The following is a reprint of an article from News Observer.com.
Voices of faith: How can religion help eliminate prejudice?
WE ARE ALL EQUAL
Rushdy El-Ghussein, former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City:
It is natural for people to group together with others who are similar, but this can lead to prejudice and other injustices against those outside the group. Islam is a guide to prevent this tendency.
The primary concept of Islam states that there is only one God who has no partners. All mankind are creations of God and dependent on him equally. The Prophet Muhammad declared that all mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab. Also a white has no superiority over a black, except by piety and good action.
This concept is developed in Islamic acts of worship. In congregational prayers, attendees stand shoulder to shoulder in humbleness and obedience to God. The rich and poor, old and young, leaders and subordinates all form lines, prostrating and worshiping God at the same time and place.
Zakat and other charity are intended to help those in need, and fasting gives some understanding of hunger, resulting in compassion toward the poor. People become more aware of others’ feelings and needs and hopefully more helpful and supportive of others.
During Hajj, Muslims gather from all over the world. Men wear identical simple clothing and all perform the same rites. Malcolm X was transformed when he performed hajj. Muslims are also told to be kind and generous to family and neighbors and to be just in all relationships, regardless of faith.
DIFFERENT PATHS TO GOD
Arvind Khetia, engineer and a Hindu: Prejudice, by definition, is a preconceived negative opinion about another’s race, religion or culture. Prejudice is psychologically damaging and demeaning to its victims and results in injustice, hatred and violence. Thus, prejudice creates a corrosive social environment and consequently consumes all that is essential for social harmony.
Although all religions preach love, equality and social justice, prejudice still persists. At times, religion itself fosters prejudice when it claims to be the only true religion. Such exclusiveness gives a false sense of superiority and breeds prejudice against people of other faiths because it is not recognized that the goal of God-realization can be achieved through different paths.
Hinduism being inclusive believes that people following different spiritual paths are all striving to reach the same goal. Also, Hinduism maintains that despite apparent differences, there is an underlying spiritual unity as the Infinite Self (Atman) is in the heart of all beings. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna states, “When they see the divine in every being and their consciousness is unified by the spiritual practice of meditation and yoga, they see everything with an equal eye.”
Therefore, to eliminate prejudice, one must inform oneself about other religions and cultures with an open mind, interpret religion in its spiritual context and recognize the spiritual oneness of all. Only then can religion put an end to prejudice born of ignorance.
VOICES OF FAITH
Send your questions for one of our panels of religion columnists to Helen Gray at The Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.