Adapted from an address delivered at the International Interfaith Seminar held in Seoul, July 17-19, 2008
We are living in the civilized era of the twenty-first century, but the world is still unsafe. There are many trouble spots and unresolved conflicts that endanger peace and hinder peaceful living.
There is a ray of hope as people have realized the importance of peace and peaceful coexistence. But this realization and desire should be translated into action that should be apparent, to be seen and felt by people.
The dialogue process should be result oriented and initiate a new era of peace and cooperation. Conflict and dialogue are interconnected: to resolve conflict, dialogue is the best course to adopt.
To curb violence only with the use of force is always fatal. Sometimes preventive wars are waged with the idea of curbing the ensuing danger and warding off imminent attack, but how far does the invader have a right to engage in a war against a threat that has not yet materialized from a remote corner of the world?
The obvious result would be failure and destruction. In the nineteenth century, the great German chancellor Otto von Bismarck dismissed the notion of preventive war, saying that its logic was on a par with "committing suicide for fear of death."
The pivotal point is the achievement of peace. To achieve peace we have to purify our eyes, mind, heart, memory, and soul to see peace, to understand peace, to love peace, to work for peace, and to breathe peace. There should be no dichotomy. Forgiveness and accommodation are the essence of peace. Revenge, extremism, and fanaticism give birth to violence and terrorism.
Let us pinpoint some unresolved conflicts, such as the issues of Palestine, Jammu and Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mindanao in the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, the Korean peninsula, and the insurgency in Sri Lanka. These issues have been pending since long ago and have resulted in great loss of human life and property, coupled with untold misery.
The United Nations till this date could not amicably resolve conflicts. The obvious result is an environment of tension and mistrust, causing a great burden for the exchequers of the concerned nations. Along with this we have ethnic conflicts, communal conflicts, and sectarian conflicts that also endanger domestic peace in certain countries. Some people prepare the ground for religious conflict with ulterior motives for which no religion can be blamed. This is the result of malicious designs by an individual or a group of individuals.
For fruitful dialogue between religions, we must evolve a code of ethics based on mutual respect, human love, peaceful cohesion, and a deep sense of equality and sincerity. We should keep in mind that we are members of the same large human family. We should preach that the salvation of humanity lies in our policy of sharing one another's sorrow and grief. We must search for the commonality in our faiths and strive for unity in diversity.
Our beautiful world can no longer afford armed conflicts. We have to make joint coordinated efforts to resolve existing conflicts and to fight against poverty, ignorance, disease, fanaticism, extremism, and terrorism.
Moderate and peace-loving religionists have a great responsibility to defuse the existing volatile situations in the world in general and Asia in particular. Asia, being the largest and most populous continent and being the birthplace of all the great religions, has great responsibility for peace building. We must use religion as a source of peace and peaceful coexistence and perform our obligations and duties honestly and diligently for creating a culture of peace and bridging the gap between religions.
To pursue this mission, imparting peace education and cultivating the wisdom for building a culture of peace within societies, nations, and religions, should be our aim. We have to adopt a common curriculum of peace education. There is a dire need for coordination among different interfaith organizations based on justice, impartial resolution of conflicts, tolerance, mutual respect, human love, and dignity. In the interfaith peace organizations we must induct and elect persons with spotless reputations armed with the spirit and zeal for peace and impartiality. These persons should command respect in their respective faiths, areas, and countries. There should be no picking and choosing on the basis of personal likes and dislikes. Nonentities and cronies cannot deliver the goods, and their selection would be an exercise in futility.
Religionists should tread the path of patience, forgiveness, self-restraint, and the repelling of evil with all that is best. This is the cornerstone of every faith. If we adopt this path it will lead us to the resolution of many conflicts and can open the doors of reconciliation. Permit me to refer to some unresolved conflicts that agitate the Muslim mind. The Palestine issue stands unresolved, and occupation of Arab territories by Israel in 1967 and Jewish settlements on their land are matters of great concern.
Fresh Peace Moves Underway
Every right-thinking person is of the opinion that without a mutually satisfactory resolution, peace cannot be achieved. So far the Sharmul Sheikh, Camp David, and Oslo accords could not be implemented.
There is a fresh move as former United States president Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has undertaken an important mission in this regard. He is devoting his sincere and tireless energy to resolving this issue, which has so far caused great human loss and untold misery. It is the irony of fate that both Jews and Arabs, being children of Abraham and having much in common, could not come to terms.
In Syria Mr. Carter met Khalid Meshael, the political head in exile of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.
There was a reaction against this meeting in certain quarters. In response, Mr. Carter said, "The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria; the problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved."
It is an established fact that in the January 2006 elections the Palestinians gave an indisputable mandate to Hamas. This is the reason that Mr. Carter said everyone who matters should be consulted.
