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A.J. Sajid: Common Moral Grounds for the Common Good

 Presentation at a conference on “Religion and Peace in the Middle East: the Significance of Interfaith Cooperation”
Jerusalem, Israel - August 26-28, 2012
Published in UPF's interfaith journal Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 26, No. 2, Fall 2012
Theme: Religion and Peace in the Middle East

Bismillah Hir Rahma Nir Rahim (I begin with name of God the Most Kind, the Most Merciful). I greet you with the greetings of Islam. Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God’s blessing and peace be with us all).

Commonality among religions is, for some, a highly contentious issue and especially for leaders of a particular religion who assert the truth of their own religion and reject the truth-claims of other religions. This is quite common especially among those religions which believe in conversion. Conversion is possible only when the truth-claim of one’s own religion is established. In one of the inter-faith conferences, a religious leader said we do not accept pluralism as it implies the truth of all religions; we accept only co-existence. Of course co-existence with reservations about the truth-claim of other religions is certainly better than existence with conflict, but accepting the truth-claim of all religions is much higher than mere co-existence. In deciding whether to accept truth-claims we generally go by popular practices rather than scriptural scriptures. Muslims and Christians, for example, judge Hinduism by the idol worship of Hindus, and since Islam and Christianity reject idol worship, their leaders tend to discredit it.

Similarly, other religions reject the truth-claims of Islam and Christianity and they too form their opinion on the basis of what they observe from popular practices among Muslims and Christians. The question is: is this a valid way of judging the truth-claim of religions? Are popular practices necessarily supported by scriptural sources, and where do these popular practices come from?

Some religions are totally indigenous and some are universal, though carry imprints of indigenous culture. But no religion, however universal, can be completely devoid of local cultural influences. But religions which are universal transcend indigenous cultural practices and incorporate universal principles and values. If we take these universal principles and values and compare them, we will find very little difference in religions.

Thus a student of comparative religion should be very careful while comparing any two or more religions and should clearly distinguish between popular practices which are more cultural than religious and core philosophy and values. Let us take Hinduism and Islam. We normally associate Hinduism with polytheism and Islam with monotheism, Hinduism with multiple gods and goddesses and Islam with one God (called tawhid).

Much controversy arises or is made out of the question of values; what is meant by ‘values’? Which values are good and which bad, if any? Which values are to be tolerated even if their rightness is controversial? Has one a right to express and teach values? Can any science or doctrine be neutral with regard to values? These are key issues of psychological and social development, not facts merely to observe and describe. The essential goodness of human nature is ultimately something for us to reach out to together, through discovering, experiencing, and further developing it personally. Progress in this direction invokes many kinds of feedback from others in one’s personal sphere of experience, which strengthens the conviction that, despite all, values are a human heritage, while anti-values are but the result of ignorance as to our heritage and shortcomings in so far discovering and pursuing our true destiny, whether individually or collectively.

The question that preoccupies us as implied by the theme is this: Can we find a common ground on which Muslims and non-Muslims stand comfortably in a democratic and pluralist society? My answer is a resounding yes. The Qur’an directs the Muslims to find a common ground with other religious communities. This common ground is expressed as a mutual respect of the freedom and autonomy of different religious communities, and none should appropriate to themselves the right to impose their way of life on other religious communities. The Qur’an is also clear that there can be no force in matters of religion. The Qur’an urges Muslims to seek a political order based on peaceful cooperation and mutual respect, and warns them against placing religious solidarity over covenanted rights and the principles of justice

Religious conflict, particularly between Islam and Christianity in the past, or more recently in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, more often than not rose out of human excesses and the desire to stir religious passion to support political goals. It is true that these Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) advance a slightly different conceptualization of God and of humanity’s relation to the divine, but doctrinal differences are not limited to inter-religious relationships. One can find more doctrinal diversity within each of these world religions that between them.

