World Interfaith Harmony Week: Thinking of a ‘harmonious world’
February 1st marked the start of World Interfaith Harmony Week, a UN Observance Week now in its second year. Following the success of the initiative last year, this week returns to give us 7 days in which we develop our understanding of other faiths, build and strengthen friendships and relationships with people of other faiths to create a more harmonious world for everyone.
Thinking of a ‘harmonious world’ I’m reminded of one of my favourite passages in the Quran where God engages in a dialogue with the angels. This dialogue precedes the existence of mankind, and is found second chapter of the Quran, The Cow verses 30-34. God, who Muslims refer to as Allah consults the angels on His desire to create a representative on the earth. The angels respond to this suggestion by asking, "Will You place upon it [the earth] one who causes mischief therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?", to which God replied “Indeed I know that which you do not know.”
The lesson that I draw from this divine exchange is that whilst the angels were correct in predicting that some in this new creation will cause havoc and mischief on the earth, what they didn’t know was that from amongst this same creation God was to create people who would be gentle-hearted, spread the message of love and promote harmony.
The all too familiar images on our television screens or in the newspapers paint a picture of a world full of those who “cause mischief and shed blood”. But we know that the reality is different. In times gone by and in the modern era there are shining lights that we can look to when the world seems so dark. I often look to the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) who’s birth Muslims around the world commemorated this past weekend (4th/5th February), to see how he helped create a harmonious world. There are many examples, but one which carries a special significance in this context was an occasion when the Prophet was sat amongst his companions, and before them a funeral cortege passed by. Immediately the Prophet rose to His feet in reverence for the procession. Seeing this His companions pointed out to Him, “Oh Messenger of God, this is the funeral of a Jew.” After the procession has passed by, the Prophet replied simply by saying, “were they not a human?”
All of our faith traditions teach us the importance of respecting human dignity. If we can remember this teaching then harmony amongst faiths and people of different faiths will not only be seen during this week, but in each of the 52 weeks of the year.