Thursday, December 11, 2008

Working Together for Global Justice and Peace

Sometime in July, I was one of the panelists in an International Conference organised by USM's Centre for policy research (CenPRIS) - below is my write up on the talk. Another of my fellow speaker's article i posted earlier, he spoke from a Buddhist perspective ( )

This one is a little long for a blog, but do read on :)

Religious Communities Working Together for Global Justice and Peace
by Anas Zubedy

Default Settings and Framework

I attended a seminar on Islam and Scholarship recently. As one of the speakers mentioned about Shia Muslims, the person who sat behind me, another Muslim spontaneously uttered the words “Shia lak’nat’tul Allah” meaning “the Shias, may Allah curse them”. Now, this chap is a decent looking man, educated and holds a respectable position in his organization. Yet his spontaneous reaction to a fellow Muslim who does not belong to his mazhab or school of thoughts is one of hate not peace. What would his spontaneous reaction to people of the other faiths like Christians, Hindus and Buddhist be? How would he dispense justice?

Spontaneous reactions are important indicators as they act as a summary to what we have in our hearts and minds. An indication on how our brains are wired. Our spontaneous reactions are behaviors that have become habitual, when our minds respond without thinking. If our spontaneous reaction is always in the positive, we may lead a life with a positive outlook. And vice- versa. In short, spontaneous reactions are like a default setting.

Default setting is an end result. It has its beginning with our framework or worldview, the spectacles we use to see the world, how we see reality, a set of beliefs which we take as the truth. Our framework is almost always culturally constructed. Every society and culture has its own theory and set of beliefs which it takes as the truth. With time and practice, a particular behavior generated from the initial framework will form habits and default settings.

This article will argue that for Religious Communities to work together for global justice and peace, we need to have a practical step by step approach to change the framework and default settings of many people of the various faiths. A setting that has been set for centuries, accepted without much contest or reflections. Yet, this article will show that to be successful our change endeavor must start at the micro level - our focus is with the Individual – changing people one at a time. Starting with ourselves!

Approach and Limitations

Guide us the straight way (Quran 1:6)

Firstly, my aim is to sell that central to the idea of working together towards justice and peace is the need to first reframe our worldview towards God, religion and the hereafter from one that is exclusive to one that is all inclusive.

Secondly, we need to bear in mind this need to find a framework where we can work together for global justice and peace not just between people of different faiths but also intra-religious membership. As the example in the beginning of this article has shown, the problem has an intra-religious flavor that may sometimes prove to be more vicious. History has shown that this intra-religious failing towards justice and peace is not confined to the Muslim community alone.

Thirdly, as a base for the discussion, I limit myself to the Muslim community. Therefore to support my arguments I will use the Quran as the authority. This is the logical approach if we want to change a Muslim’s point of you as ultimately a Muslim must judge by the Quran (Quran 6:19, 16:64, 7:158, 5:44). In other words, my reasoning and claim will follow a Quranic perspective in order to deal with its Muslim subjects. As I draw my case from the Quran, I will offer some clues on how Muslims missed the central message of the Quran- that Muslims must follow an all inclusive world view. It is my deepest hope that our brothers and sisters from the other faiths will also follow suit in drawing similar conclusion from their respective traditions, history and religious sources. You will find that this framework to be not just crucial in our modern world but also the most practical.

Fourthly, this article will follow a change approach usually found in change management work in business organizations. While the aim is to change society, the focus will start with the individuals. The mantra of thinking small usually brings more sure profit in the longer run than big plans. Business people especially those marketing oriented ones see this approach as crucial. It is like this, if you buy my idea, you start practicing the ideas in your daily life, your family, your circle of influence – then we have already moved a step forward.

Finally, a short article as this cannot do justice to a topic with such a large import. We will not be able to discuss key issues in change like resistance to change, change processes, nature and agents of change. At best this article can serve as a trigger point to those who read and share its ideas to reflect and initiate personal change.

The Core Message

“There are many lamps, but there is only one Light”

My take is this: A framework that seeks to monopolize God ie the need for the various groups/religious communities to be exclusive is the core problem that hinders justice and peace. This exclusive framework towards God and way of life lead to the belief that only those who are belonging to their own groups will be saved.

This framework slowly procreates a deeper necessity to differentiate between one group from the other and at the end will lead to the need to draw clear lines between them. This gives birth to an ‘us and them’ approach– A precursor to ‘us versus them’ attitude that will give birth to injustice and war.

To work together towards justice and peace we must first provide a new framework, an all inclusive one that binds all of us at the final count as one single community.

VERILY, [O you who believe in Me,] this community of yours is one single community, since I am the Sustainer of you all: worship, then, Me [alone]! But men have torn their unity wide asunder …(Quran 21:92-94).

Thus my core message is this.

