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Speak out with one voice

Frederica Elbourne
Friday, February 01, 2013

CHURCH leaders must speak with one voice against acts of sacrilege, Chief Justice Anthony Gates said.

He made the comment last week, as keynote speaker at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Fiji celebration for Prophet Mohammed's Birthday.

"The desecration of someone else's church, besides a dreadful denial of religious freedom, is an act not approved in any of the Holy Books of the world's great religions. The perpetrators are committing a sin against their own religion," he said.

Penalties for such crimes have increased in the Crimes Decree of Fiji, he pointed out.

"Inclusiveness in the community whatever one's religion, is very important in a free and civilised state," Justice Gates said.

One's life must always be directed by the trio of understanding, tolerance and respect, he said.

"If many were to follow those facets of the Holy Prophet's life, the misunderstandings and carelessness that breed dissent and distrust would not give rise to conflict," he said.

The acquisition of new members for our faith often causes resentment amongst those who have just been left behind.

"At times we think an increase in our numbers is more important than mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence," he said.

When one opened one's arms and mind to welcome in others who were not of one's religion, the welcoming attitude rather than the exclusionary had its foundation in the Holy Books of all major denominations, he said.

Proselytising, which is the act of attempting to convert people to another religion or opinion, is a very difficult and uncomfortable area for churchmen of all faith, Justice Gates said.

"I don't presume to have an easy answer to that problem. It may be that this issue is fuelling the present tensions and civil wars in West Africa today, particularly Mali and Nigeria," he pointed out.

Some fraught situations are not easy to quell, Justice Gates said, adding that strong and courageous leadership was required to remove misunderstandings and to restore friendships across the religious divide.

"Even in war, human life demands respect for one's temporary enemies.

"For those whom God has created are deserving of our respect, tolerance and understanding however different they may be from ourselves. Who are we to question God's creation?" he said.

He said a study of the life of Prophet Mohammed provided guidance on the strength and tolerance that civil and religious leadership must bring to bear, to cool passions and reassure their people.

"A price has sometimes to be paid," he said.

The need for understanding, compassion and restraint was one of Prophet Mohammed's greatest messages, Justice Gates said.

"As a Christian, I look forward to further readings on the remarkable life of the Holy Prophet. I commend you to such readings also," he said.

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