It is important that we make time in our busy schedules to reconnect with our…
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”1 Although the responsibility of fulfilling the answer to this question falls on the shoulders of every human being, it is the faithful believers of God who strive to resist selfishness, self-interest, and apathy towards the plight of others, which are at the root of so many of today’s problems, by adopting the same lofty qualities that represent God’s interaction with us. Thus, religion teaches us to be compassionate because that is the quality of our Lord, to be generous because He is the Most Generous, and to stand for justice because only that which is fair and equitable emanates from Him. In this sense, resistance becomes a subconscious act as the believer projects goodness and noble behavior as a passive rebuttal to the repugnance of indifference and intolerance. This noble sentiment occurs in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as other religions, and from time to time it behooves us to reflect on what we have in common so together we can make this world a better place.
Unfortunately, there are many people who reject the notion that people of different faiths can work together to bring about positive change. For example, can Jews, Christians, and Muslims even agree theoretically on morality and humane behavior such that there is a common ground on which we can build a peaceful world? Indeed, those of us who oppose judgment of others and respect the ethos of other religions know firmly that only together can we shape our societies so that they are accepting of all people and able to preserve everyone’s rights. Therefore, recognizing fully the differences between the religions, and respecting the distinct and rich traditions of each of them, it is necessary to remind ourselves of what is common between the religions, not for the purposes of disputation or proselytizing but rather so that we can come together to push back against everything that we all decry and abhor with the goal of turning our attention to those in need and making our communities bastions of understanding and love. This is particularly critical today given studies that demonstrate that empathy is declining in our society, particularly among college students, while narcissism is on the rise.2,3
God, the One, brings us together
God created human beings with a specific and special nature, and in His ultimate wisdom placed us on a predetermined course. Indeed, no person controls when they enter this world and the moment at which they depart. He also buried deep within us an innate connection to Himself, in some ways like the intimate connection of a baby to its mother, but with a much deeper and yet sometimes easily imperceptible link. The purpose behind this design reflects God’s kindness and mercy to us, because in finding Him we open the door of true advancement and the means to achieving success not only in this temporal world but in a realm that is everlasting. Furthermore, a sincere believer realizes that the positive consequences of implementing the divine plan and adhering to its tenets yields immediate practical benefits in the day-to-day activities that we all engage in and not just the spiritual upliftment that most people seek. Hence, it comes as no surprise that each of the Abrahamic religions mentioned stress devotion to God and a life based on a divine moral code.
The oneness of God, the uncreated Lord of all the worlds, is the foundation of belief and all the resulting commandments that determine how we view all the other aspects of the created world. The Holy Quran declares, “[Our] Lord is the only Lord. There is no God but He, the Beneficent and Merciful.”4 and “…worship God for He is your only Lord.”5 pointing out in these verses that God is indeed one, and that there is no other God but Him. To attest to His oneness and Lordship means that we as believers must know Him. The uniqueness of humanity is that God has given us the faculty of reasoning, which allows us to worship Him through intellect and choice, whereas other creatures are bound by their natures and worship without understanding. When a person pursues a goal freely, without compulsion, and does so with cognizance of its benefits, they develop a deeper appreciation for its significance in life and the necessity of persisting in pursuing it until it is achieved. For a true believer, both the critical first step as well as the culmination of this journey is to know God. Initially, this pursuit opens the door of sincere devotion, worship, and a desire to deepen the way one understands Him. Yet, in the process of doing so, a believer not only unlocks the fruits of this quest and the real pleasure of life but also realizes the achievement of humankind’s eventual success. How powerful and inspiring is it that we share this common starting point? God instructed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) in the Holy Quran, “say to the People of the Book, ‘We must come to a common term and allow ourselves to worship no one except God, nor consider anything equal to Him, nor regard any of us as our Lord besides God.’”6
Only in God is there true freedom, and only through true freedom can we feel the plight of others
The fast-paced nature of existence has changed human mentality and behavior today. In a world where the lives of people are increasingly, and sometimes solely, governed by pursuit of career and worldly success, the rigors and complexity of modernism, dependence on technology and the lack of quality time to reflect upon the deeper meanings of existence, the success of a believer is contingent on the realization that to know God is to achieve freedom. The liberation that this represents (i.e., in the name of God) is based on one living their life as God’s servant and not enslaved by or beholden to anything other than Him. Implementation of this in our lives requires conscious effort, dedication, and foresight to identify the figurative shackles that we bind ourselves with. For instance, if I cannot live without my smart phone or I become incapacitated due to its temporary absence from my life, is this not a form of bondage? Is this not a type of dependency that we seldom realize is capturing our way of life? If we live our lives solely bound by the fulfillment of our own material needs and wants, and moreover, obstinately oppose anything that we perceive threatens it, not only will we become blind to the difficult circumstances of others, but worse, apathetic towards their suffering and pain.
