Blaise Pascal once said “Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast.”
Nobody in society should have the right to coerce people into believing what they themselves do-even if they think what they believe to be the truth. Christianity teaches that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14), the Islamic tradition teaches that the Islamic declaration of faith provides salvation, whereas the less proselytising religious traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism empahsise a life of spirituality. On the other hand, we also see rationalists, sceptics, agnostic and atheist thinkers claiming to be open minded but then asserting their open mindedness gives them a natural superiority. This is why it is important, in such a diverse world replete with multiplicity, that no-one passes a final judgement on somebody else who seems to have taken a different path. The existentialist Satre described these people as minds that have been colonised with ‘bad faith.’
What is universal? And are there such things as universal truths? Even though humanity can not agree on everything, we should know that there can be no universal without diversity and there can be no commanility if we do not embrace the initial differences we all have. One must learn and experience other people’s truths in order to ascertain whether their own ‘truth’ is meaningful.
What can be made of the Quranic passage ”Had God so willed, He would have made you a single community” not only for the Muslim consciousness but for believers in general? Here, the point is that God has created a diverse range of people so that we can get to know each other. This recognition of diversity is also acknowledged in other religious traditions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Confusianism. Jesus also highlighted the need for acceptance of others and their beliefs: “Love thy enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Gandhi, believed that we should not attempt to convert people, but show people through our actions what they should do and how they should behave. This is also true in the Islamic tradition, a Muslim is not allowed to forcefully convert anyone, and it is generally accepted that the best way to tell people about Islam is through one’s actions.
Rigorous thought, and study is needed by both theists and non-theists in order to understand each other, and each other’s beliefs. But it is only through the willingness to learn about others that people will be able to better themselves. The heart must not be blind and arrogant, but must be pure and willing to see. “You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody,” says Jean Jacques Roussea in The Social Construct and Discourses.