Children are born with an amazing ability to imagine, but the narrow confines of superiority complexes and bigotry suffocate imagination. In religion, culture, race, and society, each group of people has defined itself until it has confined itself and cannot imagine a world where all people are of one accord. It is the lack of imagination that has perverted our world and subjected it to constant anguish and turmoil.
Like the One God with multiple attributes, humanity is one entity with many unique faces and many different qualities and attributes. The universe is filled with messages that speak to us of synchronised union. If the universal systems of physics and chemistry and biomathematics were not in perfect sync, if they were in conflict, our world could not exist but would be ripped asunder. All of nature is shouting to us that harmony is essential for humanity’s continued existence. Albert Einstein said, “Look deeply into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Long before Einstein, however, the Qur’an implored people to observe nature in order to increase knowledge and understanding.
Humanity and our relationship to one another may be comparable to the flower and the bee. Just as a single flower lifts its face to God, each individual person may independently focus on the transcendence of God and ponder that person’s unique relationship to God. The bee, however, unites many different flowers, and, likewise, the unifying factors of multiple religions can unite different people. Like the sharing of various pollens helps to recreate nature’s beauty, the sharing of religious ideals can beautify the floral arrangement of humanity. Sharing means to show respect for the feelings and beliefs of others. Sharing means to focus on the consonant values of all religions and cultures and to make a collective effort in dedicating those consonant values to the glory of God.
Peace among various peoples cannot come from mere tolerance, because both tolerance and intolerance are based on negative value judgments. Instead of tolerance, humanity must share sincere understanding. Understanding does not mean that the individual must compromise his or her own religious beliefs or accept beliefs that are antithetical to his or her own religion. Understanding, however, leads to a person’s willingness to accommodate other religions in a fair and respectful manner so that the world can peacefully unite in its diversity.
Most people are afraid to imagine a world where human diversity unites, because that would mean that a person must face the reality of how he or she has compromised the oneness of God. An individual person or religion places limitations on God by defining God as the God of the single flower and not allowing God to be the God of the universal bee. People and religious groups tend to define God in terms of their own needs and limited understanding, and, in so doing, they practise a form of idolatry as they confine God to a fixed image. To imagine God outside a humanly devised, familiar and comfortable image is frightening and threatening to most people. To the invitation to imagine, many people react in perverse ways, which is the reason behind global oppression, violence, hatred, prejudice, and terrorism.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace upon him) was secure in his relationship with God, so he was able to imagine a world in humanity’s embrace of one another. Within the enclave in which he lived, the Prophet (peace!), established a unifying accommodation toward each community. He embraced non-Muslim believers with respect and promised them security.
In a peaceful agreement established with the Jewish communities, the Prophet proclaimed, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. This message is from Muhammad the Messenger of God. Truly, whoever from among the Jews abides with us [Muslims] shall be assisted and supported and will not be victims of injustice or vengeance. …. They have their religion, and the Muslims have their own and each other. The exceptions are any who are oppressive and sinful; they will thereby forfeit themselves and their families.” In the Prophet’s time, Christian visitors were allowed to pray traditional Christian prayers in the mosque while Muslims prayed according to their own manner. The Prophet (peace!) prayed for Roman Christians at war with Persian unbelievers. He sent this communication to Christians in Mount Sinai: “This message is from Muhammad ibn Abdullah. It is written as a covenant for those, far and near, who follow Christianity. We [Muslims] support them. Truly I defend them myself as also do my servants, my helpers, and my followers, because Christians are citizens, and, by the will of God, I withhold anything that would displease them. No coercion is to be on them. Their judges will not be replaced, and their monks will not be removed from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a Christian church or damage it or remove anything from it to put into the Muslims’ houses. If anyone does such a thing, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Truly the Christians are my allies, and they have my secure agreement to protect them against all they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to fight; the Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is to marry a Muslim, the marriage cannot take place without her consent. She is never to be prevented from going to her church to pray. The churches are to be respected. Christians will not be prevented from repairing the churches, and will not be prevented from the sacredness of their own covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world.” Notice in the foregoing message that, even though the Qur’an criticises monasticism, the Prophet (peace!) accommodated the same. Prophet Muhammad (peace!) imagined a world without strife, prejudice, and rivalry. He was a humanitarian who respected the unique characteristics of various religions while focusing on all faith as one divine truth. He admired each individual believer as one would admire a single flower, but he was able to see the beauty of variety in glorification of God as one would scan across a field of multi-coloured wildflowers and see one beautiful landscape. As we try to follow the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (peace upon him), we must imagine the future of Islam as he wanted it – a religion peacefully uniting all religions of light. Imagine the many voices of prayer rising to Heaven as one harmonised sonnet of praise.
Imagine the prismatic shimmers of faith streaming together to make one, brilliant, white light. Imagine a world decorated by a human tapestry of love and peace. Imagine a world in which all of humanity embraces one another in friendship. Imagine one world cradled in the arms of the one, loving God.
[Linda “iLham” Barto is a freelance artist and writer in the foothills of North Carolina in the United States. She lives in the country with cats and chickens and other critters. She also has a pet husband and two whacko children. Islam found her in 1999.]