As we mark World Peace Day on 21st September, members of the Abraham Festival committee shared their thoughts on what peace means to them.
My own thoughts on peace are informed by my Muslim faith: the word Islam means ‘surrender to God’, and is related to the Arabic word ‘salaam’ which means peace. This word includes a sense of security, as in the afterlife; it is the salutation of peaceful Muslims, and signifies accord with those around us. It also means acknowledgment that we are satisfied with what we have. The core message of Islam is individual inner peace, which leads to peace in the community and the world; it teaches abstention from aggression or war, except in self-defense.
But ‘peace’ also has a practical meaning. It is not just the absence of war; peace is like a balance with equal weights on each side. If the balance is disturbed, then peace is lost. We are seeing this imbalance in the world today. Peace can only be achieved when there is hope and justice for people of all races and faiths; when people feel safe and their property is not taken from them. Peace can only be achieved when children are educated; when they have clean water and are free from malnutrition. Peace can only be achieved when people are free to practice their religion and are proud of their culture.
The pursuit of peace means we must demand justice and dignity for all people, and social programs which allow people to live with dignity. We must demand that civil rights are not compromised in our quest for security. As a Muslim, I believe every human being has a right to live in peace.
To Helen McCarthy, a Catholic, peace means loving her own fragility – accepting her own weaknesses, Jesus’ statement ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ means love of self is the first step in accepting and loving our neighbor. Loving despite imperfections creates bonds so we can face obstacles together. We should feel secure enough to be honest and to trust. Confronting injustice, poverty and indignity is best done together. Peace may seem elusive. Christ said: do to others what you would have them do to you. While Christians try to apply the teachings of Jesus, ethical conundrums remain.
According to Rev. Jessica Beecham-Stockton, a United Church member, our society seems to encourage competition which is on the continuum of violence, however co-operation can overcome the tendency to compete. Forgiveness is another aspect of peace; and showing compassion towards the other. The crunch comes when we ask forgiveness but the other person will not hear us. However, someone said NOT forgiving is like swallowing poison and expecting our enemy to die. Author Ariel Dorfman struggled with the evil he saw in Chile at the time of Pinochet. He realized the dictator was a man much like himself and that within himself he had the potential for such violence.
According to Heather Pollack, Jewish values are founded on three key ideals: truth, justice and peace. In Hebrew, the word for peace, “Shalom” is used when greeting and parting from others. It is used to make a particular wish for the Sabbath. Jews invoke it when blessing children on Friday nights and when descendants of the High Priests of the Jerusalem Temple bless the community on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.
Peace means more than an absence of war. Ideally peace is between nations, friends, and family, but it is also important within oneself. It involves security, safety, and physical and spiritual well-being. Peace is to be actively pursued, whether political or personal. The only higher value in Judaism is life. Self-defense is the only justification for war, but it is of great importance to actively seek alternatives before making the significant decision to respond to violence with violence.
We need a world where all parents can provide for their children, send them to school and put them to bed with the confidence that the following day will also be peaceful and secure. As individuals, we must resist thinking of other groups as somehow having different dreams than we do. We must also encourage our political leaders to actively pursue peace, to explore every option to avoid war and to know the importance of the life and prosperity of every human being.
With the world in turmoil today, the Abraham Festival committee members often find themselves on opposite sides of an issue; however with mutual respect and acceptance Jews, Christians and Muslims rise above their differences and continue to work together for peace.
Elizabeth Rahman is one of the founders of the Abraham Festival