If religious communities want to work together towards global justice and peace we must agree to adopt, practice and promote that;-


In other words, we must first agree that we are all venerating the same God in our own ways. Rumi summarize this framework nicely when he suggested, “While there are many lamps, there is only one light”.

The objective here is to make righteousness, faith and deed and not religious affiliation to any particular group as the criteria for salvation (Quran 5:48, 22:67, 7:26, 2:177).

In the next section I will attempt to show proof that this message is the message of the Quran. Later I will show that this awareness and knowledge of the Quranic message will form the initial steps to affect change towards working together for justice and peace.

The Quranic case for an all inclusive Islam.

“THE UNITY OF RELIGION AND THE QURAN – This great truth forms the primary basis of the Quranic call. Everything else that the Quran presents rest on it. If this fundamental is discarded, the entire framework of the Quranic message will get out of order. But the vagaries of history are strange. The greater the emphasis that the Quran lays on this truth, the stronger has been the inclination on the part of the world to sidetrack it. In fact no other truth of the Quran has been kept so deliberately out of sight than this”

Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad – (Tarjuman Al-Quran; the Opening chapter of the Quran pages 152-153)

And say: "The truth has now come [to light], and falsehood has withered away: for, behold, all falsehood is bound to wither away!" (Quran 17:81)

The Mawlana is right. Contrary to Quranic hidayah (guidance), Muslims today seems to not see Islam as a long lineage of religion starting from Adam and concluding with Prophet Muhammad (Quran 3:144). Instead Muslims today equate Islamic history with the advent of Prophet Muhammad thus making Islamic history almost synonymous with the history of the Arab people – negating all other spiritual traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, etc as emanating from the same Creator. The first step to an all exclusive Islam – a brand of Islam that breeds Muslims who slowly but surely draws clear lines with others to the point of cursing and branding even fellow Muslims who are not from their same school of thoughts as infidels not worthy of the Heavens.

Among those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects, each group delighting in but what they themselves hold [by way of tenets]. (Quran 30:32)

The Quran on the other hand suggest an all inclusive approach stressing Allah has sent messengers everywhere in the course of history; a few are named in the Quran, mainly those from the Abrahamic line while the rest are not mentioned at all. But definitely there were other messengers sent to other geographical areas like India, China, The Americas etc although the Quran strategically remain silent of any geographical locations so as to be all inclusive.

“We did aforetime send apostles before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee, and some whose story We have not related to thee. It was not (possible) for any apostle to bring a sign except by the leave of Allah …”(Quran 40:78 Also refer 4 : 164, 40 : 78, 21:25, 17:77, 43:6).

In fact, the Quran is so uncompromising of this all inclusive approach that it decreed that any Muslim, who does not accept even one of the messengers, named or unnamed, ceased being a believer! Muslims also cannot make any distinction between any of them.

Those who deny Allah and His apostles, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His apostles, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": And (those who) wish to take a course midway They are in truth (equally) unbelievers; and we have prepared for unbelievers a humiliating punishment, To those who believe in Allah and His apostles and make no distinction between any of the apostles, we shall soon give their (due) rewards: for Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful - (Quran 4 : 150-153 also refer 2 : 136, 3 : 84).

Thus, from the Quranic angle, Islam’s history is world history, not the history of the Arabs. The Quran’s version of mankind’s history started with Adam the first civilized homo-sapien - one who is endowed with the power of conceptual thoughts and language(Quran 2:31 – 33).

When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): … (Quran 7:172)
NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favoured them far above most of Our creation (Quran 17:70 also refer 7:31,2:33, 2:37, 7:27)

To stress this all inclusive approach deeper, the Quran made it very clear that Islamic and Muslim history must not be seen as starting from Prophet Muhammad as the Prophet himself was made to declare that he follows the religion of Abraham

We have inspired thee, [O Muhammad, with this message:] "Follow the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God; …(Quran 16:123 also refer Quran 16:20, 2:135, 3:95, 4:125, and 6:61).

From the Quranic standpoint Prophet Muhammad is not the founder of the religion. He was the seal, the final one, the prophet who came to conclude a long string of messengers from the very beginning of human history.

[And know, O believers, that] Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but is God’s Apostle and the Seal of all Prophets. And God has indeed full knowledge of everything (Quran 33:40)

To make it final, that Islam must be all inclusive, the Quran stressed that it is Allah not Prophet Muhammad who named Muslims, Muslim; long before the birth of the Prophet

And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); … (Quran 22:78)

If we use the Quran as its own witness, almost all of the history books on Islam whether written by Muslims or Non- Muslims that usually record Islam with the coming of Prophet Muhammad and making the Prophet as the founder of Islam run contrary to the Quranic stance. At best they are relating the history of the Arab people and how the Arabs impacted the world and built an empire base on their new faith, Islam. (Here is where the historian Albert Habib Hourani got it right by calling his book “A History of the Arab Peoples”).

