Diversity – Benediction or Curse?

(This write up is from Faraz ul Islam, my colleague at QInvest)
We live in a supposedly enlightened world where certain clichéd issues are discussed at various forums, conferences, educational institutions and my personal favorite, the dinner table!  While I do not object to the fact that most of these issues truly deserve to merit serious consideration, I am however, extremely disappointed at how superficial such discussions usually are.

One unflagging topic for such discussions is the concept of diversity – Governments love talking about cultural diversity in their countries, business executives seem to relish the idea of touting the composition of their workforce as a classic example of diversity at workplace, actors tend to advertise their ability to play diverse roles and if that isn’t enough, writers like me choose diversity as a topic to write on as it is considered to be “meaningful” and “relevant” for our society! Having said that, it is interesting to note that there is only one group that has almost never talked about the need for accepting, appreciating and celebrating diversity – the religious scholars!

Whilst great emphasis is laid upon the need to appreciate cultural, age, gender, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, one aspect of diversity that is often ignored in discussion of this broad term is the diversity one can observe in religious beliefs and ideas. I have never come across any preacher, irrespective of the religion, who has appreciated diversity in religion. Throughout centuries, laws have been enacted, cities and countries have been created, cities and countries have been destroyed-wars have been fought; all to promulgate or protect one religion or another. Shylock might be a fictional character created by Shakespeare but if one looks around, there are thousand Shylocks amongst us. In less than a minute, a man can list down a plethora of differences between his religion and others but he
takes a lifetime to realize that at the end of the day, one’s relationship with God is as personal as one’s relationship with his lover.

No religion in this world, be it Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism or Sikhism exhorts its followers to force others to accept their belief, let alone the permission to kill in the name of religion! Belief in any religion is based on faith and faith can never be induced by force. It is important to have a cursory look at the absurd perception that in today’s world, Islam glorifies “terrorism”. The Holy Quran clearly says “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). In fact, the Holy Quran itself encourages the concept of diversity by saying “If God wished, He would have made you a single community, but he tests you according to what he has given you, so compete with each other in doing good. Your return is to God, and then He will let you know about that in which you differed.”(5:48). Thus, far from glorifying terrorism, Islam itself is a victim of terrorism today. Similarly the phrase “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is well known throughout the world as one of the Ten Commandments. Originating in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, this
phrase is seen as a reprimand against suicide, capital punishment, abortion and euthanasia and thus I fail to understand how the killing of thousands of Palestinians can be justified. In the small capacity of my mind and using my intellect and reason alone, I fail to comprehend why religious leaders choose not to encourage their followers to
respect other beliefs. One possible reason is the fear of ostracism. They seem to emulate the principles that most successful business managers follow: bigger their business empire, greater the job security and status! I acknowledge that my knowledge about religion is limited but even those who fashion themselves as experts of their religion have always failed to explain if God, the Creator of this universe, chose not to make mankind a single religious community, who gives them the authority to stab the phenomenon of diversity in religion. Most of them try to bluster their way through such discussions by arguing that no one has the right to question religion – Hence allow to me ask what gives anybody the right to question someone else’s religious thoughts? These are questions that have always remained unanswered and I reckon nothing will change. After all, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing and expecting a different result”!

However, if we can be magnanimous and accept our own narrow mindedness, these diversities that have brought a gap amongst human kind, would have a positive influence and make the world a more peaceful place to live in. Let us not bury are failures and instead let us get inspired by them. It is easy to blame any particular religion for the global chaos. Today, it is Islam in the line of fire;  tomorrow it could be Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism or any other religion.

Instead of playing the blame game, it is time that we change our own antiquated ideas and make a genuine effort to accept differences and diversity in religious thoughts.As Paulo Coelho says, “God has a thousand names – it is up to us which one to call him by”

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