Since the birth of the world’s first civilisation, religion has played a role in governing the course of humanity. It has either brought people together or keep them divided for decades, if not centuries. It is difficult to know precisely how many religions this world has, but the most prominent ones fall into two categories: Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; and Indian religions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and others. Of the world’s major religions, Christianity is the largest, with more than two billion followers. With so many unique individuals and religions on this planet, is it possible for people to live together in harmony by respecting each other’s spiritual compass? Is it possible for us to be one?
To answer that question, a good starting point would be to understand the definition of religion. Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of religion. One can assert that religion is defined as “the belief in a god or a group of gods”, while another can highlight that religion is an “organised system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” It is not difficult to comprehend because, firstly, that is what Merriam Webster dictionary says. Secondly, I believe it is imperative to describe what religion means to you personally and where does it fit into your life.
If you are to follow the teachings of a religion and permit them to rule your life, you want to be an expert on that religion. The more knowledgeable you are about a religion, the more respect you have for it. For instance, while I am a Buddhist, I do not let it stop me from uncovering the spiritual teachings from other religions such as Christianity and Islam. Just having a surface-level understanding of them has made me more receptive to them and respect those who have faith in them.
Do not be afraid to ask questions, including the difficult ones that make you feel uncomfortable. We all have that one person who has an entirely different religious compass, and our curiosity knows no bound. So, if you really like to know about your friend’s spiritual background, discuss it. Emphasise on “discuss” because you are here to learn, not debate, about the religious beliefs your friend trusts. Simultaneously, teach your friend about your spiritual background. Perhaps that discussion is what both of you need to be closer together. One of my close friends is a follower of Islam, and through the religious practices he carries out regularly, I learned plenty about him as a character and his culture. I have an abundance of respect for him and his religious faith.
We have gone this far, but it is worth revisiting the meaning of religion. As mentioned before, religion is a “belief”. Each of us believes in something, whether that something is tied to religion or not. I need to highlight that note to all my readers because regardless of the practices and beliefs you adopt, they are still human beings with dignity and who have the right to be respected at the end of the day. Obviously, religion can teach you loads about its followers, what some of their principles are, how and why they embrace their lives in a particular manner, why they dress, walk and communicate the way they do, etc.
Never stop others from practising a certain religious faith. Instead, let them be. I am confident that love for everyone, regardless of race or religious background, is included in almost every religion. So, if you firmly believe in your faith, embrace it. The world needs more of that love. Nowadays, it is easy to forget that we are supposed to love and respect each other when you watch the international news coverage about a civil unrest that is taking place, either in your community or in another country. Therefore, the next time you want to comment on someone because of their religious convictions, keep in mind that you are no different.
Truth be told, in every religion, there is a set of fixed constructs behind them. No way can you change the fact that Noah constructed the ark or that Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. When people sincerely believe in something sacred, there is nothing you can do to change their minds. It is definitely vital to be firm about those things. Simultaneously, however, it is crucial to understand that it may not be the same as what you appreciate. Ultimately, religious respect is not reliant on respecting religion at face value. It is about having the dignity and maturity to accept that everyone is different.
From my point of view, to be human means to care for each other, and civilisation means to respect each other’s religious background to create a better life.