By Kgalalelo Nganje
Many wars and conflicts around the world are attributed to religious factions, mostly owing to the depiction by the media. This is despite the fact that most religions have significant teachings on peace and their followers are largely involved in peacekeeping work. An interrogation of the teachings of these religions reflects the sacredness of especially human life. Therefore any activity that goes against or endangers the life of a person is counteracted by either an appeal to God (through prayer or making sacrifices maybe) or reconciliatory measures.
In Islam for example, one of the common teachings is the greeting word Assalamu-’Alaikum which simply means peace be upon you, while Christianity has the greeting of Shalom – meaning “peace”, that is a holistic vision of material and spiritual fulfilment for humanity. Similarly, Shalom in Judaism denotes a sense of completion and satisfaction. These give a sense that peace is the well wish for everyone, as the primary point of contact in the social spaces of people who share in the same beliefs of these religions. Hence it doesn’t make sense for conflicts to be attributed mainly to religious groupings or premised on their doctrines. However, on the point of view that conflict is an inevitable part of life, it will be interesting to review how the alluded religions’ principles and values uphold the notion of peaceful co-existence.
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From the very word Islam the act of surrendering and propagation of peace is derived. The word Islam, as Azmat Zuberi (2006) posits, “comprises a broader and complete sense of the religion of Islam and its purpose for the believer.” And in this a fundamental depiction of the Islamic religion; not only are the followers compelled to be at peace with the creator (Allah) but are also called to be at peace with fellow human beings in the entire world. And even in the midst of hypocrisy and double standards, such as some followers of the religion engaging in what is usually termed ‘holy war’, the Holy Qur’an explicitly states that ‘It may be that Allah will bring about love between you and those of them with whom you are now at enmity… Allah forbids you not respecting those who have not fought against you on account of your religion, and who have not driven you out from your homes, that you be kind to them and deal equitably with them; surely, Allah loves those who are equitable’ – Holy Qur’an, 60:8-9. Furthermore, it states that ‘the taking of one innocent life is like taking all of Mankind… and the saving of one life is like saving all of Mankind’ – Holy Qur’an, 5:33. Drawing from these teachings of striving for peace, it can be deduced that there is not enough justification for Islam followers to wage war and engage in violent conflicts that could result in the killing of people.
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Despite the common understanding of peace as the absence of war or conflict, Christianity has developed ideas around peace through its teachings that espouse the concept of peace as personal wholeness, corporate righteousness, political justice and prosperity for all creation. This perception is illustrated in the book of Genesis in the Bible of the life led by the first creations of God, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden within which peace reigned between the Creator and His creatures, creatures and nature and amongst themselves.
The Bible then goes on to teach that obtaining peace within oneself (inner peace) is more important than prohibiting warfare. It could be deduced therefore that according to the Christian point of view, war would not even exist should people be at peace with themselves. Some of the teachings of peace drawn from the scripture and probably the most profound are found in the New Testament of the Bible. One that is perhaps considered a classic statement made by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount is ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ found in Matthew 5:9 (Roberts, 2010). This high regard of peace-making in the teachings of Christianity continues to be echoed in some of the passages in the New Testament including: ‘Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification’ Roman 14:19, ‘Bind yourselves together with peace’- Ephesians 4:3 and ‘Try to live in peace with everyone’ Hebrew 12:14. Similarly, in Philippians 2:1-11 in the Bible, Christians are called to live a life that exemplifies that of Christ in being loving and humble, and most importantly putting other people’s interests before theirs.
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In Judaism peace is an ideal state of affairs and represents the opposite of war. It is therefore a paramount value and remains the highest aspiration for Judaism (Steinmetz, 1997). Although Judaism recognises both ‘a time of war and a time of peace’ as stipulated in Ecclesiastes 3:8, Steinmetz (1997) recognises that the entire Torah (Judaism Holy Book) is based on the value of peace. The Torah teaches that it is important to ‘search for peace and pursue it’ and actually demands this of followers of Judaism – Psalm 34:15 (Steinmetz, 1997). Similarly, Deuteronomy points out that a peaceful solution must be sought before waging any battle.
