In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Respect, honesty needed to build consensus
Rushdy El-Ghussein, former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City: Public discourse is very important in society for airing issues and building consensus leading to positive action. To reap benefits, public discourse needs to be characterized by kindness, respect, civility and equal opportunity for all.
When applied correctly with honesty and sincerity, religion should result in these features. "Invite all to the Way of thy Lord with Wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best" (Qur'an 16:125).
Islam emphasizes the value of conversation and dealing with others. The conversation has to be beneficial; otherwise, it is useless and a waste of time and resources. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said "Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest."
For me as a Muslim, I need to watch every action I do and every word I utter. Yes, it is hard and sometimes impossible. But to be truly committed is to try your best. It is a challenge to live in today's environment (speed, technology, economic realities, conflicting and competing marketing and advertising, etc). Religion gives me that patience and stamina to try harder, and hopefully I can succeed in giving the benefit of the doubt to those deserving it.
Wisdom comes through correct state of mind
Arvind Khetia, engineer and a Hindu: Despite the abundance of religion, there is a lack of civility in the civilized world. The Bhagavad-Gita explains how one's mind, and consequently one's value system, is influenced by three attributes: sattva, which is purity, goodness and harmony; rajas, which is passion arising from selfish desires and attachment; and tamas, which is spiritual ignorance, delusion and insensitivity.
When sattva predominates, wisdom shines through all the senses. When rajas predominates, a person is engaged in relentless selfish pursuits. When tamas predominates, a person lives in darkness and confusion.
Thus, sattvik (or spiritual knowledge) brings purity of heart and mind, and one sees the unity of all beings. Its expression (speech) is truthful and harmonious. With rajasik (or worldly knowledge), one sees all as separate and thus creates divisiveness and hatred. Its expression is manipulative and selfish. Tamasik knowledge, rooted in ignorance, lacks any kind of perspective and sees one small part and mistakes it for the whole. Its expression is destructive. For example, an exclusive religion sees all other religions as untrue.
Lack of civility arises when there is an absence of truthfulness and an excess of selfishness and spiritual ignorance. For a religion to instill civility in human interactions, it has to promote spiritual values and not doctrines and dogma, because without spiritual knowledge, there can be no peace and harmony in any society.