Religious Prejudice: A Personal Journey from East to West

The world at the moment faces many difficulties, and the foundations of our civilization have been threatened. One of those challenges is religious prejudice. But during a recent trip to a town in India, I witnessed something inspiring: people from different faiths coming together in unity. This reminded me that fostering the understanding that all religions are one and come from the same divine source is key to solving the challenges of this world.

I traveled to India to get away from the consumerism of Christmas. Once there, one of the churches in town invited me to celebrate Christmas with them. I really like the idea of commemorating religious occasions with followers of any religion since it creates unity.

My dedication to eliminating racial prejudice comes, in part, from my own experience. I was born in Iran to a family that was all Muslims — except for my father, who was a Baha’i. My family exposed me to all the Islamic ceremonies and events, and my father tried to connect me to the Baha’i teachings. The sentiments of my Islamic environment influenced me. For example, I wanted badly to participate in the anniversary of the martyrdom of the third Imam of Shi’a Islam and beat my chest to mourn his death, even though it happened centuries ago.

But when I chose to become a member of the Baha’i Faith, I became a target. I experienced a rude awakening at a tender age — my family members, my cousins, and even my grandma saw me as an inferior being. I heard many negative comments made about the followers of other religions but never about Moses or Jesus. Jesus’ name is mentioned more than 51times in Qur’an. That is because Jesus and Moses have been given the same station as Mohammad as one of the Prophets of God, sent by God to guide humanity.

Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered.  -The Qur’an, Sura 2 – The Heifer

This is no different from what the Baha’i Writings teach:

It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in diverse attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of Being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendor! – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah.

Later in life, in the 1980s, I moved to Canada. I had all these ideas about meeting people with whom I could talk and even disagree. That was my second — and perhaps worse — a rude awakening. To my shock, I witnessed a lack of knowledge and prejudice towards Muslims in particular and other minorities in general. As a Baha’i, I faced some persecution by some of the Muslims in Canada — and now people also called me “Muslim” and told me to go back where I had come from.

I could not believe Westerners were so unaware of the truth about Islam. Most interpreted the actions of some Muslims as Islamic laws. In a peace walk and on other occasions, I tried to remind my fellow peace lovers about the role religious prejudice plays in creating wars and the importance of fighting them. After all, silence on prejudice is equal to supporting it and enabling it.

To me, the problem of religious prejudice is addressed by a concept that is emphasized in the Baha’i teachings: the individual independent investigation of truth. I’ve seen firsthand how searching for truth for oneself — rather than following what others say — changes hearts and ends prejudice.

Abdu’l Baha wrote:

…every individual member of humankind is exhorted and commanded to set aside superstitious beliefs, traditions and blind imitation of ancestral forms in religion and investigate reality for himself. Inasmuch as the fundamental reality is one, all religions and nations of the world will become one through investigation of reality. Abdu’l Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace.

With that in mind, the Christmas observance in India turned out to be very special.

The church also invited local dignitaries and other representatives from federal and local governments alongside all the leaders and representatives of all the religions in town. They even requested that a religious leader who belonged to no religion be present.

Everyone talked about the message of love that Jesus preached and reminded us how that message is still relevant and needed.

One of the speakers who represented a mosque in town surprised me by addressing followers of his own religion and quoting from the Quran:

“Those messengers – some of them We caused to exceed others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree. And We gave Jesus, the Son of Mary, clear proofs, and We supported him with the Pure Spirit.” – Qur’an 2:253.

This speaker further addressed his fellow Muslims and said that you are not a true Muslim if do not believe in Jesus and give Him the reverence befitting His station.

I was touched by this gesture of fighting prejudice from within — a Muslim speaker reminding other Muslims in what light they have to see Jesus.

It is imperative that we hold on to basic truths such as the oneness of God and the oneness of the source of all religions is one, and, most important of all, the oneness of mankind. As a way of offsetting the harm of religious prejudice, let’s investigate the truth about other faiths. There is so much common ground in all religions — much more than any differences.

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