Just a different name
Arvind Khetia, engineer and a Hindu: The sages of ancient India, realizing the nature of ultimate reality as transcendental and all-pervading, concluded that “Truth is one; sages call it by different names.”
This profound statement defines two aspects of every religion. The first is that spiritual truths are universal. They form the inner spirit of every religion that allows one to grow spiritually. The other is its name and form as expressed by its scripture, rituals, symbols, doctrines and dogma.
The significant differences we see among religions are due to the differences in their external manifestations, because different religions have evolved at different times, locations and in different social and cultural environments.
Unfortunately, spiritual truths remain unexplored, when the cultural norms and the external aspects of religions overshadow their underlying spiritual values. Then, the differences appear so absolute that one is led to believe that one’s religion is the only “truth,” and that other religions are false. Consequently, religious extremists are ready to kill, and even die, in the name of religion.
Swami Vivekananda has stated, “Let us be no more the worshippers of creeds or sects with small limited notions of God, but see God in everything in the universe.” Therefore, for a religion to be a blessing, God and religion must be understood in their spiritual context. Then only will the differences among religions not seem as absolute and divisive.
Freedom to choose
Rushdy El-Ghussein, former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City: This is really a big and difficult question. There are so many differences between the various religions that it is impossible to think of one between them all or even between Islam and all other religions. But the Islamic concept behind the differences is that it is by God’s permission.
“Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later). Had it not been for a Word that went forth before from thy Lord, their differences would have been settled between them.” (Qur’an 10:19)
There is one God alone who created all, and after creating mankind he sent messengers and prophets to provide guidance to the truth. There are also signs in nature and within the soul of mankind directing toward the reality of God. But people differed with each other, forgot the message, distorted it and made up what seemed satisfying to themselves or what gave them power over others.
God could have forced everyone to his way, but he gives mankind the freedom to choose, and he uses the differences to encourage people to observe and think and to compete in virtue and piety, thus potentially leading them closer to God and his message.
Personally, I prefer to focus on the commonalities among religious persuasions than the differences. This will bring humanity closer to each other and might lead us to cooperate and reach the goals that God intends human beings to achieve.