A Vision for Inter-Religious Peace
Leading to Peace Worldwide
How the rivalry over a tiny peace of land has plunged the world into turmoil
and what the road to a lasting peace could look like
Whereas before our time, religions possessed their closed and well defined areas and conflicts only occurred at the borders between them – today those borders are everywhere. Consequently, we have these conflicts right at our doorstep. And there is no way to turn back history. The world has become one, whether we like it or not. Therefore, perhaps we might have to consider thoughts and visions that once were far from us when we were just among “ourselves”.
For example: What if the deepest reason behind the present day conflict between the Muslim extremists who resort to terror in the name of Islam and the civil and military powers of the Western world – that costs billions of dollars every year – could be found in the battle over mythically justified and opposing ownership rights to a tiny piece of land in the city of Jerusalem?
What if we could have the choice, either to continue concentrating on the military combat of this mythical battle’s consequences, or to directly address and settle the dispute, thereby creating a vision of peace that possibly has the strength to resolve the whole complex of this conflict?
With that thesis of course I don’t mean to deny the multilevel motives for the Middle East conflict; I only want to draw the reader's attention to one really decisive element that up until now hardly has gotten the attention it deserves, namely the mythical-spiritual heart of the conflict, which clearly came into view again in 2006 in the riots involving the Danish Embassies in certain Islamic countries – even though these riots also might have been manipulated by non-religious political forces of these countries.
Part I: Root Cause Analysis
We Western people are usually unable to perceive the potential for conflict that emanates from religion. Thus we were taken by surprise by the riots caused by the publication of drawings that show the Prophet Mohammed. We should better recognize this blind spot that is rooted in our "enlightened" view of the world - which in reality is not really enlightened, as we will see.
Enlightened or not or How Enlightenment became an Ideology
Before our enlightened way of thinking, for thousands of years, religions often were basis for conflicts, for persecution of people of other beliefs, and also for wars. To avoid this, modern forms of government separated religion and state. Any kind of religious motivation was kept out of secular acts; only civil factors were taken into consideration. This resulted in the modern and democratic states.
In a similar fashion, religious dogma had constrained the thinking and imposed undue limits to human scientific curiosity. Because of this, religious beliefs and scientific knowledge were separated, creating the basis of modern day science.
This process of
rationalization of public life that took place in
Against this background, however, by people who think of themselves as “secular” or “enlightened”, religion often is seen as a force to be eliminated. In an effort to keep their thinking pure they lose sight of the spiritual dimension of being that has created and still is creating the religious traditions and institutions.
becomes an ideology. Blindness emerges for religious facts and symbols that
completely ignores the social power of these symbols – as in the case of the
Should the label “enlightened” once again signify what it originally intended, namely an all encompassing and rational perception, then it will be necessary for the “enlightened” to free themselves from their ideological secular constraints and to wholly embrace again in their perception the spiritual meaning of some of the earthly realities.
Then the current events in world politics may be seen in a wholly new light.
To stop the atrocious terror and to do away with the utterly expensive and destructive measures of defense, we – as the “enlightened”, who are able to see religion as a force with material effects – should win over the “enlightened”, who are religiously blind, and also the religious, to take a new look at themselves, at each other, and at the locations of colliding interests.
Especially the followers of the Abrahamic religions urgently need to be reminded that, to be taken seriously after the era of enlightenment, they will have to practice what they preach: the brotherhood of man.
If there is only one god, and if this one god has been communicating with mankind throughout the times, as the Abrahamic religions claim, there needs to be peace at least between these religions.
But until now this is not the case, on the contrary, presently a worldwide Islamist movement expresses by means of terrorism that their claims have not adequately been listened to. We, therefore, have to ask ourselves: What is their claim?
Worldwide Terror as Consequence of an Inter-Religious Conflict
The center of
interest in the Islamist movement is, at least originally, the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Iranian president unmistakably expresses the
conclusion without addressing the cause that
Let us have a look at that threat:
In the public eye
place once had harbored the ancient
This place is of highest significance for Islam and indispensable, because it is the place of the ascension of Prophet Mohammed in his famous “Night Journey”. There, in the Islamic view, Mohammed met with all the prophets from Abraham to Jesus. This is the crowning event that seals his calling as the envoy of God. Should the Muslims permit the Jews to take this place away from them?