Even then, it would be silly to conclude from this that humans can only find godly freedom by stripping away everything material from their lives. Instead, a believer confirms that God is the Master of everything, and that all those things might only be tools to reaching Him. Thus, I own my wealth, but it does not own me. I pursue my career, but it does not dictate the eventuality and overall course of my life. Even further, I care for and support my family, but I do not do so out of a sense of compulsion due to the ties of blood but rather from a pure obligation to my Creator. This is the freedom that servanthood to God cultivates in a believer; it is perfectly exemplified in the words of Imam Hussain (p) who said, “God has not created His creation for any purpose except to know Him, for if they truly know Him then they will have truly worshipped Him. And if they truly worship Him, they will become enriched (by His worship) not to worship anything else.”7 This is the highest level of belief, which was manifested in the prophets revered by the Abrahamic religions and resulted in selflessness and constant service in God’s name. Hence, the Holy Quran sends peace upon Moses (p), Aaron (p), and Jesus (p), declaring about the brother prophets, “Thus do We reward the righteous ones. They were two of Our believing servants.”8 while the latter introduced himself as “…the servant of God. He has given me the Book and has appointed me a Prophet.”9
Preservation of humanity always requires self-sacrifice
This sincere sentiment and inner drive our religions revere because it propels the men and women of God to stand up against injustice, tyranny, and the destruction of human dignity, and reject apathy and narcissism. It is plainly apparent that to achieve these loftiest of ideals, one must not compromise the truth or the tenets of morality and ethics, and at the same time must be prepared to give everything for God. The only way one can achieve this is to pursue the prophetic ethos of not being beholden to anyone or anything other than God. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) stated of those antagonists who sought to bribe, entice, or even threaten him that “if they were to give me possession of the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, even then I would not desert this [godly] course that I am on.”10 Indeed, this is a rigorous and trying way to live life. It requires resolve, drive, and single-mindedness, because the greatest challenges exist for those who seek purity and sincerity of purpose (i.e., God). Traversing this path also depends on a form of consciousness that the believer cultivates over years and years of discipline and self-control, one that immediately identifies anything that will capture the desire of the believer [away from God] and subjugate them. Hence, together, let us make it a habit to seek out and help someone in need every time we seek, and fulfill, something for ourselves. Let us strive to heal the pain and suffering of another (anyone) when God delivers us from our difficulties. For every material gift that God gives us, let us fulfill the right of some other deserving and needy person with it. Finally, let us do this together, so the world becomes a better place for all of us.
[Be sure to read part 2 of this article series on how our religious traditions and moral codes share many of the same ethical standards and practices. Despite these commonalities, human beings sometimes tend to focus on what separates us from each other rather than what brings us together.]
1. by Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, p. 72, (New York: Harper & Row, 1963).
2. Twenge, J. M., & Foster, J. D., “Birth cohort increases in narcissistic personality traits among American college students, 1982-2009,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1 (2010): 99-106.
3. Konrath, S. H., O’Brien, E. H., & Hsing, C., “Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: A meta-analysis,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(2011): 180-198.
4. The Holy Quran 2:163, Quranic quotations in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
5. The Holy Quran 7:65.
6. The Holy Quran 3:64.
7. Illal ash-sharai, part 1, p. 9.
8. The Holy Quran 37:120-122.
9. The Holy Quran 19:30.
10. History of Tabari, vol. 3, p. 1176.
4. وَإِلَـٰهُكُمْ إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ الرَّحِيمُ
5. اعْبُدُوا اللَّـهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيْرُهُ
6. يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّـهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّـهِ
7. روية عن الإمام الحسين (ع): ما خلق العباد إلا ليعرفوه فإذا عرفوه عبدوه فإذا عبدوه استغنوا بعبادته عن عبادة من سواه
8. سَلَامٌ عَلَىٰ مُوسَىٰ وَهَارُونَ ﴿١٢٠﴾ إِنَّا كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ ﴿١٢١﴾ إِنَّهُمَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ﴿١٢٢﴾
9. قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّـهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا
10. حدثنا ابن حميد قال حدثنا سلمة قال حدثني محمد بن إسحاق قال فحدثني يعقوب بن عتبة بن
المغيرة ابن الأخنس أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: يا عماه لو وضعوا الشمس في يميني والقمر في يسارى على أن أترك هذا الامر)