I pray for the success of his mission and the peaceful resolution of the Palestine issue according to the wishes and aspirations and to the satisfaction of the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Another major issue is Iraq, where we find a huge number of widows, orphans, the destitute, and the incapacitated persons. The war there has changed the country's entire social, economic, and cultural status. We find rubble everywhere. Let us put an honest question to ourselves: Have the objectives announced for the invasion of Iraq been achieved? The main announced reasons for the invasion were eight: first, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; second, Iraq was connected with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the United States; third, it posed an existential threat to the United States; fourth, that the foreign troop level would be reduced to sixty thousand six months after the invasion; and fifth, U.S. and Allied troops would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis.
The sixth premise was that the transition to a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would be relatively painless. Seventh was that radical Islam posed a serious threat to world peace and the best place to eliminate it was in Iraq, which was declared to be the central battleground in the "war on terror." Eighth was that the world would accept the preventive-war doctrine on which the invasion of Iraq was predicated. When it became obvious that world opinion was strongly opposed to the war, such thinking was dismissed as misguided and irrelevant.
Nevertheless, I must pay the highest tribute to the peace-loving people of the United States and Europe who came out in large numbers and demonstrated against the war in Iraq. The American people are magnanimous, openhearted, peace loving, and humane.
Now let us admit that the war in Iraq was an exercise in futility. Instead of resolving the issue, it has given birth to instability, ethnic violence, poverty, and chaos. Instead of curbing violence and terrorism, it has resulted in the creation of a large force of terrorists and extremists.
The same is the case in Afghanistan. I am fully aware of the history of Afghanistan. The British were wise enough when they were defeated in Afghanistan: they adopted a policy of diplomacy instead of war, which proved successful. Before invading, the history, geography, and demography of Afghanistan should have been studied. The Afghans are known for their love of the motherland and for their warrior spirit. It is their tradition to fight united, despite their differences, against a foreign force.
The former Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a great folly. The Afghans, with arms and ammunition and generous support of the United States and other Western countries and the unstinting support of Pakistan, defeated the Soviets and forced them to sign the Geneva Accord on April 14, 1988.
Partly as a result of this failed venture, the old Soviet Union collapsed, and even its large number of nuclear weapons could not save it. I, as a member of the Pakistan parliament, proposed many possibilities. One was to form a broadly based government consisting of moderate persons from different ethnic groups. Otherwise the Afghans would fight among themselves, and that would result in an insurgency and general insecurity that would produce terrorists. The foreign fighters who had battled against the Soviets should be either sent back to their respective countries or permanently settled in Pakistan and Afghanistan; otherwise they would create a big problem. The result was that this war-ravaged country was taken over by the Taliban extremists, who destroyed the entire social, economic, and cultural structure of the country and forced the people to live as in a primitive time.
After the Taliban was ousted, another blunder was committed. The major ethnic group, the Pashtun, who had ruled Afghanistan for centuries, were altogether ignored in the power-sharing arrangement. The obvious result has been the resurgence of the Taliban, which has created instability in the whole region. Pakistan, which had given shelter to more than three million Afghan refugees during the Soviet misadventure, once again became the target of terrorists, who created an atmosphere of insecurity and fear.
Suicide bombers attacked important installations and even foreign diplomatic missions in Pakistan. Some hundred thousand Pakistani troops are deployed at the border with Afghanistan to combat terrorism. More than fifteen hundred Pakistani troops have been killed so far, and a large number are missing.
Islam Has No Place for Terrorists
Let me say without fear of contradiction that there is no place for terrorists, suicide bombers, extremists, and warmongers in Islam. Such people are enemies of the entire human race. They do not represent Islam at all. Rather, their activities are inhuman and un-Islamic. Islam is a religion of peace, love, and amity. We should not allow these terrorists to tarnish the image of Islam.
Permit me to point out that some persons from other faiths draw caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and have them published in magazines, journals, and newspapers. That is a sacrilegious and blasphemous act.
Some scholars in the West also published articles stating that the holy Qur'an was not revealed in the Arabic language but in the Aramaic language and was later translated into Arabic. Yet it is clearly stated in the holy Qur'an that it was revealed in the Arabic language. The language of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Arabs was Arabic and not Aramaic.
These scholars cannot change the teachings of the holy Qur'an. It is the most preserved revealed book and until now none could change, delete, or add a single word to it because Almighty God has taken the responsibility for its preservation. This sacred book is meant for the guidance of the whole of humankind. It is a complete code for life.
Recently Greet Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament, in a film titled Fitna, distorted and misinterpreted the verses of the holy Qur'an. No civilized person can justify this blasphemous act. By such nefarious acts the feelings of Muslims around the globe are injured and they fail to understand the thinking behind these acts. To justify their misdeeds these persons take protection under the umbrella of freedom of the press and of expression.
