago humans were living in caves, eating the flesh of their own fellow humans. But this period of human history is like the years of early childhood, when a child is unable to clean himself, something that does not undermine the great potential of this young creature. It would be shameful if one does not learn when they have reached adulthood. It is a great shame on the intellectuals that people are still killing one another.

Our presence in this world is not in vain, useless or a game. Human happiness and fulfillment come from service to a just cause. And the greatest cause is to bring an end to corruption and bloodshed.

The time of the prophets has ended and the responsibility has been transferred to the people of knowledge to bring people out of darkness and into light, from injustice to justice, from slavery to freedom, and from corruption and bloodshed to “I know what you do not know.” [Quran 2:30]! The closest people to God are those who provide services to other human beings, their brothers and sisters. Prophets came to have people compete in doing good. Let us compete in making world peace, and making a global community where everyone is equal before the law for in so doing we will have fulfilled the will of God and the wish of prophets.

May there be Glory for God high above, love for people and peace on Earth.

May peace, mercy and abundance be upon you.


Jawdat Said Mohamed

Syria - Beer Ajam



references

1 Because the same laws apply to all people equally. Quran's reply to those who thought they were special compared to others was:((.. you are but human beings, of those He has created)) [Quran 5:18].

2 "..if the light within you has turned into darkness, how great is that darkness!" Matt 6:23.

3 Santiago Ginovic - documents of the Venice convention March 17, 1986.

4 I often bring this example. The idea of the Sun and Earth exchanging positions as centers represents a clear example of people's likelihood to fall in error even with such clear and simple reality. People were willing to die for this misperception, and send others to death as well. If the sun which is usually an example of clarity has now become a symbol of misperception, and if all people can be mistaken to this degree, and for thousands of years, then what are the ideas and perceptions that we can consider, with absolute certainty, correct to a degree that we are willing to judge people and send them to death for?

5 Other verses that refer to this: ((Say: "Travel through the earth and see what was the end of those who rejected Truth.")) [Quran 5:11], ((Soon will We show them Our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that thy Lord doth witness all things? ))[Quran 41:53], ((..then see what was the end of those who indulged in - sin and crime!)) [Quran 7:84], and ((Then see what was the consequence for the wrong-doers!)) [Quran 10:39].--And in the Bible: "You will recognize them by their fruit. Can grapes be picked from briars, or figs &om thistles..." Matt 7:16-17.(SVD

6 ((..He multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things.)) [Quran 35,1], ((And (He has created) horses, mules, and donkeys, for you to ride and use for show; and He has created (other) things of what ye have no knowledge.)) [Quran 16:8].

7 Since the main objective of the message of the prophets was that people enjoin justice, according to the Quran verse: ((Indeed We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that mankind may keep up justice.)) [Quran, 57:25], prophets became subject to abuse and physical liquidation by those who enjoy privileges. This is why God leveled intellectuals who indorse and promote justice with the prophets ((As to those who deny the signs of God, and in defiance of right, slay the prophets, and slay those calling humankind to justice, announce to them a grievous penalty)) [Quran, 3:21],((There is no god but He: that is the witness of Allah His angels and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Power, the Wise.)) [Quran, 3:18].Here we also find that the testimony to the Oneness of God came form people of knowledge, aside from prophets.

8 When I quote Quran, my intention is not to impose my belief on the reader. The credibility of any statement is not dependent on the person who said it, but on how this statement reflects the reality. I am surprised by the reluctance of modern thinkers to quote Quran and other scriptures. Shouldn’t the same rules that are valid with ordinary human ideas, apply to those scriptures so that they can be quoted similarly?

9 It should be noted here that Quran ordered Muslims to refrain from self-defense ((Withhold your hands (from fighting), establish worship)) [Quran, 4:77] and invited them to practice a unique act of disobedience ((Nay! (O Muhammad)! Do not obey him. Fall prostrate and draw near to Allah)) [Quran, 96:19]. Prophet Muhammad also ordered them to follow the doctrine of the first son of Adam in times of wars, conflicts and loss legitimacy. He said “Be like the son of Adam. If you fear the glittering of the sword, throw your garment over your face so that [the aggressor] carries the onus of your sin as well as his.”. He wanted first to build a legitimate society, and legitimacy cannot be built with violence and coercion. Individuals in societies where the rule of law prevail are protected by their societies and by their institutions. A society where every individual protects himself is where the laws of jungle prevail. Similarly, Bin Laden’s position was based on the principles of the French revolution, that promote man’s so called right to resist the occupation in every means possible, and was not based on the legacy of the prophets and their call for - reform and change. (kindly refer to the author’s books: “Be like Adam's [first] son”, and “law and religion”).

10 Many passages In the Bible imply that knowledge and justice produce comfort and peace of mind: (19My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. 20I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice) [Proverbs 8:19-20] (..when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.) [Proverbs 3:24].

11 "There is no true peace without fairness, truth, justice and solidarity," from the message of Pope John Paul II for the celebration of the world day of peace - January 1st, 2000.

12 (1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye," Matt 7, international version.

13 Matt 11, 15

14 The sight of the U.S. soldier Linda England with the dog and a the Iraqi prisoner in Abu Ghraib's prison in Iraq reminds us of the time of Roman gladiators.

15 In the Quran: "O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! You have nothing (as regards guidance) till you act according to the (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel), and what has (now) been sent down to you from your Lord (the Quran)," [Quran 5:68].

16 ((The laws of those who have passed and you will not find an alteration to God’s laws)) [Quran 33:62].

17 Considering time limitation I am not discussing this matter in detail, however it forms a complete methodology in Quran.

18 I believe that the human mind is capable of creating a trade among humans that serves all that is not death trade. Some win by spilling blood but has disastrous consequences for all; results in a state of fear, worry and horror that spreads over the world as it is in the war on terrorism.