TEACHERS Day — the day set aside to commemorate and honour the special work of teachers — is celebrated throughout the world on different days.
In Malaysia, it falls on May 16; in Brunei on Sept 23, in the Philippines on Oct 5; and in Singapore on the first Friday of September.
There is, of course, a World Teachers Day, which is celebrated on Oct 5.
But much less is known, if at all, that May 16 is declared by the UN General-Assembly (UNGA) as the International Day of Living Together in Peace (the Day). It is to regularly mobilise efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity.
The Day aims to uphold the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony. Living together in peace is all about accepting differences and having the ability to listen to, recognize, respect and appreciate others, as well as living in a peaceful and united way.
The Day invites countries to further promote reconciliation to help to ensure peace and sustainable development, including by working with communities, faith leaders and other relevant actors, through reconciliatory measures and acts of service and by encouraging forgiveness and compassion among individuals.
It is about time May 16 is celebrated as declared by the UNGA.
Since the day went by unnoticed except for the Teachers Day celebration, I have felt compelled to share some Quranic messages and practices of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on the subject of tolerance and living together in peace.
One of the essential principles of Islam is the conception that the human race is fundamentally one and the same. The Quran says: “O mankind, revere your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and made out of it a pair, and thereupon brought forth multitudes of men and women.” (Chapter 4:1)
Elsewhere the Quran says: “And if your Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation” (Chapter 11:118), and then explains what God has willed: “O Mankind! We created you from a single pair male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other (and be good to one another, and not despise one another). The noblest among you before God is the best in conduct. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (Chapter 49:13)
The Quran ordains that ‘there shall be no compulsion in matters of faith’ (Chapter 2:256) as it explains: “To everyone have We given a law and a way. If God had so willed, He would have made you (all mankind) one people (of one religion). But He has done otherwise, that He might try you in that which He has severally given unto you: wherefore strive in good works. Unto God shall you return, and He will tell you concerning which you disagree.” (Chapter 5:48)
Difference of belief is therefore divinely willed, a fact the Quran stresses again: “If God had so willed, He could have made them one people; but He admits who He will to His Mercy, and the wrongdoer will have neither protector nor helper.” (Chapter 42:8)
The principle of non-compulsion in matters of faith and belief and God’s will in the variety of human belief is made even explicit in this verse: “If it had been your Lord’s will, all on earth, without exception, would have believed; will you then compel mankind to become believers?” (Chapter 10:99)
This verse, according to the celebrated commentary of the Quran, Tafsir al-Jalalain, explains a clear principle that one shall not compel others ‘to do that which God does not want of them’.
That God guides whom He wills is also made explicit in this verse: “It is true that you will not be able to guide every one whom you love most; but God guides those whom He wills.” (Chapter 28:56). Another verse of the Quran is as telling: “It is not incumbent on you that you make people rightly guided. But God guides whom He wills.” (Chapter 2:272). This verse makes it clear that guidance is from God and by His will God gives preference to certain people rather than others.
And so the Quran makes it clear to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), God’s messenger, that he was not to force and compel his own conception of truth on others. Indeed such a right was denied to him. Even as he himself was accused as a liar, scorned, insulted, threatened, resisted and rejected, and his followers severely persecuted by the people of Mecca, God’s instructions to him was unequivocal:
“Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in the most kindly manners.” (Chapter 16:125)
Elsewhere the Quran exhorts: “And so (O Muhammad) remind them; your task is only to remind: you cannot compel them to believe. However, as for him who turns away, being bent on denying the truth, God will cause him to suffer the greatest suffering [in the life to come]. Behold, unto Us will be their return and, verily, it is for Us to call them to account.” (Chapter 88: 21-26)
The worship of God, if not freely given, is unworthy of Him. The Quran in fact calls for mutuality of respect for human belief: “Do not revile those who call mankind (to worship) others than God, lest they [in turn] revile God out of ignorance and spite; thus have we made each people’s behaviour alluring to them. In the end their point of return is their Lord, and He will inform them of what they were wont to do.” (Chapter 6:108)
These then are the principles that the Quran prescribes ― principles that were realised into action and exemplified in practice by the Prophet (pbuh) himself. He set out with a clear message for the people he was sent to: “You are all humans and all humans are equal in the eyes of God. None is born with the slur of shame on his face; nor has anyone come into the world with the mantle of honour hung around his neck. He alone is high and honoured who is God fearing and pious, true in words and deed. Distinctions of birth and race are no criteria of greatness and honour. One who fears God and does good deeds is the noblest of humans. One who does not love God and is steeped in bad ways is doomed.”
He preached that humans are as ‘alike as the teeth of a comb’; ‘all are children of Adam and Adam was made of earth’. A few other examples of what he said will inform further:
‘All men are dependent on God. Of them, He loves most the one who is most useful to mankind.’
‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for others what he wishes for himself.’
‘Do good to your neighbour, you will be a believer, wish for others what you wish for yourself, you will be a Muslim.’
Is it any wonder that he was the one able to reconcile the ‘numerous tribes, big and small, of a hundred different kinds that were incessantly at feud with one another’, and ‘created a nation’ ― the ummah ― out of them?
In the city-state of Madinah that he established upon his migration from Mecca, he welcomed the Jews, Christians and people of other faiths into the nation he had created and pledged for their lives, religious beliefs and properties to be accorded the security of God.
He called for benevolence and justice, and ruled that there should always be mutual council and advice.
Is it any wonder also that the highly respected scholar, international jurist and humanist, Judge C.G Weeramantry should write in his much acclaimed book Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective:
“Tolerance, not compulsion, is the teaching of Islam and neither contrary practice nor contrary popular opinion can alter this.”
As a Muslim, I take great pride in Islam’s messages on tolerance and living together in peace. Having said that, I have no doubt that the religions of fellow Malaysians too teach tolerance and respect for others.
So, let’s stand committed to spreading the message. Let’s celebrate May 16 as a day of tolerance and living together in peace.
(This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of BebasNews.)