Muslims, Jews, and Christian share similar core values of respect of human life and dignity, and profound commitment to charity and the common good. There are five common values in all major religions and faiths of the world. To say that honesty and sincerity, compassion and love, sacrifice and selflessness, a sense of justice and a sense of fairness, patience and perseverance are values which all religions cherish is to state the obvious. Likewise, there is no religion that does not regard human dignity and mutual respect, modesty and humility, moderation and restraint, a sense of balance, and a sense of propriety as vital aspects of a flourishing civilization. Industry and diligence are important attributes. So are kindness and courtesy. The world has become a fairly stable multi-religious society as a result of political, economic, and cultural policies and arrangements which have sought to accommodate the interests and aspirations of the different communities. But there are new challenges, which demand new strategies for bridging the chasm that separates the communities. Harnessing the common values embodied in the religions of the nation is one such strategy that deserves our consideration.

Golden Rule

“Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” It is noteworthy that most religions base their moral code on the highly effective Golden Rule:

  • Baha’i: And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. -- Lawh’i ‘Ibn’i Dhib, “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf” 30
  • Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful. -- Udana-Varga, 5:18
  • Christianity: In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. -- Matthew 7:12
  • Confucianism: Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you. -- Analects 15:13
  • Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others, which would cause you, pain if done to you. -- The Mahabharata, 5:1517
  • Islam: Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. -- Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13. (This moral code is also a version of the Golden Rule. It is very ineffective. It is obeyed very selectively and ambiguously. Clearly, it is based on the unrealistic assumption that your brother has precisely the same needs and wants as you do.)
  • Jainism: A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. -- Sutrakritanga 1:11:33
  • Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary. -- Talmud, Shabbat 31a
  • Native American: Respect for all life is the foundation. -- The Great Law of Peace
  • Sikhism: Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself. -- Adi Granth
  • Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. -- T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien
  • Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. -- Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5

If we wish to live in harmony with others and never give rise to a conflict with others, we must convert the Golden Rule into practice: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself.”

Some Common Moral Values

As a Muslim I believe that faith in the broadest sense includes all that is good in life, and Islam emerged as a moral challenge for humanity to respond to the call of the faith with active submission to Divine Will, with a commitment to obey the Creator in providing welfare to all beings in the society without any consideration to race, gender, language, color, culture, physical build, or ethnic origin. The goal of Islam - of its concepts, worship, and teachings relating to values, attitudes, morals, and behavior - is to create an Islamic personality of an individual Muslim preparing himself for a wider role in this life. Belief in Islam is not a simple assent to a dogma. All Islamic beliefs have a reference to an action. Good actions become a part of Islamic faith, which leads to a more virtuous life. Man is thus accountable for his own actions and behavior. Humans have the responsibility to choose and implement a moral and righteous life in obedience to God’s commandments for common good

The Holy Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet of Islam strongly suggest that faith without the backing of good deeds is meaningless. Faith based on Aqida (belief system) leads towards good deeds and good deeds prepare a man for a full Islamic personality. Islamic concepts of Taqwa (God consciousness), Falah (well being), and Hayat Tayyibiah (good life) facilitate the realization of an Islamic personality - when a Muslim seriously pursues the broader goals of the creation believing that mankind is but one community and striving hard with others for freedom, justice, and peace. It is upon an individual Muslim to build Islamic qualities, values, and morals, such as brotherliness, sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, pursuit of knowledge, responsibility, integrity, fair dealing, keeping promises, discipline, and self-control, humility, patience, courage, thankfulness, modesty, honor and self-respect, warmth and lovingness, generosity, hospitality, charitableness, kindness, helpfulness, respect, tolerance and mutual understanding, obeying the commandments, and abstaining from the prohibitions. These attributes transcend religious belief.

Collectively on a community level, a Muslim’s obligation is to establish what is right and eradicate what is wrong; strive for an Islamic identity supporting, promoting, and protecting a Muslim way of family life; and deal with health and educational issues and for the creation of a condition wherein perseverance of mutual compassion and well-being prevail for the benefit of the individual. On national and international levels, a Muslim must work towards a better and peaceful world. With their own actions and deeds they can dispel myths and misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. The Muslim community has a great responsibility in promoting the teaching of Islam and its values as a part of a global Muslim Ummah (world community). Muslims must squarely confront the reality of secular trends and adopt a different approach in their strategy in a minority setting of Darul Ahad (domain of alliance and treaty agreement) from the majority setting of Darul Islam (domain of peace) where Muslims have power and authority over their own affairs.

