Thursday, 12 May 2016

God looks at the heart

Last Thursday, the people of London elected a Muslim man as their Mayor. Sadiq Khan, son of immigrants from Pakistan, became the leader of this city of eight million people. This is not a figurehead role - the Mayor has real power. In electing someone from a minority group, Londoners have voted in the true spirit of the age.

Of course, in many ways it should not really matter which religion he follows – but in practice it does matter to a lot of people. However, Britain is not the only country where people from religious minorities can become mayors. In largely Muslim Turkey, for example, the city of Mardin has a Christian mayor. So does Djakarta, a city of over nine million people, in largely Muslim Indonesia.

In the Bahá’í view anyway, all the world’s major religions are part of God’s plan. Bahá’ís believe in the principle of “Progressive Revelation”, in which the Founder of each religion builds on what has gone before, and advances the spiritual and social teachings to a new level. So any differences between the original teachings of one religion and those of another are because these religions were given at different times and revealed to societies which were therefore at different stages. Each religion has spiritual teachings, such as honesty, trustworthiness and love of one’s fellow humans. These teachings are common to all the religions and remain relevant in every age. But there are also social teachings, which fix the laws of marriage, divorce, inheritance and so on, according to the requirements of the time. It is these social teachings which differ between the religions.

Particularly in the early stages of each religion, when it is new and fresh, the religion is a real force for progress and an undoubted force for good. Bahá’u’lláh says: “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilisation”, and explains that “the fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race.”  Unfortunately, over time man interferes with or “interprets” the teachings of a religion. An assumption develops within each religion that it is the only correct path, and this has sometimes developed into violent treatment of minorities. In parts of India, there is persecution of Christians and Buddhists by Hindus. Buddhists persecute Muslims in Burma. Christians “ethnically cleansed” the Muslims in Bosnia, and there is persecution of everybody else by the “Muslims” of ISIS/Daesh. In not one of these cases do the Scriptures of the religion say that religious minorities should be persecuted or killed.

We need to take the world past this current period in which people are using religion as an excuse to carry out barbaric atrocities against other ethnic groups. Instead, we need to consciously move towards a stage of recognising all the religions as essentially one religion. Indeed, oneness of religion should be the glue which unites the hearts of mankind. God does not favour people who were raised in any particular religion, or come from any particular ethnic group. Why should He? In the Bahá’í view, religious background, a person’s colour or gender makes no difference at all in the sight of God, Who only looks at the hearts.