On Faith: Extremism, intolerance exists all over

Osama bin Laden is dead, but his brand of religious extremism lives on.

This is not to say that such religious extremism is exclusive to Islam and Muslims.

Extremism infiltrates the minds of religious zealots, nationalists, racists, environmentalists, and so forth.

Each type of extremism embodies a similar core philosophy. There is no tolerance for those who express a different viewpoint or use other methods. Such intolerance often leads to violence.

Robert Kennedy once said, "What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant."

The root cause of extremism is intolerance, a self-engaging exaggeration of the incapacity to respect or tolerate the ways of others. It is a tendency to see oneself as above others, thus drawing on animosity and hostility toward those who view things differently.

Religious intolerance is bred from such views. Religious fanatics assume the high ground for supremacy and the "preservation" of morals. These religious groups tend to misappropriate divine context and manipulate interpretation of religious traditions, doctrines and sources in order to serve their agenda. They tend to uphold a puritanical and literalist interpretation of divine texts to suit their warped ideology and purpose.

The minds of extremists like bin Laden think they are justified in attacking others that oppose their ideology. Muslim extremists think along the same lines but they have erroneously sidelined the Koranic message that no formal religion can exclusively claim right of salvation. (Koran, 2:62)

Since God intentionally created human diversity and bestowed dignity on humankind, thus His mercy extends to all who strive in the pursuit of virtue:

"To each of you God has prescribed a law and a way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God's purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree." (Koran, 5:48)

Islam calls for Muslims to be respectful and moderate in every aspect in their life.

The Prophet Muhammad called for a path of living life in moderation and not excessiveness. He even warned that "extremist fanatics are doomed."

Every religion has its own share of intolerance. Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and others are guilty of breeding religious intolerance and extremism throughout time. Its ramifications have left a bitter memory in the lines of history.

When religious tolerance is evident, society flourishes.

Take for example, Spain from 711 to 1492, when it was the Mecca of the three Abrahamic faiths.

Science, medicine, literature and art flourished under Islamic rule. Out of Islamic Spain rose great thinkers and contributors to science, such as the Muslim doctor Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. The Muslims of Spain lived within the spirit of the Koran's universal message of acceptance, religious liberty, and respect for human diversity.

In the wisdom of diversity comes the opportunity for intellectual, spiritual and moral growth for humankind. This could be the reason why God made humankind into diverse nations and tribes so that they may come to know each other. (Koran, 49:13)

When people travel the world, they learn, exchange, and develop ideas and relationships. The Arabs developed the Arabic numeral from the Hindus, the papyrus and ink were developed by the Egyptians, the groundwork for democracy began by the Greeks, thus diversity is a crucial element to the advancement of human development.

The challenge thus becomes for humans to practice virtues of acceptance and harmony amongst others.

God says in the Koran, "Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous." (49:13)

FATMA SALEH is a board member with the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.

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