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J.R. Gentile: On Islam - Interfaith Youth Forum in New York

Address to the Symposium in Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA

Bismillah ir rahman ir rahim.

Juliet Rabia GentileThe religious perspective is to see all beings as equal under God, regardless of racial, cultural, or ideological differences. The religious instinct is to resist the forces of negativity and turn towards goodness and love.

These universal values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a secular pact meant to forge and protect basic human rights for humanity. These universal values can also be found in the holy books: the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an.

The Shari'ah or law is the operative formula by which Muslims determine what is good or ethical conduct. One etymology for the word Shari'ah in Arabic provides an image of a “well worn path leading to water.” The Shari'ah is also known as the “life-giving law.” Life-giving, as water is life-sustaining.

Life is the point at which equality and human rights begin in sacred Islamic cosmology. In the Qur'an it is recorded that before life begins, a covenant is pledged between all souls and their Lord in the realm of pre-eternity. In Quranic verse, 172 of Surah A’raf, God asked the souls,

Am I not your Lord?
To which they respond,
Yes, we witness it!


This is the original promise of the human essence to God, and it exists without measure within each of us. It is our life-sustaining force. It is we who turn away from it in ignorance or deny it to others.

The true gift of religion is sincerity. We must seek sincerity, to the best of our ability, at whatever level of awareness we are capable, and at all times being watchful of what we say and think, knowing that each thought, each word which we speak plants a seed in our hearts. The mystical path of Islam states this very clearly.

The human being is the vice-regent of God on the physical plane of being. The human heart is a fertile field of cultivation, the guide. It is up to us what we allow to grow within our hearts, whether love or hate. It is our duty as human beings to consider the fruits of our actions, thoughts, intentions, and the outcomes of those actions. This is true for both individuals on the microcosmic level and for communities on the macrocosmic level, whether they be religious communities or nation-states. The commitment to truth and justice is explicitly stated in the Quranic Surah al Nissa, verse 135, which states:

My cherished lovers who have turned toward your own True Source, be utterly committed to justice. Allah Most High is the Living Truth, and you should always witness to the truth on every level, even when your personal interests or those of your family and friends must be sacrificed. Whether rich or poor, all persons must receive equal justice, for Allah Most Merciful is equally present to all.

Within all the holy books the call to justice and equity is clear. By placing aside differences and forging intra-religious and inter-religious ties we can utilize the powerful force of good contained in the religions. Beyond the Abrahamic faiths, we know that eastern religions such Buddhism and Jainism, to name two, have powerful traditions of social justice and extend the reach of equity to all beings, even trees and insects.

Secular institutions such as the United Nations, with its goal of preserving a social order which places at its center the fundamental rights and dignity of the human being, can utilize the religious perspective, which shares this vision. In fact, the religious perspective, or at least the mystical path, may prove even more effective in highlighting this fundamental equality because it does not concern itself with the world and its classifications, but rather seeks to transcend these back to an original state of unity with God.

We are constantly reminded in the Qur'an that we are the ones who must be the origins of justice, truthfulness, and good in our own lives first, so that this justice may emanate out into our respective communities to the entire human family.

Sural Nissa ends with the injunction:

My dear human beings who long to be truly human, you must never act capriciously or evasively but always in deep accord with the principles of justice revealed by Allah Most Wise, Who is fully aware of every intention of every being on every plane of Existence.

As so many have stated, "We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Justice, truth, and sincerity begin with us. We have the power to form institutions which echo this vision.

Thank you very much and God bless you!