It is the myopic view and basic assumption of Arab history as Islam’s history that over the years has steered Muslims to deviate from having a universal all inclusive approach towards Islam. Hence Muslims grew to be more and more exclusive rather than inclusive of all the other communities and spiritual traditions. This in turn makes Muslim society monopolistic towards God and the Heavens creating a clear dichotomy and an’ us and them’ approach negating the Quranic positionthat all who worship in the monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques are in essence venerating Allah.

… if Allah had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques - in [all of] which Allah’s name is abundantly extolled - would surely have been destroyed … (Quran 22:40)

and anyone who “believe, and those who follow the Jewish, and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Quran 2 : 62, also refer to 5 : 69). The Quran declared and confirmed all previous scriptures and dictate itself as a ‘watcher’ over them (Quran 5:48).

What are the effects of this myopic framework?

A myopic ‘us and them’ worldview translates into day to day actions that can breed injustice. The inability to be fair to the other side as since they are not like us, they don’t deserve what we deserve – for example in distributing of the zakat, non-Muslims who are poor and entitled to zakat by Quranic ruling (Quran 9:60) are excluded as beneficiary when Muslims draw a line between a Muslim poor and a non-Muslim poor.

This narrow view governs the daily lives by default setting to the point of absurdity. For example, one may feel more emotional pain when a tragedy occur to their ‘own kind’ as compared to the ‘other’ – like when a child is murdered in a foreign land by gunmen. In fact it is a norm that when hearing news of a tragedy, an accident, the default setting is to ask which community does the victim belong to, and, the depth of the reaction is then apportion based on affiliation! This default setting without doubt is not confined to Muslims alone. Can such a setting nurture justice and peace?

We need to facilitate individuals to move towards an all inclusive framework. When one has a more inclusive framework, the ‘us and them’ barrier falls apart fostering ways to share common values that can promote justice and peace. In fact, it is practical to say that with globalization, we can work towards the formation of a global society in the true sense of the term. It is no longer pragmatic to cocoon oneself into an exclusive society devoid of an international community sharing the same destiny. We need to view everyone’s history, each community’s problems, joys and achievement as our own. A collective past, present and future, a shared destiny where we work together towards justice and peace.

This approach is not new and has precedence in history. Take for example early Arab Muslims and earlier converts after the advent of Prophet Muhammad. They understood this all inclusive approach. They identify Islamic history as world history and become one with the earlier generations of Adam’s descendents, absorbing human history as theirs.

Viewing history and Islam as all inclusive, they became God’s children in true sense. They developed into universal beings. With that framework, they became free of myopic, bigoted and narrow mindedness; free to learn, borrow, modify, rejuvenate, innovate and built upon knowledge, technology and life skills from all over the world be they from the east, the west the north or the south and made them their own. Creating a civilization of excellence at a time when Europe was still slumbering in the Dark Ages.

Change and making it a lasting change – The Four Steps plus One model

In order to change and to make it a lasting one we will need to first help the target group reframe their current exclusive worldview into one that is all inclusive. Subsequently, we need to reset and rewire how the brain work to the point that at the default setting level one will have a positive spontaneous reactions towards both his or her inter and intra religious communities. One of peace and justice. This will need some time and will need to cover Four Steps plus One model of change.

Step 1 - Knowledge

The first is change in Knowledge. Without knowledge one will remain ignorant and know not about inclusiveness, about shared values and common grounds. This is the easiest stage as a book, seminar, multimedia presentations (videos, movies, and audio programs) can provide change in knowledge. These channels can be made available without much difficulty. In short, immerse ourselves with the knowledge about our own and the other communities to know and understand them. Make inter and intra religious knowledge abundantly available to fellow religious communities.

Step 2 – Attitude

The second step gets a little more difficult, attitude change. This is because attitude can fluctuate and it depends on situations. For example, a Hindu may have a positive or neutral attitude towards Muslims in general but the recent bombing by terrorist in Mumbai may alter his or her attitude towards the community. As such there is a need to build a mechanism for resilience in order to help maintain a positive attitude. This can happen when the motivation is internal, coming from within without allowing external stimuli to affect us. In the Mumbai terrorist example we can equip the Hindus with the Gandhian attitude of hating the sin and not the sinner or with knowledge and understanding (from step 1) that Islam does not permit such killings in the first place (Quran 5:32) and the terrorist is not being Islamic in the act.