At present, nobody is
actually threatening the Muslim’s ownership rights to Haram Ash-Sharif,
however, the Jewish dream of the
In the Islamic perception Mohammed is the Seal of the Prophets. From an Islamic perspective the religion of Islam has overtaken Judaism and Christianity and has made them unnecessary. In the Islamic view only the religion of Islam is meant to survive. But now Judaism, in the Islamic view, after that many centuries having unexpectedly risen from the dead in the country of its origin, is disputing the Muslim’s ownership rights to the very place where their prophet has been installed into his position as the seal of the prophets by the Archangel Gabriel! The Muslims cannot accept that under any conditions whatsoever. In this case they rather state – against all historic evidence, as the fundaments to the Holy of Holies that can be visited – that there never has been a Jewish Temple at that spot.
Just as the Jews were
moved by the biblical narratives to return to their biblical homeland, the
Muslims are moved by their traditional narratives not to yield to the Jewish
claim to the prophesized place for their third
In the secularist way of thinking such an issue is considered purely mythological and has no room whatsoever. It can neither be seen nor addressed. In the secularist view, this conflict must be ignored. But even the ones who can see the conflict tend to cut it out of their view, because they deem it unsolvable. No wonder that outside of the Middle East the struggle about the Temple Mount / Haram Ash-Sharif is absent from public awareness.
Therefore, the true depth of the conflict can be grasped only by people whose minds are free to recognize the feelings of religious identity as powerful realities – as in this case, where the outcome of the conflict is absolutely crucial, because losing would deal a devastating blow to the self-image of the losing party.
Exactly for these
reasons this conflict had an effect long before the state of
In my view the attempt to maintain their religious identity ultimately was the hardly conscious but decisive factor why the Arabs believed at that time that they had to drive the Israelis into the sea, and consequently for the united Arabic military campaign against the establishment of the Israeli part of the partition, and also for all further aggressions and reprisals in the area since then – including the Intifadas, and the desire of the Iranian president to wipe Israel off the map.
But this “kernel” of
the matter, the conflict about Haram Ash-Sharif, the
In spite of ever
increasing violence, no one side could claim victory.
Seeing that the
Palestinian resistance did not endanger the existence of Israel and also seeing
that poverty was sharply increasing in the Islamic countries, the current
spearhead of the Islamist movement, Al Qaeda, decided to go against the main
supporters of Israel and against prominent symbols of the secularist
enlightened Western views of life, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This way, they hoped to promote the glory of Islam and simultaneously to
contribute to the downfall of
This kind of
reasoning may give the impression that it is not at all about questions of
justice such as a separate Palestinian state, the return of occupied
territories, or compensations. However, in order to solve the questions of justice
in a lasting way the fundamental issues must be resolved first. In this,
religion plays a deciding role. Were it not for Haram Ash-Sharif, the
So far, exactly the
opposite has been achieved. The second Intifada started in the year 2000, after
Arial Sharon, then a politician of the opposition, visited the
A comparable reaction already had taken place in 1929, when a few young Jews with Zionist flags went to the Wailing Wall.
Why are there such reactions?
Because in these gestures the Muslims see a confirmation of the Jewish claim to Haram Ash-Sharif, the Temple Mount, and they fear that the memorial site of their prophet’s journey to the heavens will be taken away from them – even though there never has been an official request, and most likely there never will be such a request, because for the Jews the New Temple is a matter of the Messiah.
Still, the heart of the conflict between the two religions became openly visible on these occasions, and that wounded heart is still being excluded from all discussions by both parties – as if that would make it whole again.
The only intelligent reaction to this situation seems to me, therefore, to have a critical look directly at that heart of the conflict including the opposing claims of both religions, and the forces that try to inhibit such views and discussions.
The Four Religious Belief Systems of the
As far as I can see,
four religious beliefs are involved in the conflict between
The first one is
Judaism, which claims to have the original rights to the
The second one is
Christianity; it is not directly involved in the conflict. The Christians of
the occupied territories tend to lean towards the Palestinian side, while the
The third party are the Muslims, who are the majority of the Palestinians; they deny the Jewish claim of original rights to Haram Ash-Sharif, as they call the Temple Mount and they for their part claim original rights and the sole ownership.