In most democratic societies the following common moral values are agreed upon:

Peace and mutual respect
Democracy and rule of law
Tolerance and acceptance
Freedom, security, and justice
Solidarity and inclusiveness
Equality and fairness to all
The extension of human rights
Inclusive and just society
Democratic participation and citizen engagement

The Holy Qur’an says that “Thus to every people have We made their deeds fair-seeming; then to their Lord is their return so He will inform them of what they did.” (6:109)

The Qur’an emphasizes morality and higher values of life. These values – truth, justice, doing good to people, compassion, and wisdom, are shared by all other religions and form an important part of their commonality. In order to establish commonality one can quote verses from the Qur’an and other scriptures and point out that differences in worshipping rituals and other rituals are more because of different cultural practices than because of religious doctrines, and beliefs and are more of a secondary nature than fundamental nature. The Sufis, who stressed spiritual and liberative aspects of religion, recognized this and instructed their followers to respect all religions, languages, and cultures. Unfortunately, various kinds of vested interests use religion for power and self and lay stress on differences rather than commonalities.

We should also remember that differences (due to culture or whatever other reasons) should not breed hostility but should lead to deepening and enriching our thoughts and enable us to live in mutual harmony and peace. Without some kind of differences, this world will become monotonous and boring, and differences test our capacity to tolerate. While recognizing differences we should also understand commonalities, and it is the tension between differences and commonalities which makes our lives rich and vibrant.

Islamic Foundations for Diversity and Pluralism

Through my reading of the sacred text of the Qur’an and Sunnah, I have come to conclusions that are relevant to the application of the Qur’an to contemporary society, particularly with regard to democracy and pluralism. First, one of the core principles of Muslim belief is shura, which means consultation. This was how the Prophet consulted with his companions on making decisions for his society. In the Qur’an, shura is mentioned twice, as a fundamental belief, just like prayer, and as a practice, according to the time in which one lives. In our times, genuine shura means genuine pluralism of points of view and democracy. Second, this view of shura changes the concept of Jihad, which we hear so much about from the fundamentalists.

The foundations out of which an Islamic perspective on any topic should arise are nothing less than the authentic sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Both the Qur’an and the Hadith embrace and affirm Ikhtilaf, i.e., differences in belief, perspectives, and viewpoints, as being natural and an essential part of the human condition. A denial of the right of others to hold beliefs and views which are different and incompatible to one’s own is tantamount to a denial of Allah himself. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah, the Sublime, declares:

If your Lord had so desired, all the people on the earth would surely have come to believe, all of them; do you then think, that you could compel people to believe? (10:99)

And again in the Qur’an, Allah, the Sublime, declares:

And had your Lord so willed, He could surely have made all human beings into one single community: but [He willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views. (11:118)

Both of these verses establish the principle of freedom of belief, thought, and expression in Islam. At the conclusion of the first verse, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is himself reproved for transgressing this principle by being over-enthusiastic in convincing others with regard to the truth of Islam. Thus the Qur’an stresses that the differences in beliefs, views and ideas of humankind are not incidental and negative but represents an Allah-willed, basic factor of human existence. The challenge which the principle of freedom of belief and thought in Islam holds for us is to develop clear ethics and find mechanisms to manage and deal with the differences of beliefs and theologies that exist. This is the challenge that religious pluralism holds for us. All basic freedoms (freedom of religions, freedom of speech, freedom from fear [prejudice and hatred], and freedom from want [hunger/starvation]) have been guaranteed by God Almighty to all creations irrespective of their place of birth. Islam plays great importance to human dignity and civil society based on rule of law.

Islam is a religion of peace and justice. This fact is borne out by both Islamic teachings and the very word Islam. The term Islam essentially means to submit and surrender one’s will to a higher truth and a transcendental law, so that one can lead a meaningful life informed by the divine purpose of creation, and where the dignity and freedom of all human beings can be equally protected. Islamic teachings assert the basic freedom and equality of all peoples. Islam stresses the importance of mutual help and respect, and directs Muslims to extend friendship and good will to all, regardless of their religious, ethnic, gender, cultural, linguistic, or racial background.

