All religions in the world have overwhelming fringe elements of radicalism and fundamentalism which distort their mirage of peace. For some religions, such as Islam, this radicalism becomes the global perception of the religion, and therefore, of its adherents. However, what gets systematically erased in gruesome instances of fundamentalism is that all religions, despite having problematic elements, preach the same message, and are inherently peaceful. The peace in all religions must be routinely emphasised. That said, some religions may, and often do, keep peace and harmony as central concerns more distinctly than other religions do.
One of the three Abrahamic religions of history, Islam is the second-largest organised religion of the world with 1.7 billion adherents, equating to 23% of the world population. It has wide presence in South Asia, Indonesia, Africa, and most prominently, the Middle East where it is the official religion of most countries. Islam came into being in Arabia, and Prophet Mohammad, its founder, laid the five pillars: pledging one’s faith in Allah, praying five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramazan, giving alms to the poor and the needy, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam, although extremely misunderstood, preaches the message of peace, with one of the verses from its holy book, the Quran, being: “O You who believe! Enter absolutely into peace (Islam). Do not follow in the footsteps of satan. He is an outright enemy to you.” (Holy Quran: 2, 208)
Christianity is the most important Abrahamic religion – indeed, one can make a case for Christianity as the most important religion in the world, in political terms. Christianity is the largest organised religion with 2.4 billion adherents across the world. It is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the messiah. The religion doctrinally preaches the Ten Commandments. They comprise instructions as to worship only God, to honour parents, and to keep the sabbath; as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting. Different religious groups follow different traditions for interpreting and numbering them. Christianity is a religion that stresses particularly on the message of love, tolerance, acceptance, and harmony. Its saying, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself..’ resounds today, and should continue to do so.
Judaism is the third and final Abrahamic religions in history, arguably the oldest. Jews, the adherents of this religion, make up only 0.2% of the global population, and have had a long history of persecution and discrimination, now known as anti-Semitism. Judaism believes in a monotheistic, omnipotent God, and Moses as their prophet of the Promised Land. Its teachings are contained in the Torah, believed to have been told to Moses, and thus further passed down. Judaism is an extremely peaceful religion, and calls passionately for nonviolence, as well as for the avoidance of any form of violence.
Arguably one of the oldest religions in the world today, Zoroastrianism enters world history very early. Its adherents number to about 2.5 million people, spread over Iran and India (where they are called Parsis). They, too, like the Jews, have faced immense persecution, and the Parsi community in India owes its existence to such influx. Zoroastrianism is premised on its God, Ahura Mazda, and its Prophet, Zarathustra. It also involves fire-worship in a very prominent way. It is an extremely intriguing religion which merges monotheism with cosmogenic elements. Doctrinally, it preaches good words, thoughts, deeds, as well as in always, unequivocally, doing the right thing, no matter what it is.
Coming to the world’s attention as late as the 20th century, the Wiccan tradition is one that is popularly equated with ‘witchcraft.’ Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner, a retired public servant. It is pantheistic in character, and canonically worships the ‘Great Goddess’ and the ‘Great Horned God’ which can be located in different pantheons across different historical contexts. The Wiccans, its adherents, believe in their deities as reservoirs of power, and their religious practice is based on channelling that power through divine connection. This power, then, is used for healing. Wicca’s precepts emphasise healing, harmony, peace, and compassion for one and all.
Touted as the earliest extant religion in human history, Hinduism is the largest polytheistic religion in the world.
With over 900 million adherents worldwide, Hinduism is the dominant religion in India. Hinduism has no single scripture, founder, or even a common set of teachings. Nevertheless, an excellent conglomeration of traditions as it may be, traditions in Hinduism have always emphasised peace and harmony. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important texts of Hinduism, was employed even by Mahatma Gandhi, independent India’s pioneer, in his nonviolent fight against the British colonial regime. India, Gandhi said, has the message of nonviolence embedded in its traditions.
Sikhism, another religion native to the Indian subcontinent, is of relatively recent origin – the 15th century, to be precise. Sikhism was established by Guru Nanak – the first of its eleven gurus – as a monotheistic religion with the Guru Granth Sahib being its sacred text. Sikhism is one of the youngest traditions in the world, but it has about 25 million adherents worldwide, making it the fifth-largest religion in the world. At the heart of this beautiful religion is the message of religious harmony, love, peace, tolerance, and fraternity. The Sikh community is considered to be one of the most peaceful, most hardworking communities in the world. Nanak himself was an extremely vocal critic of religious fundamentalism, ritualistic practice, inequalities, and such.
Jainism deserves a very special mention in any, and every, list of peaceful religions. Originating with Buddhism in India, actually slightly earlier, Jainism, too, is one of the ancient religions of the world. Jainism’s central tenet is ahimsa, that is, non-violence, and it is therefore one of the most peaceful religions known to humankind. This ideal of nonviolence is very strictly enforced, with monks and nuns even putting a piece of cloth across their mouths, lest their breath and sound harm micro-bacteria. A British administrator is popularly known to have said, ‘The more a man becomes a Jaina, the less we have to worry about him.’
Taoism is an ancient system of Chinese thought and philosophy, beliefs and practices that was later framed as a religion in the modern sense. It is deeply philosophical in nature, and seeks to explain the natural order, the balance between the elements that constitute the world, and such. Taoism is an extremely technical tradition; it believes in the Ying Yang, that there is a natural order to the order that human beings must not disturb. Thus, it advocates peace, harmony, and co-existence that does not disrupt fellow beings.
Arguably, with the deepest, most immersive religious traditions of the world, Buddhism is known for its peace. The figure of the serene Buddhist monk has been in popular parlance, and rightly so. Since its emergence in the subcontinent centuries ago, Buddhism has always advocated peace, justice, and a feeling of brotherhood. It carried the same message across countries, even across continents, and it enjoys immense support today. Its adherents and even those of other traditions revere Buddhism for its rational and scientific philosophy, its inspiring ideal of nirvana, and of the inner peace and harmony with the universe that it hopes to inculcate in all.