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The philosophical underpinnings of peace in Hinduism are drawn primarily from the principle of Ahimsa that espouses an idea of respect for all living things and avoidance of violence towards others. This principle goes beyond just condemning the act of killing, to include prohibition of subtle abuse and causing simple hurt either through words, deeds or one’s thoughts. In the realisation that other religions hold a perception of an existence of both evil and good in the world, the Hindu consider this sacrilege due to the belief that the former (existence of evil) has the potential to create attitudes that could lead to injuring those perceived to be bad and provide space for justification of engaging in “righteous wars” (Hinduism Today Magazine, 1996).
Therefore Hinduism teaches that should anyone desire to engage in violent acts and cause suffering, which is completely against what Hinduism stands for, must be aware that ‘all suffering recoils on the wrongdoer himself’. Thus, this somehow serves as a deterrent to those who are prone to causing others pain. The Hindu that is consciously aware of these teachings therefore strives to realise the wisdom of the laws by upholding sacredness of every living being. Furthermore, a peace mantra by Upanishads that goes ‘Let us all enjoy together,
may all of us work together,
and let our study become radiant, let there be no hatred between us. Peace, Peace, Peace’ calls for forging of peaceful relations. It is encouraged in Hinduism that people should constantly introspect in order to find total peace within them and emit it into the world through peaceful actions (Sundararaman, internet source).
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Like all the abovementioned religions, at the core of Buddhism is the teaching of peace. One of the fundamental laws and teachings in Buddhism is the law of Karma or principle of dependent origination that emphasizes the interdependence and interconnectivity of all things that exist in the universe, where the ultimate teaching of establishing and maintaining peace stems from. The Buddha teaches that based on the this law, the attainment of a happy and peaceful life begins with oneself by avoiding causing harm to others either physically or verbally as these could in turn breed hatred and conflicts (Theresa Der-lan Yeh, internet source). This is respectively captured in quotes found in the Dhammapada 18 and 8 ‘all fear death and none are unafraid of sticks and knifes. Seeing yourselves in others, do not kill, do not harm’ and ‘bad words blaming others, arrogant words humiliating others; from these behaviours comes hatred and resentment hence conflicts arise rendering people malicious thoughts’ (Theresa Der-lan Yeh, internet source).
Building on these teachings, a Buddhist’s point of view is that the teaching of correct and ethical behaviour such as ‘good deeds lead to good consequences while bad deeds lead to bad behaviour’ and a cultivation of a culture of training our minds to be at peace will in the process cause us to generate peace in the world (Epstein, 1998). Furthermore, Epstein (1988) indicates that ‘the most fundamental moral precept in Buddhist teaching is respect for life and the prohibition against taking life’ bearing in mind that all living things desire to live and are afraid of death.
In conclusion, from the preceding discussions, it is important to note that the attainment of peace somewhat puts one in the level of piety and therefore it is imperative to aim for this ultimate in a bid to preserve the world and everything in it. This is to say that the abovementioned teachings set peacemaking within the religion’s context and urge followers to take the messages and substance of peace into the whole world.
Azmat, Z (2006) ‘The Most Peaceful Teachings are in the Religion of Islam’ Available online at: http://www.danielpipes.org.
Epstein, R (1988) ‘Buddhists ideas for attaining world peace’ Lectures for the Global Peace Studies Program, San Francisco State University, November 7 & 9, 1988.
Hinduism Today Magazine (1996) ‘Hindu Ethic Of Nonviolence’ Available online at: www.hinduismtoday.com.
Roberts, M. D (2010) ‘Seeking the Peace of Christ: Christianity and Peacemaking’ Available online at: www.patheos.com.
Steinmetz, R. C (1997) ‘Jewish Law Commentary Examining Halacha, Jewish Issues and Secular Law: Reflections on War and Peace’ Available online at: http://www.jlaw.com.
Sundararaman, C (internet source) ‘What Hinduism has to offer the World Peace’ Available online at: http://www.circleofpeaceonline.org.