The fourth party are
the secularists, who rule out any religious claims, but want to find a
pragmatic solution. On the basis of their ideology, they deny the significance
But since all parties negate claims of the other sides and believe that they alone are right, they cannot agree on a solution.
A Perspective of Appreciation Leads to an Image of Peace
Mutual rejection never can lead to a lasting solution. A lasting solution only can arise from an attitude of appreciation and respect.
An appreciative observer would see Islam as a religion that in an unsurpassable way is able to guide people to an active and reliable relation to their creator and to lead to a good life.
He would recognize Judaism as the oldest, but still energetic and vibrant religion of “God’s own People”, unsurpassable in its own way.
He would perceive Christianity as an unsurpassable way to a relationship with the creative source, the “Heavenly Father”.
And a really enlightened secularism would reveal itself to him by its unsurpassable inner attitude which allows the spirit to be freed of all preconceived ideas, to explore the laws of nature, and of human communication, thereby finding solutions everybody can accept.
From this perspective of appreciation and respect, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer remains unsolvable. This perspective does not deny any of the claims. It sees the original claim of the Jews. It sees the ties of the Christians to this place. It sees the claim that results from the Muslim tradition. And with the secular it sees that it is ultimately about practical solutions for all parties.
The solution must be based on healing the root cause of the conflict – by clarifying the inter-religious claims of ownership. Out of this clarification an image of peace will arise; and from there all other issues, such as the settlement of damages that have occurred during the conflict, or the relationship between state and religion, will resolve themselves.
The Very Simple Inter-Religious Image of Peace
The simultaneously valid, but contradictory claims of ownership, will not be resolved with “either-or” but rather through “both-and” – corresponding to the insights of modern conflict management. A lasting peace can be attained only if no one is put into the position of a loser; everybody must win.
So please take this as a central and
archetypical example, also for all further settlements: If the space for the
Possibly you might say that this is all too simplistic. But some of the worlds best architects, like Daniel Libeskind, Frank O Gehry, Tadao Ando, or Zaha Hadid, did not say that. They took up the idea very positively and they showed me that the project can be realized – in an esthetically appealing way. And the more I looked at the image, the more logical it became for me. Increasingly, all the details fit into the bigger picture:
To begin with, there is the Dome of the Rock. According to Jewish legend, the rock it surrounds is the mountaintop on which Abraham bound his son Isaac, because God had demanded that he sacrifice what was dearest to him. Though most Muslims today believe the son to be sacrificed was not Isaac but Ishmael, and the place was not Mount Moriah, but rather a location near Mecca, they still believe that Mount Moriah was the place of the mystical night journey of the Prophet Mohammed, where he was raised to the heavens by Archangel Gabriel to meet with all the prophets who had lived before him.
Thus, for the Muslims, this place has acquired a new significance, and they built a sanctuary around it, the Dome of the Rock. And maybe the Jewish legend of that place has its importance in that too – because the prophet Mohammed named his religion “Islam” – with “Islam” describing the peace that results from exactly the frame of mind Abraham showed in his willingness to sacrifice his son. For Mohammed, therefore, Abraham was the archetype of a Muslim.
Abraham’s attitude of surrender already had laid the ground for the religion of Judaism; and the same attitude is found in Christianity – even more so, as Jesus was not only ready to sacrifice what was dearest to him: He actually sacrificed himself to open his disciples’ eyes. And that is why he not only was raised to the heavens, but he was raised from the dead – according to those whose eyes were opened by his sacrifice. Therefore, Abraham’s surrender is the common ground and the basis for all three Abrahamic religions.
The Dome of the Rock stands there as a witness to this fact. And why should the Jews and the Christians not be able to appreciate this?
A new Jewish Temple on the other hand is not a human matter. It is a matter of the Messiah when he comes. But there are certain preconditions for his coming: Firstly there has to be peace. But how can there be peace – with an unsolvable conflict spreading ever more horrors?
