Religious core values resonate

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I recently saw on television an interview with Wolf Blitzer and Sen. Diane Feinstein. In the interview the senator said that in the war on terrorism, what needs to be done, is for Islamic religious leaders to condemn terrorism. I haven't heard others explain the problem this way before, but I think she is correct.

Every religion has its core values, that is, those beliefs, values and practices that they consider essential. Religions also have peripheral beliefs and practices that are not essential, but that they prefer their members to accept.

I am not an authority on Islamic core values and beliefs, but from what I have read and studied, they are very close to the core values of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions. Those values appear to be: Treat others with justice and fairness, help the poor and indigent, live a life acceptable to our social system, abide by the local legal system and, ultimately, try to learn to love others - even if you don't know them well.

To go on a crusade is not an essential core value of Christianity, although in the past crusades were carried out under the name of religion. As far as I can tell, the "jihad" or war against non-believers is not a core belief of Islam. When a member of a religious group is convinced that a member has not, or does not live up to those values, they are told to leave. If a person is a Baptist, Lutheran or other type of Christian, and they violate or go against the core values, they are told to leave. They are no longer accepted in that community. The Catholic Church has "excommunication" for those who do not respect its core values. It is simply a way of saying, "You are not in accord with our beliefs and practices, and you are no longer a member; please stay away."

What Sen. Feinstein said was that it is time for Islamic leaders in mosques around the world to tell their people that the "jihad" and killing of innocent people of their own religious convictions are wrong. Her suggestion was that if a person decides to be a terrorist - a suicide bomber killing people of his own faith, people of his own nations - that Islamic preachers must proclaim that they do not want these people in their mosques. The "jihad" is not a core value of Islam. In the same manner, Christian preachers have to tell their congregations that hatred, revenge, violence and the killing of innocent people are not part of the basic Christian belief.

We can't expect everyone to love one another, but for peace in the world we must have justice, fairness, respect for the beliefs of others.

Bombs, military forces, raids and attacks won't bring peace to the world. These are not the answers. It is easy to wield military power, but it won't solve the basic problem of terrorism. The war on terrorism has to be among people, clerics, neighbors and religious leaders telling each other that "These are our core beliefs and values. We can observe them and practice them and, by doing so, we can live together in peace in this world."

• Wally Olson is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast.

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