Wishing for peace

Religion’s role in supporting world peace.

by Christin Davis – 

Luke 2:14 reads, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (NIV). Here is a less common but more literal translation of this passage: “Glory be in the highest things to God, and in earth peace be to men of good will” (Wycliffe New Testament).

Peace is a common theme throughout the Christmas season, but talk of it usually ends come January. With news reports of increasing violence in the world and constant talk of terrorism and war, it is difficult to conceptualize peace and good will in today’s society. This year, let us not allow peace to linger as a seasonal concept, but instead carry it into our new beginning.

Peace on earth?

During a visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI made reconciliation his top priority, meeting with diplomats including Ali Bardakoglu, who heads religious affairs in that country. The Pope also used the opportunity to urge leaders of all religions to “utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of faith,” according to The Associated Press.

In mid-September, the Pope—a widely recognized leader of spirituality for the world—fumbled at an attempt to successfully implore peace among religions. Speaking at the University of Regensburg in Germany, he hoped to urge religious leaders in the world to reject violence.

Quoting the 15th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, the Pope said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Intended as a call to peace, the pontiff’s lecture sent the Muslim world into pandemonium.
Subsequently, angry protesters swarmed into Vatican City; firebombed churches throughout the world; held banners outside Westminster Cathedral—the primary Catholic cathedral in England and Wales—calling for the Pope’s execution and touting “Islam will conquer Rome;” issued a fatwa—a legal pronouncement in Islam—asking the Muslim community in Pakistan to kill Pope Benedict for his “blasphemous statement;” shot and killed an elderly Italian nun, Sister Leonella, working in Somali at a children’s hospital; burned effigies of the Pope and Jesus in Basra; and stabbed to death two Christians in Baghdad—to name a few news reports.
Attracting the media in droves, Muslim leaders declared that the Pope had misrepresented Islamic teachings, which call for “forgiveness, compassion and mercy.”

In a joint statement, extremist groups Al-Qaeda and the Mujahideen Shura Council threatened: “you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere…We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose the jizya tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion [to Islam] or [being killed by] the sword…God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the Mujahideen.”

Islam means “peace”

This is not the message Islam intends, said Imam Shamshad, leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque in Chino, Calif. “The very name of Islam literally means peace,” he said in recent interview with me.

Following the fourth of five daily prayers, Abdul Rahim, information secretary for the Ahmadi Muslim Community, and Jonathan Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque, gave the standard Islamic greeting, “Salaamu alaikum” (peace be upon you), without a handshake, as it is customary for Islamic men to have physical contact only with their wife.

“Those who unjustly take one life, kill all of mankind. These are not true Muslims. The Quran is very clearly against violence—it is only to be used in self-defense,” Rahim said. “We don’t condone the bombings. These people humiliate Islam before the world and only bring upon us grief.”

Ghaffar believes, “A large problem in the Middle East is the high level of illiteracy. Often zealots, who have lower motives that do not bring about peace, tell Muslims what the Quran means. By not understanding the translation, all they breed is ignorance.”

“Peace can be reached if people follow Islam sincerely, purifying themselves and trying to unite,” Rahim said. “You can’t kill Christians, Jews, whomever, and expect reform. This is an era of turning the cheek and working on the self. Islam will rise by the hand of God, not someone like Osama.”

Violence and religion

After increasing security in and around the Vatican, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State of the Holy See, issued an official declaration that reads in part, “The Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake in an academic context…certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come.”

Violence has long been attributed to religion.

Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Kurd, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist—the list of world religions is extensive. The list of religions in conflict—genocide, mass crimes against humanity and violent civil unrest—with other religions is even longer.

Professor of political science and ideology at California State University Fullerton, University of California at Riverside, California Baptist University and Riverside Community College, Robert Brown told me, “I don’t feel the Pope’s comments were divisive. By quoting the Byzantine emperor, he was trying to present the Western stereotypical view of Islam as a call to Muslims across the world to respond with dialogue. Groups in the Middle East that have a political ax to grind, turned the misunderstanding into a larger conflict. They see the benefit in there being conflict; they have something to gain by eradicating the West.”