Islam, in fact, promotes peace at every greeting which Muslims exchange whenever they meet by saying, “Peace be unto you” (Assalamu ‘Alaykum). The Muslim also utters this statement at the end of every ritual prayer. From its inception, the Qur’an emphasized peace as an intrinsic Islamic value. In fact, the terms “Islam” and “peace” have the same root, salaam. Furthermore, God has chosen the word peace (salaam) as the Muslim’s greeting to remind believers that it is one of God’s attributes.

Islam commands Muslims to be just and fair in all circumstances even if it may go against oneself or their next of kin. The universe is constructed on what the Qur’an calls the mizan, or a balance. That balance is justice. The Glorious Qur’an says:

And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance [of Justice], In order that ye may not transgress [due] balance, so establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. (55:9)

Justice is essential to maintain the balance of the human mind. Whenever any human being is deprived of justice, the mind is inclined to imbalance. The greater the injustice, the greater is the likelihood of imbalance. That is the reason the Glorious Qur’an warns against allowing hatred to cloud one’s judgment and sense of justice. The verses of the Qur’an confirm the uncompromising stand on justice:

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts [of your hearts], lest you swerve, and if you distort [justice] or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (4:135)

Forgiveness: A different outlook and a new start. In Islamic history one may find an outlook of a different nature. When the Romans conquered any country, the first thing they would do is massacre. When the Muslims entered any country, they would give guarantees of life, property, and honor to all the non-belligerents. Even in war Muslims are not allowed to kill an old person, a woman, children, or those who are crippled or disabled. Not only that, even trees are not to be cut and crops are not to be burnt. The entirety of Islamic history does not know of the concept of mass killing or massacre of enemies. One cannot find one single example of any inquisition or ethnic cleansing on the name of Islam.

I draw your attention to look to the actions of the Holy Prophet of Islam when he entered Makkah as victor. Everyone was offered amnesty and complete forgiveness. When Caliph Umar entered Jerusalem he was not even prepared to pray in a church for fear that those who came after him may treat the place as a mosque and take it away from the Christians. But when the Crusaders took the city of Jerusalem there was a total massacre of the population. What happened in Spain? Not a single Muslim or Jew was left unexecuted or un-exiled. It was the same in Sicily where all the mosques were demolished. Even in the last century the same practice was adopted in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya and many other parts of the world.

Islam condemns and rejects all forms of terror, killing without due process of law, injustice, corruption, tyranny, and oppression. There is no justification for the usage of terms such as “Islamic terrorists.” As a Muslim we must take account of deeds by other Muslims in the name of Islam. I feel ashamed when I hear that Muslims are breaking the law of Islam. I sincerely apologize to those who have suffered due to any senseless actions of so-called Muslims. I seek forgiveness from Allah for any mistake done and ask forgiveness from my fellow beings. However, we must find the root causes of the challenges of terrorism, hatred, and hurt.

Diversity is recognized, appreciated, and celebrated. Islam presents the concept that all human beings are equal and we are equal because we are all creatures of God with no distinctions of color, race or country, or tribe or clan, or anything else. One would find that fanaticism is generated in the last analysis from any of these false prejudices, when you try to group humanity into certain watertight compartments. One cannot change the color of his skin; one cannot change his place of birth. If one believes in any of these standards, then rational fusion of the human race is not possible and you become intolerant towards others.

In Islam, rational fusion is possible whatever your tribe, race, or color. Whatever territory you might be born in, whatever language you speak, you are one, you can be one. You belong to one race, the human race; one family, the human family. You belong to one brotherhood. Diversity among fellow human beings must be recognized, appreciated, and valued in all aspects of life. The majority community is always judged by the way it treats its minority community.

Ends cannot justify means. Another point is that Islam is very unique and firm in asserting that the ends cannot justify the means. Fanaticism and intolerance have most often come from the mistaken belief that the ends justify the means. This means that to achieve even good ends you can resort to evil means. The principle that Islam has enunciated is that “Good and bad are not equal. Replace evil by good.” (Qur’an 41:34)

If you fight falsehood with falsehood it is falsehood that prevails. If you replace vice with vice, it is vice which triumphs. If you change evil by evil, it is evil which is victorious. Islam says that evil is to be eliminated by good. If you pursue this technique then you would be able to fill the earth only with goodness, justice, peace, and feeling for humanity. Islam has struck at the roots of fanaticism. If you reflect upon the system that Islam has given, you would find that fanaticism has no place in it and that idealism is the lifeblood of it. In the Qur’an it has been mentioned that the mission for which this Muslim nation has been created is to call people to goodness. As far as the wrong (munkar) is concerned, you are permitted to eliminate it. But as far as the truth and virtue (ma’ruf) is concerned, it is not to be enforced by power.