Step 3 – Individual Behavior

The third endeavor gets much harder. The act to change behavior, how people act, react and do things. Attitude is at a mental stage; behavior translates what is hidden in the minds and hearts into actual practice. There is a difference. One may have positive attitude towards someone or something but yet fail to take positive action. An easy example is the act of keeping fit. One may have the knowledge to exercise like walking, jogging swimming, yoga etc (Step 1) and be positive about the benefits of working out (Step 2) but may fail to take action by actually applying knowledge and the positive attitude in doing exercises three times a week.

This step will take more time, energy and hard work. While we may have the knowledge and positive attitude and feel greatly towards our goal of an all inclusive world view, we may not be able to take action due to old habits or patterns that we are so familiar and so very comfortable with. It is at this stage that we need to check how much intensity we need to expend and add value to the task, be persistent stay on course and find alternative actions to meet the target. It is at this stage that we need to push ourselves. This is a crucial stage as only by repeated action can we create new habits and new default settings that will make us have a positive inclusive default setting.

Step 4 – Group Behavior

Step four is the hardest part. Changing the group behavior, like changing a church, the Malaysian government, a Hindu or Buddhist sect, an NGO, etc. Changing group behavior is the most demanding and complicated task as it requires a behavior change of every individual in the group. The effort required to change group behavior increases with the group size and the differences among the members of the group.

Plus One – Awareness, to complete the Four Steps plus One Model.

The first job of any change agent is to trigger awareness. Without awareness there will be no catalyst to change and we will remain stagnant. Awareness opens our eyes and we help us see new truth, new framework, and new worldviews. It provides us with new hope and new roads, new future.

Awareness provides an opportunity towards experiencing new realities and makes us mindful of things that we are not conscious of. It has the ability for infinite growth. For example, an awareness of a new worldview may in itself trigger further awareness in infinitum making our life experience richer and richer.

Awareness can take place in many ways. Step 1, Knowledge can trigger awareness. A Muslim who reads this article and become aware of the Quran’s call for an all inclusive message may be moved to change. A non-Muslim who reads it may change their viewpoint on Islam too. Step 2 can also trigger awareness; when a community starts to accept another in an all inclusive manner, with empathy; it may trigger an attitude change by the receiver community to act in similar manner.

Verily never will God change the fate (condition) of a people
until they change it themselves (Quran 13: 11)

Religious Communities who wants to work together as change agents for global justice and peace must trigger awareness towards an all inclusive worldview – and the best way to do so is self practice. Stop monopolizing God and stop preaching that only those who belong to a particular community that will be saved. The focus of change should be inward, our own selves. While it is tempting to demand others to change, it is more productive to be inwardly focused.

Like this, to move forward and make change effective, we can cluster our change efforts to three segments or groupings. The first group is at the macro level which includes the governments, inter-governmental groupings and international based organizations eg The Malaysian government, the OIC or the Roman Catholic Papacy.
Secondly, we can focus on the organizational level which includes groups like the church, temple, mosque, national level NGOs, societies, government bodies, work place formal and informal organizations (like the surau committee and cell groups etc.)

Finally the personal level; focus on changing our own default setting and working within the circle of people that is closest to us like our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors or anyone whom we meet on a personal basis. It is this third level that we need to give emphasis on. When the focus is at the personal level, we will be working at our most effective sphere of influence. The act can be immediate. It’s very productive.

In Conclusion

Unto every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship, which they ought to observe. Hence, [O believer,] do not let those [who follow ways other than thine] draw thee into disputes on this score, but summon [them all] unto thy Sustainer: for, behold, thou art indeed on the right way
(Quran 22:67)

In conclusion, I have suggested that the prerequisite of working together towards justice and peace, religious communities must first accept that not one community or tradition have a monopoly of God and the Heavens. That we all worship the same God in different ways. We may argue that our ways are more efficient but, all ways of life ought to be respected.

As agent of change we must first create an awareness of a need to not monopolize God. This we can do as I did here by going back to the religious text of the Quran. As I suggested earlier, I hope my Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and brothers from all the other traditions will do the same. Once we can trigger awareness, it is imperative that we provide knowledge, help change attitude, behavior and in the long run, group behavior.

I also suggested that it is best to start somewhere closer, by first changing ourselves.

O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any-one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (Quran 5:8)

O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God's claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do! (Quran 4:135)

Anas Zubedy

References and suggested reading;
1. The Message of The Quran ( A translation and explanation of the Quran) by Muhammad Asad
2. In Search of Human Nature – Mary E Clark - (2002)
3. The Opening Chapter of The Quran – Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad – (1962)
4. Major Themes of The Quran – Fazlur Rahman – (1980)
5. The Life of Muhammad – Muhammad Hussein Haykal – (1976)
6. Managing At The Speed Of Change – Daryl R. Conner – (1992)
7. Management: Task, Responsibilities, Practices – Peter F. Drucker – (1973)
8. The Concept of Belief in Islamic Theology – Toshihiko Izutsu – (1965)

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