Brown continued, “I believe violence has little to do with religion. A material motivation underlies all sectarian disputes. Violence is the product of broken political systems, which have less ability to meet people’s material needs.

“Muslims have to understand there are going to be misconceptions in the West, which is why dialogue, as the Pope was suggesting, would be a positive.”

Brown said the extremists currently dominate the public face of Islam. “The extremists are the loudest voice in the Islamic world right now. The moderates are intimidated by the extremists and are not vocal enough in silencing them.

“Violence in the Middle East is a complex problem. Moving toward peace has to come from within the Arab and Muslim nations. There must grow a sense that the disenfranchised in society can achieve material goods without violence. When the political process doesn’t give an answer, people resort to violence. Muslim people are no different than anyone. They want control over their lives and their future.”

Modern efforts for peace

The Pope is not the first to have urged peace in modern times.

Much diplomacy has been dedicated to peace throughout history. Notably in 1978, President Jimmy Carter facilitated 12 days of secret negotiations at Camp David with then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Israel agreed to return the Sinai to Egypt in return for normal diplomatic relations with Egypt and free passage through the Suez Canal. The success of these peace talks demonstrated to the world that negotiation with Israel is possible but communication and cooperation are key.
Religious leaders formed the Geneva Spiritual Appeal of 1999 as a means to stop using religion as a
justification for violence.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) launched its “Religion and Peacemaking” program in July 2000, which became an official USIP program in 2005. Its purpose is to enhance the capacity of faith communities to be forces for peace. The secular, government-funded organization’s overarching goal is to help facilitate the resolution of international disputes through aiding the efforts of faith-based organizations, according to information included about the program at

An organization that believes in the inherent worth of every person and works toward a culture that is relatively free of discrimination based on religion and otherwise, believes religion-inspired conflicts can be reduced using the “golden rule.” They say this “ethic of reciprocity”—the idea that we must treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves—is taught by all major religions. This organization believes what often happens from there is that those within the religion misinterpret this rule to apply to fellow believers and not necessarily followers of other religions. Some believers then discount the rights of “blaspheming” non-believers and treat them as sub-human. When this happens, it can lead to inter-religious conflicts and even escalate into genocide.

Advocating religious tolerance, this organization believes the imbalance in teachings of believers’ responsibilities towards followers of other religions directly contributes to religiously motivated violence around the world. As a result, religious and political leaders must work to accentuate the value of both religious freedom and human rights.

Peace and good will to all

Salvation Army Captain Dusty Hill, Pasadena Tabernacle (Calif.) corps officer, believes these two concepts are evident in society. “We see peace and goodwill in individual lives all the time,” he said.

“Violence doesn’t line up with the God I understand,” Hill said. “Christianity and violence are diametrically opposed. When religion becomes violent, something has been taken out of context to support a different agenda.
“We are required to be like Jesus in how he dealt with people. He was a tremendous example of how to interact with others. We have to have a healthy respect and understanding of where people are coming from.”

This verse in Luke, “peace be to men of good will,” makes it clear that peace requires good will. Anyone who has been around a child will tell you human will cannot be imposed, no matter how hard one may try. Individuals must decide for themselves. Will comes only from want, which is developed by a wish.

The world must be turned on to wishing for peace and acquire enough people that want it to develop a will.

Still applicable after more than two years, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said of the current Middle East conflict in a 2004 NBC News interview, “I think most Iraqis understand that in order to live together in peace as a single nation, they have to have a nation that understands the role of the majority but respects the role of minorities within a country. And they know they have to have, for international acceptability, a country that preserves human rights, that is founded on democracy, that respects the rights of all individuals.”

Wish for respect. Want tolerance. Will peace.
Peace be to men of good will.

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