No canon of civilized law permits this so-called prerogative. Such defamatory acts sometimes lead to a clash of civilizations and people are led astray by emotion and sentiment, although no religion can be blamed for this mischief. These insults are individual acts of commission.
All religious people should join hands and frustrate the vicious and malicious designs of these people. The UN General Assembly should be approached to make the defamation and insulting of any religion, prophet, and religious founder a cognizable offense.
It is a cardinal principle of Islam to respect all faiths, all prophets, religious founders, spiritual leaders, and sacred, divinely inspired books. It is a great exponent of human love and brotherhood.
The Dalai Lama on June 1, 2008, addressing a conference in Delhi, correctly said, "The international community needs to deal with the root causes of terrorism, and it is wrong to brand all Muslims as militants. Every action comes from some motivation. We have to address or deal with the motivation which creates terrorist actions."
Let me add that the indiscriminate use of force, bombardment of the innocent civilian population, and accidental so-called collateral damage lead to strengthening of the Taliban. It should be restrained.
On July 19, 2007, when members of a South Korean Christian missionary group in Afghanistan were kidnapped by the Taliban, I was approached by the Christian Council of Korea and Dr. Sunggon Kim, a member of the South Korean parliament and secretary-general of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, to make efforts for the release of these people.
I contacted many religious and political leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan in this regard. I even offered to go to Afghanistan during this dangerous situation without concern for my own safety.
I was in regular contact with some influential peace-loving Afghan elders who informed me from Kandahar by telephone about forty-five minutes before the official announcement that the hostages would soon be released. I rang up the consul-general of the Republic of Korea in Karachi, with whom I had been in constant touch, and conveyed to him this good news, which he was very happy to hear. Subsequently the Taliban made an official announcement.
Peace has not yet returned to the Korean peninsula. Families are still divided, with some members living in the north and others in the south.
This humanitarian issue has been politicized, and foreign intervention may be the main hurdle to the unification process. The Korean people alone should be the masters of their fate.
I also see clouds of war on the horizon over Iran. The issue of Iran's enrichment of uranium has not been resolved. I see no light at the end of that tunnel.
There are threats of attack on Iran and of retaliation by Iran. If such a war breaks out, it will engulf the whole region.
It would be a catastrophe. Force must be avoided and peace efforts must continue.
The incarceration of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagram in Afghanistan, and the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has sent an alarming adverse message, making the job of peace seekers difficult. Terrorists are using it as a propaganda tool. These detainees should be given the earliest opportunity for a fair trial and provided facilities to defend themselves. That would send a good message.
It is heartening to mention that an International Islamic Conference for Dialogue was held June 4-6, 2008, in Makkah, opened and hosted by H.M. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It was attended by five hundred key figures in the Muslim world.
The conference was aimed at launching an interfaith dialogue with the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity, to eradicate misconceptions about Islam. The world needs to know that Islam is the voice of justice and humanity, a voice for coexistence and just and rational dialogue. The Islamic world faces difficult challenges from the extremism of some Muslims. Their aggression prevents the world from absorbing the true message of Islam.
An Appeal to All Faiths
I appeal to the followers of all faiths, particularly to their enlightened moderate scholars, intellectuals, and government leaders, to make a common effort for peace and assist in defusing tension and resolving conflict, as well as to preach justice, impartiality, and brotherhood. Interfaith dialogue should be frequent.
Islam stands for peace, reconciliation, and common living. The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, strove hard to achieve peace. At the beginning of the seventh century he signed peace protocols with the infidels of Makkah, the Jews of Medina, and the Christians of Najran and strictly abided by their terms.
Today the world needs peace accords, not wars. We must work together for the betterment of humanity and fight our common enemies, which include poverty, disease, injustice, environmental pollution, terrorism, fanaticism, and the lack of employment opportunities. To forge unity we have to respect all faiths equally. We must heal the wounds of all those who have suffered through different acts of violence.
I make a special appeal to the followers of the monotheist religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which have the common patriarch Abraham, peace be upon him, to end their differences and work together to meet the challenges of the time.
A verse from the Qur'an applies to every believer: "Verily those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, Sabaians, whoever believe in Allah and the Last Day do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."
So let us do good deeds and prohibit bad deeds. Let us change hatred into love, hostility into peace, and revenge into forgiveness.
Mir Nawaz Khan Marwat is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a former federal minister in that country, an international president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, former moderator and an honorary president of the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, and assistant secretary-general of the World Muslim Congress.
This article was originally published in the January-March 2009 issue of Dharma World.
back to this issue's table of contents