One can very easily see that Islam has clearly discriminated between idealism and fanaticism. It has done everything to generate in us a real, noble, virtuous idealism, and to protect us from the evil influences of fanaticism. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said that Islam is a religion of the middle path.

The Holy Qur’an has called the Muslim nation Ummat al-Wusta, the people of the middle and model nation, the people who maintain balance and equilibrium in all their affairs. Adhering to idealism, protecting and avoiding the extremes of fanaticism - this is the middle path and it is this path to which Islam invites all humanity. Through education, diplomacy, dialogue, and firmness Muslims are urged to deal with extremism and fanaticism in the world.

We are dealing with a very serious problem of hatred, fear, and prejudice. Deep-rooted hatred can only be fought with dignity, diplomacy, education, understanding, and dialogue. Unless the roots of hate are addressed there will be irrational people who will continue to commit such heinous evil crimes against humanity. Let all sensible people stand for peace and justice and make concerted efforts to eliminate all injustices and exploitations in their part of world. I believe that without a revival of moral values, nurturing a shared sense of forgiveness and understanding we may face an even greater challenge. We must pray to overcome hatred and violence in ourselves. Let us rededicate ourselves to peace, human dignity, and the eradication of the injustices that breed rage and vengeance. It requires multi-religious co-operation of all decent people from all shades and all sections of our communities from all over the globe.

Global Ethics and Interfaith Dialogue

In 1993, the Parliament of the World’s Religions adopted a declaration called Towards a Global Ethic, affirming that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the world’s religions and that this core should form the basis of a global ethic. The principles of the global ethic include:

No new global order without a new global ethic
A fundamental demand: every human being must be treated humanely
Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life
Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order
Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women
Transformation of consciousness

The final principle is quite interesting and deserves some additional attention. The declaration describes this point as follows:

Historical experience demonstrates the following: Earth cannot be changed for the better unless we achieve a transformation in the consciousness of individuals in public life. The possibilities for transformation have already been glimpsed in areas such as war and peace, economy, and ecology, where in recent decades fundamental changes have taken place. This transformation must also be achieved in the area of ethics and values. Every individual has intrinsic dignity and inalienable rights, and each also has an inescapable responsibility for what she or he does or does not do. All our decisions and deeds, even our omissions and failures, have consequences.

Human rights, civil society, and rule of law. As Muslims, our starting point lies in revelation, which is addressed to humanity in its entirety. The Qur’anic paradigm acknowledges human diversity (49:13) but insists that human beings are born with an inner propensity (fitra) that, if appropriately nurtured, drives each and every one of us on a perpetual quest for truth and beauty. Islamic Law (Shariah) exists to facilitate our individual and collective quests to realize such truth in our lives.

The basic understanding of human rights, whether arrived at through secular rationalistic modification of natural law (as is the case with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) or through a faith-based approach (as is the case with the Universal Declaration of Islamic Human Rights), reaches broadly similar overall conclusions. Some of the major ideas associated with democracy and human rights are in harmony with Islamic thought. The rule of law, a cardinal principle of democratic governance, is central to Islamic jurisprudence. Centuries ago, Islam recognized that all decisions, acts, and procedures of public authorities at “all levels cannot be valid or legally binding save to the extent they are consistent with the law.” This is, of course, linked to the concept of “due process.” As in any society based upon democratic norms and procedures, Islamic law states that “you cannot deprive a man of life, liberty or property except by due process of law.” The emphasis given to virtuous, honest, and upright rulers themselves should not obscure us to the other side of Muslim history.

The tension, however, lies in the societal manifestation of such rights and freedoms. In liberal cultures, such as those found in the post Judeo-Christian west, the plane of emphasis is primarily on safeguarding the rights of individual expression. More traditional societies, in which religion still exerts greater authority, will tend to emphasize the importance of protecting societal interests (c.f. Qur’an 3:104 and 3:110). This latter phenomenon is of course hardly surprising since the term “religion” is linguistically derived from the Latin religio meaning “to bind.”

