Just before Christmas an Islamic group in the UK launched a poster campaign. Mr Rumaysah, a spokesman for the group, told the Mail that he was unconcerned about offending Christians. He said: “Christmas is a lie and as Muslims it is our duty to attack it”.
This sort of attitude is seen in fundamentalists followers of all exclusive religions, not just Islam. Showing equal disregard for other faiths, the Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson said “Siva [is] the God of Destruction, and his consort, the Goddess of death [Kali] — that black, ugly statue there with all those fierce eyes”. [This is wrong in almost every way, Saivite Hindus Immanent love and transcendent reality]. He also said that Islam is “…motivated by demonic power. It is Satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with”. Not all Christians and Muslims are extreme like this; I have written previously about Muslims and Christians who acted with friendship towards Hindus. The attitude that it is acceptable to insult other faiths is one of the dangers of exclusive religions though, the religions that teach that they have the only right way.
This contrasts with those who follow inclusive religions: Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Buddhists, and many more. I am a Saivite Hindu and attend a temple in the UK where most of the other attendees are Vishnavas. I see Shiva as the ultimate God, whereas Vishnavas see Vishnu or one of his avatars as the ultimate God. Vishnavas believe that Shiva is a created demigod, and I believe that Vishnu is just one of the five actions of Shiva, which are creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and revealing. Many Vishnavas see Krishna as the ultimate God, but as a Saivite I don’t believe in full avatars. To people following exclusive religions these might seem like unsurmountable differences, but I and many other Saivites worship next to Vishnavas regularly. I attend Krishna Janmashtami (Krishna’s Birthday) celebrations, and many Vishnavas attend Maha Shivaratri, a Saivite festival. We each observe our beliefs fully, and show complete respect to others. At larger festivals we also have a number of Sikhs who attend and worship alongside us, and they are equally accepting and equally welcome. The key is that Hinduism teaches us that respecting other beliefs does not diminish ours. We all have unique things to bring to God.
On a father’s birthday the children may each bring different gifts. One child may think of his father as a working provider and bring a gift connected with work, a calculator for an engineer, a brief case for a businessman. Another might think of his father’s hobbies and bring a golf ball, or maybe some hiking socks. Another might think of his father’s appreciation of art or poetry, maybe writing and performing a song. All are different but all valued. If each child appreciates the gifts of the other then the father will be pleased and there will be harmony in the family. If each child mocks the other gifts and denigrates the other children there will be disharmony and the father will not be happy or able to fully appreciate the gifts.
It is the same true of the Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the family of the whole world. We should all appreciate and respect other faiths, not denigrate and insult them. This is the only way that we can live in harmony, and one of the valuable lessons that Hinduism demonstrates to people of all faiths. It might be difficult for some followers of the exclusive faiths, but I do see signs that tolerance is becoming more accepted than trading insults . There is hope.