So, even if Halachic laws decree “the Third Temple has to be built on the ground” – which creates the conflict in the first place – what if the Messiah demanded of his people to free themselves of all preconceived ideas, as the first commandment already demands, before he would give them exactly what has been prophesized?
So I invite the people of the Halacha to a
mental exercise of surrender, following the example of Abraham, to a sacrifice
of what is dearest to them: the idea that they already know what will be. This
is exactly the sacrifice every son and every daughter of ours eventually will
need, that we let go of their lives.
Therefore, I ask you to set your mind free to see an open future. Allow
yourself even to see an unexpected
In the old days, they needed a natural mountain
Throughout history, God’s Chosen People have
brought forth outstanding achievements. So why should the
What the Muslims fear is the loss of the sanctuary from where their Prophet ascended to meet with all the other prophets. And what they hope for is to be respected by God’s own People, to be respected as a people in the succession of Abraham.
Making peace would require to give them that respect, to respect their respect of Abraham, and to respect their expression of their respect.
The Three Levels of the Image of Peace
In this architectural image of peace, there are
three levels: the ground, Haram Ash-Sharif, with the Dome of the Rock, and the
level with the
That way a common sanctuary of the Abrahamic religions already comes into existence.
Only the Christian religion is still missing.
The Place of Christianity in the Common Sanctuary
Just as the Christians started as the second in time, in between Moses and Mohammed, they will have to fit into the common sanctuary in between Jews and Muslims. This place fits them well in many ways:
Above the Dome of the Rock, Mohammed’s ascension to the heavens has created a vertical axis. The axis created by Christ’s resurrection lies in the same line. Because of this axis, Christ has been called “the axis of the world” – something that we will correctly understand only if we understand the meaning of “Christ” in this picture:
Jesus preferred to call himself the “son of man”, the true human being. Therefore, the axis he represents is the axis of being human, the axis of humanity. It revolves around the question “what is the meaning of being a human?” So it is no surprise that the Christians throughout history have become most famous for their humanitarian institutions – just as the Jews are famous for bringing forth outstanding achievements, and the Muslims are famous for being down to earth. With that, of course, I am not trying to say that these qualities are exclusive, but they are especially characteristic for these religions.
By taking the position in the middle, the Christians need a platform below the Jewish Temple – thereby symbolizing the dependency of the Christian religion upon the Old Testament, and architecturally creating a cross, the cross that has become the symbol of surrender in the Christian view of life.
To Understand the Differences Between the Religions
Viewing the totality of the sanctuary makes one thing clear: The three different religions, even though they have been deadly enemies, can live together in peace. Their differences are not differences of right and wrong, they are differences of viewpoints or aspects. All three are united in their attitude of surrender towards their creator. But in the course of their history they have gone different ways – thereby also creating different narratives that in some aspects directly contradict the narratives of the others – like different viewpoints always create differing descriptions of the very same object.
Viewing the totality of the sanctuary provides a new basis for communication between the three. It creates mutual understanding – and even a better understanding of one’s own viewpoint.
Viewing the totality of the sanctuary even makes it possible for the religions to understand the secular view, and in the secular view it makes room for understanding religion.
This way the prerequisites for peace will be attained and all obstacles for the coming of the Messiah will disappear.
Moreover mutual respect will come naturally, and that will make all further negotiations easy.
In this image peace is guaranteed, because all parties will win.
Both sides will also be able to admit their faults. Both, therefore, together will repair the damages of the conflict as best as they can and the world will rush to their aid.
As soon as religion has a true place in the enlightened view, there will be no more irreconcilable contradictions between religion and secular interests. Religions therefore can agree to a separation of religion and state and to place themselves under the sovereignty of a democratic government that is bound to human rights.
Such a government can guarantee freedom of religion to its citizens as long as the practice of this religion does not interfere with the rights of people with other beliefs. Under government supervision, even enclaves may exist where the laws of one religion apply exclusively as long as these enclaves are established on a completely voluntary basis and without any pressure and as far as human rights are respected.
The government will assure that all flare-ups of delusions of exclusive grandeur of one group will be cooled off through processes of reconciliation. Newly-found solutions will be incorporated in a new kind of constitution that will become an example for new constitutions all over the world.
Thus the solution of this inter-religious conflict even may become the starting point for peace worldwide.