It should thus be possible, irrespective of our starting points, to agree on many areas of common cooperation. These include, above all, a commitment to seeking truth, respecting the right of individuals to hold the beliefs that they do, and a commitment to promoting peace and mutual understanding. The media, as perhaps the most powerful force in the world today, can and must be central to driving forward this common agenda.

I am reminded of the words of Professor Hans Kung: “No peace among nations without peace among the religions and no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.” I add “No peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness and compassion.” Dialogue and agreement must be conscientiously applied and maintained, in order to create bonds of love, care, trust, and confidence. Its prerequisite is proper education and learning from one another. We must speak and act truthfully with compassion. We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. Every human being must be treated fairly, humanely, and with dignity without any fear or discrimination.

A group of concerned Muslims and non-Muslims, on the invitation of Prince Hassan Bin Talal, Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, and Dr. Cornelio Sommaruga met in Caux July 26-29, 2002 at Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland. I admire the work of Prince Hassan El Talal over the years for promoting better understanding between different faiths and advocating dialogue for resolving conflicts. His short book Continuity, Innovation and Change is a must read for every Muslim. I not only share his vision but also say that he represents true Islamic scholarship in the current debate on the issue of world peace. The building of peace requires an attitude of sanctity and reverence for life, freedom, and justice, the eradication of poverty, dissolution of all forms of discrimination, and the protection of the environment for personal and future generations. The ideals of peace include fundamental and global directives such as:

  • Do not kill, i.e., have respect for life;
  • Do not steal, i.e., deal honestly and fairly;
  • Do not lie, i.e., speak and act truthfully;
  • Do not commit sexual immorality, i.e., respect and love one another.

I confirm that Islam is a faith of moderation and girder of unity for all mankind and blessing for mankind because Islam promotes model communities where:

  • All of God’s creation – whether human, animal or the environment – is valued and respected;
  • People want more to serve others than to get what they can for themselves;
  • No one has too little or too much;
  • The right of others to disagree with us is respected;
  • People are sensitive and courteous to all.

Human dignity is an acknowledgement of the divine presence in each and every one of us and unites us into a single family. We believe in “Thinking globally but acting locally.” We live in an increasingly inter-netted world where it is now possible, thanks to the development of mass media, to communicate across language, cultural, and religious barriers to the extent that has never previously even been imaginable.

Yet, the paradox of our time is that despite these remarkable developments in IT and communication, there are important gulfs that separate people and in so doing, as recent international developments have shown, threaten the stability and security of our world.

It has been argued that from an Islamic viewpoint, there must be a common moral basis for mutual understanding both in general and in relation to the media. For Muslims, there is an imperative to understand the reasons underpinning diversity, recognize that this diversity is inherent within the Divine plan, commit to searching for truth and upholding justice, respect the rule of law, engage in dialogue, and, finally, where differences cannot be resolved through these means, respect differing viewpoints.

Such a framework is, I believe, in essence common to all refined moral codes. The world will not change for the better unless the conscience of individuals is changed first.

It is imperative that these differences or tensions are not buried out of the fear of political correctness. There is a need for us all to do more to understand the standpoints of those of other traditions, and this is unfortunately very true of many Muslims today who simplistically and often unfairly reject the western world and its media as being immoral and decadent.

Unity, diversity, and hope. We have seen that history has not ended and civilizations have not clashed even after September 11, 2001 and Gulf War I or II. Institutions, nations, groups, and all decent individuals must work together and shape the modern world as peaceful place. It is our collective responsibly to give the hope and make this happen.

We must pledge to be courageous defenders of peaceful teachings and interpretations of Islam, and to be exemplary peacemakers in our personal, family, and social conduct in order to promote a socially beneficial, peace-fostering, bridge-building, and nature-friendly way of life. Evil is not in the body. Evil is in the mind. Therefore, harm nobody. Just change the mind.

Lord You said and your word is true! Love is stronger than hate. O God Almighty You are peace and from You peace comes. Bestow upon all of us your peace and make our final destiny in your eternal abode of peace. Let there be respect for the earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for our past wrongs, and from now on a new start.

Imam Dr Mufti Abduljalil Sajid is the Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK.