Why do we need Religion?

As a young Muslim passing through the educational system here in England, there has always been one particular question which has lingered with me, a question which always popped up in conversation, it was something which seemed to bother people; why do you follow a religion, so religiously? They asked.

The question was valid, what was the actual benefit in being guided by religion? After all, is humanity really better off abiding by the laws of religion? And what about all the terror, chaos and destruction caused by the ‘faithful’? Surely, the world is safer, sounder and securer without the unnecessary disruption caused by the ‘believers’. With this Catch-22, as a young practicing British Muslim, I set to work to find out myself, if in reality, following a religion has been a source of disruption in society.

To give some credit to the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, history is definitely painted with violent, evil and destructive incidents caused by those who ‘believed’ in an organised religion. Be it the entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, the slaughters carried out by Sultan Caliphates or the more recent 2006 Malegaon blasts by Hindu Saffron extremists; religion has become the Poster Boy of ‘unrest’. There has been centuries of Sunni and Shia divide, Catholicism has fought with Protestantism, and Bosnia has harboured a battle ground for the faithful; Muslims, Roman Catholics and Serbian Orthodox. In her book – Fields of Blood – Karren Armstrong rightly paints the picture of how religion has been linked with unrest throughout the annals of history.

Stemming from these facts modern day atheists and so called scholars have drawn all sorts of cards to try and prove that following a religion leads to unrest; for example, Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies, argues that because religions claim divine favour to themselves, against other groups, inherently this belief leads to evil- as conflicting claims to superiority makes no room for peace. Others like Christopher Hitchens take it a step further, claiming following a religion does tremendous harm to society as the believers are willing to use violence to spread their belief.

However, what I would like to show in this short piece, is that in reality, too often, only the surface is looked upon; the tip of the ice burg is only observed. In fact I will go as far as to say, that a belief in God and following the original teachings of Religion is the surest way to confirm a world of peace whilst eliminating the causes of unrest.

As we boil religions down, the realisation sinks in that all prophets and saints preached about a peace loving God; who taught a religion of peace. From Prophet Adam to Noah, from Jonah to Abraham, prophets have always guided their followers to better themselves both spiritually and morally. After all it was Prophet Moses asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" who taught the Jews to strive for peace and be just in their decisions, he said:

‘Show no partiality in your decisions; judge everyone on the same basis, no matter who they are.’

Holy Bible Deuteronomy: 1:17

Jesus, son of Mary, preached:

“Love thy neighbour”

Holy Bible Mark: 12:31

And it was the man who is constantly in the limelight, the Great Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" who reminded the Muslims in his farewell address that:

“… an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab”.

Sahih Al-Bukhari, The book of Hajj, Chapter: the sermon during the Days of Mina, Hadith NO. 132

His motto was:

لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ

There is no compulsion in religion…

The Holy Quran [2:257]

The Quran taught to revert to justice, even when facing your enemy:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

O ye who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is aware of what you do.

The Holy Quran [5:9]

Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" was the man who relentlessly tried to avoid conflict, war and violence, whilst it was his God who revealed a scripture in which every chapter (apart from one) starts with a “Merciful” and “Forgiving” Allah. These were not words which fell on deaf ears, the true followers of Christ asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" and Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" showed such examples of ‘good’ that cannot be matched by those who reject religion. Be it the supreme justice of Hazrat Umar raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" which was then copied by the Swedish; calling it Omar’s Law, or be it the efforts of Dr. David Livingstone, the missionary who worked to end slavery and introduce Christian values to much of Africa. The ‘believers’ seem to be a step ahead of those who disbelieve.

Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a famous missionary who worked in Africa to spread Christianity and attempted to abolish slavery.
See page for author, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another point to ponder over is the cultural and social unrest which was present when prophets arrived with their religion. During Moses’ era the Pharaohs of Egypt were literally picking out those who they wanted to enslave, whilst in the time of Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" Arabs would take to the sword over a mere insult. They would be disgraced with a daughter; sometimes burying them alive. Murder, violence and illicit relations were all common place throughout Arabia. In this backdrop Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" gave the commandment that those who accept Islam will not practice such a culture, rather they will love their daughters, forgive others, help society at large, greet with “peace be upon you”, He even preached to provide a glass of water to your own enemy. Even the Messiah and Mahdi, who all have been waiting for, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" preached love, forgiveness, and social harmony whilst Christians and Hindus were filling their books and dialogues with vile language against Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" in India.

Now, lest we forget, there are 2.2 billion Christians currently in the world who are trying to live by Christ’s expectation which he expressed in the Sermon on the Mount; his followers will be characterised by peace – not violence. There are 1 billion Hindus who greet others by saying ‘namaste’ – meaning ‘I bow to you’, not forgetting the millions of Sikhs on a quest to supress their ego and selfishness. It is amusing how in reality, there are billions of peace promoting, loving, caring and selfless religious people in the world (the majority in fact) who abide by these teachings because their religion has commanded them, yet the few violent incidents and radicals that are present are given the lime light.

As I immersed myself in an increasing amount of information throughout the years, I wondered why great religious teachings (that changed mankind for the better) were not discussed in the mainstream media. Why wasn’t mention made of the term Ahisma (non-violence) which Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs all adhere to?

Why wasn’t light given to the Hindu teachings of:

‘Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; it is appeased by love.’

Dhammapada I 5

Is the world not aware of Guru Baba Nanak Sahib, who said:

“no one is my enemy, no one is a foreigner”

Are the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:9 not ones which bring about social rest in the world:

‘‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”

Have people really not read Isaiah 2:4 in which the Jews are taught

‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’

How can we accept the fact that religion is the cause of unrest?

Turning the tables, would any ‘anti-religionist’ like to explain all the ‘unrest’ that their kind has done? Did Joseph Stalin, an atheist who supported scientific rationalism and the elimination of religion, not kill close to 20 million people, as estimated in a research paper by Georgian historian Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev published in the weekly tabloid Argumenti i Fakti? What about ‘The League of Militant Godless’ group in Russia who were responsible for murdering thousands of clergy? Have atheists forgotten the names of Ceauşescu and Pol Pot who actively tried to stamp out religion as a whole in their countries?

Have we forgotten article 37 of the (old) Albanian communist constitution that declared:

“The state recognises no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.”

The Albanian Constitution of 1976.

I ask, was the subtext of the atheist Christopher Hitchens – ‘religion poisons everything’ – not attacking social rest? And was Karl Marx’ view that religion is the opium to the masses a throwaway line? Were all these evils and views of resentment due to them not following religion? Surely, then, disbelief is a force of great unrest, right?

In essence, anyone can use a vehicle (in our case, an organised religion) to express internal belief sets, let out anger or more popularly achieve political means; (think) Crusaders, Taliban, ISIS and Bengal Tigers etc. A scapegoat is needed to blame or a reason to ‘approve’ is sought after by those trying to legitimise evil, in many cases it is ‘God’- we have to draw a line in the sand to recognise these people. Do not take my words for it! Listen to Professor Robert Pape, a Political Scientist and Professor at Chicago University, who studied every suicide terrorist act from 1980 to 2003 – He concludes that there is:

“…little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions…Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.”

Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) PP4.

Professor Robert Pape really hit the nail on the head and unveiled the underlying truth which most miss; that all those who act in the name of God, spreading evil, are not doing it because God is telling them to blow themselves up. Rather, there are personal and political reasons as to why there is evil in the name of religion.

I do not contend that religions have not caused unrest at all; it is a cause. However it isn’t ‘the’ cause of unrest in the world; this is a simplistic idea. And to be honest, I cannot buy the ‘fact’ that religions have spilt the most blood throughout history. In their book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod have presented documented warfare throughout history, and from a total of 1763 wars only 123 have had a religious basis. That is less than 7% of all wars and less than 2% of all people killed in conflict. Whilst it is estimated that roughly 1-2 million people were killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition; no one can shy away from the 35 million soldiers and civilians that died in the secular slaughter of World War I.

We also cannot deny that history does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. Wars of the past have rarely been due to religion. They were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or to challenge political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own belief.

Another aspect which contradicts the notion that religion is the cause of unrest in the world is that religion has always been a vehicle of community building, they have had a passionate and metaphysical commitment to human equality; human beings are worthy of respect and endowed with dignity, they teach. Religious communities seek out the communal factors between humans, and thus raise the standards of morality within society. When the Prophet of Islam saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" in his Last Sermon reminded the Islamic Ummah that an Arab is the same as a Non-Arab and that women (who were seen as secondary citizens) are equal to men, He removed psychological barriers within society. The result was that within thirty years, for the first time in history, the chaotic city of Damascus witnessed Muslims, Jews and Christians living together in harmony during the Caliphate of Hazrat Umar raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them".

The Church enabled millions of racially, culturally, educationally, financially and politically diverse people, who actually had nothing in common, to sit beside each other and live together in peace and harmony; their religion tied the knots of brotherhood between them.

I remember pondering over a Hadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him"), the advice given in this particular saying is astounding when the social benefits are analysed. In Sahih Bukhari (Hadith number 1240) the Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" said:

“The rights of one Muslim over another are five: returning the greeting of salaam, visiting the sick, attending funerals, accepting invitations, and saying yarhamuk Allah (may Allah have mercy on you) to one who sneezes.”

Now, can any right minded person reject that this great teaching (taught by a religion) does not promote social rest, peace and cohesion in the world? Imagine, if the world was living by these creeds, visiting others whilst they were ill, attending each other’s funerals and blessing one who sneezes. Such examples are common throughout the religions in the world, it is through these teachings that right now, billions, are living with loved-filled hearts.

If someone turns around and says, well hold on a minute, we can act morally and spread ‘good’ without a religion, and without any commandments to follow. Then what is fundamentally flawed with this argument is that as a result, acts of goodness and morality would be subjective; not binding. People may decide themselves whether they want to give charity, be kind, help their neighbour or avoid conflicts – however they are not bound to follow these acts, whereas those who believe are religiously bound. Just for a second, imagine that the approximately 3.5 billion Christians and Muslims stop and shun all their teachings which they receive from God. There would be no more people living by the creeds of:

“Turn thy cheek”

Holy Bible Mathew: 5:39

And:

“…do good to parents, kindred, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger…”

The Holy Quran [4:37]

Would the world suddenly turn good by these faithful people leaving religion and its commandments? In truth, positive social actions would reduce massively; there would be a spell of darkness and evil which would engulf the world!

The most atrocities the world has experienced have really been nothing to do with religion, rather geo-political ideals have been behind the curtain. Take for example, Western colonialism and neo-colonialism since the end of World War II; it claimed between 50- 55 million deaths. As Noam Chomsky (arguably the Think Tank ‘Superstar’ of our time, as claimed by The Guardian) correctly stated in his discourse with the journalist Andre Vitchek on June 14th, 2012 in MIT:

“When Columbus landed in the Western hemisphere, there were probably 80-100 million people with advanced civilizations: commerce, cities, etc. Not long afterward about 95 percent of this population had disappeared. In what is now the territory of the United States, there were maybe ten million or so Native Americans, but by 1900, according to the census, there were 200,000 in the country.”

Clearly, for the ‘Red Indians’ the greed of the West caused the greatest unrest they and their generations would ever witness. Not forgetting the natives of South America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and even Congo; they were literally exterminated by geo-political and socio-economic reasons. The offshoots of England took over their land and settlements whilst massacring them. We do not think about them. We do not view colonialism as the cause of ‘unrest’ in the world; that is dogmatism.

Geo-Politics has trickled down into more recent times as well. Eastern Congo in the last decade has witnessed great unrest, with 3-5 million people being killed. Yes, they were murdered by home-bred militias, but behind it all are multinational corporations and even governments, which are all invisible. These companies and governments draw the longest straws in the bigger picture, but they are not labelled as the people who cause this ‘unrest’. Even America’s war with Vietnam had similar reasons, and the destruction the Vietnamese were left with can still be seen in Saigon hospitals today, which showcase deformed foetuses as a result of the chemical poison that drenched South Vietnam, authorised by John F. Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy initiated the use of napalm, allowed chemical warfare to destroy crops (which the Qur’an specifically prohibits), and created, effectively, concentration camps. There is a similar history in Laos and Cambodia where the ‘Plain of Jars’ carpet-bombing took place.

Today, so called religiously motivated groups in the Middle-East which have dominated Syria are, without a doubt, being supported, supplied and sustained by governments and organisations. How then, can one really believe that religion is cause of unrest in our world? Has humanity really reached such a level of query and intellect that they will believe everything they see and hear in the media, whilst being completely oblivious to the facts?

As those who oppose religion are usually the purely ‘scientific’ type, I would like to remind them that the technological advancements of the twenty first century (which brought so much ‘rest’ to the world) was done on the shoulders of great Muslim scientists, doctors, polymaths and scholars who followed divine injunctions like:

“Those who…ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth”

The Holy Quran [3:192]

Professor Salim al-Hassani, Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation told CNN in 2010 during an interview about the first time the world saw a University in 859 founded by a Muslim Woman, Fatima al-Firhi. He spoke about the revolutionary free health care and hospitals set up by Ahmad ibn Tulun in 872 in Cairo, not forgetting the discoveries in the world of optics by Ibn al-Haitham who proved that humans see objects by light reflecting off them and entering the eye.

Were all these people not those who followed a religion? Is it not right to say that they were motivated by a god? This ‘good’ of scientific and medical advancement was done by those who viewed their religion as the most important goal in their life.

When we talk about ‘unrest’, it is vital to discuss the psychological unrest that is in-built within humans; religion has provided man with the most rational answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. Take for example, the words of Douglas Murray who once admitted in a Cambridge University debate with the motion ‘Religion has no place in the 21st Century’ that:

“The voice of atheism is very quiet in the face of death, in the face of human tragedy [and] in suffering”

Those who follow religion can question, debate and discuss such essential life issues through their religious philosophy and teachings; something which the ‘non-religious’ find difficult to find. A purpose of life is presented. They are given mental rest by answers which give sense to life’s problems. Religion addresses these issues and a philosophy is given which tackles mental unrest. Religion provides an opportunity for people to ask serious questions about themselves and the universe around them. It is the vehicle to find the ultimate truth; as the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, said in his essay ‘Religion. A Dialogue’:

“…truth is like water that cannot be transported without a vessel”

Religion is the vessel of truth.

Of course this is just a fraction of how a belief in religion, in reality, is a source of good rather than unrest; once the veils are removed, it becomes much more vivid to realise this fact. However, if there is one living example I would like my readers to go with, it is of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" who is relentlessly reiterating the core of religion; to fulfil the rights of God and mankind.

At the historic Conference of World Religions held in Guild Hall, London, in 2014, His Holiness stated the pristine teachings which all prophets have taught, he advised:

“I hope and pray that we, who are the representatives of different faiths and religions, and who have gathered here today to practically demonstrate these loving teachings, all strive towards worshipping the One God, by treating His Creation with justice and by fulfilling their due rights. Certainly these are the original teachings of all religions.”

To be frank, as a teenager, it did not take long to realise the good, following a religion, has brought to the world; it is a matter of taking a step back, away from the media hype and stereotypes, and trying to discover the facts for yourself.

As Galileo once said:

“ All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

Disclaimer

This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

Ataul Fatir Tahir

Ataul Fatir Tahir

Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK

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