Atle Hetland The one who is without sin, throw the first stone, Jesus/Issa said when the crowd in anger brought to him a woman they said was caught in adultery. A while later they had all left. Nobody was without sin, and the woman was advised to go away and sin no more. If we could only live by these words today, in simple everyday disagreements and little quarrels, in the big principled debates and considerations about serious court sentences, even life and death judgments. We should not be self-righteous. We should always show mercy towards each other. And then, we should also show compassion towards the one who may have done wrong, the one who may have gone astray and sinned. How can we indeed be sure that he or she has been at fault? I remember some years ago, a senior Catholic priest talked to me about a case of moral misconduct by another priest. Well, it was conduct that was not compatible with the priests occupation and his woes to live in celibacy. And then, when we had turned the stones and used up all arguments, the priest said: But who am I to judge anyway? Only God can judge. This I believe is true Christian, true Muslim spirit. We should always try to understand from the other persons perspective, not only see it from our own side. Jesus also said that we so easily see the splinter in the eye of our brother, but we dont see the beam in our own eye. We see others faults, not own. St Francis of Assisi, who lived some 500 years ago, said in his beautiful Prayers for Gods Peace that it is in pardoning, that we are pardoned, and he continued: O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. You may say that St Francis of Assisi was not a typical representative of the Church in the Middle Age. The Churchs history includes the most gruesome examples of intolerance and lack of mercy, of the opposite of Jesus message, and St Francis interpretation. The Church forced its members to accept the official doctrines and dogmas or else face prosecution, expulsion, torture and even death. And this was at the same time the Church, which was the custodian of Jesus message of mercy. The new covenant, as it was called, to distinguish it from the uncompromising demands of a fearful God in the Holy Bibles Old Testament, the scriptures of the Jews, and the foundations of Christianity and Islam. The Old Testament of the Bible taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There was no or very limited room for compromise and individual interpretation. The religious and secular laws and rules could not be discussed and disobedience was punished without mercy. Then came Jesus teachings. The kinder, milder and more humane interpretation of Gods will. It included the advice that if you are hit on one cheek, we should turn the other cheek. If somebody asks you to escort him for one mile, you should walk with him for two miles. If somebody asks you for forgiveness once, you should forgive him 70 times. The Bibles New Testament has abundance of teachings where people are encouraged to do unto others what we want others to do unto us. This golden rule is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago, and as it will be for another 2,000 years into eternity. The Christian and the Islamic traditions are very much alike. Jesus teachings are fundamental to both faiths. But to what extent do we follow his teachings today? And how do we interpret them in daily life and in the more principled and political debates? In my own home country Norway, priests in the Church of Norway, which is a state church, belong to the Protestant-Lutheran tradition. They are sometimes accused of not being principled enough. Orthodox and righteous Christians can be found in the Protestant Church, too, but they are probably more common in the Catholic Church, and indeed in some extremist groups of both main branches of Christianity, with hundreds or thousands of sub-branches and sects. I have lived in Muslim cultures for many years, including a decade in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In everyday life, I have found as much kindness, tolerance and openness as in my own home countrys culture. Often, probably more, I think, although not in all fields, such as womens rights. At official level, in a state where religion, notably Islam, forms an essential cornerstone of the countrys existence, Pakistanis quickly turn to a kind of official interpretation of the Quran, although not to the same extent as in many Arab countries. People do not want to be seen as disagreeing with the official line. They usually just keep quiet and dont address sensitive issues in public. I find this unfortunate because people should be able to share their religious belief without fear. Through open sharing, discussion, studies and so on, people would learn more and become stronger in their religious life. And essential, we would learn that the most respected amongst us may also struggle with existential and religious questions and search for a higher understanding of sacred issues. We must remember that faith is Gods gift to human beings. It is not our own achievement. While living in Pakistan I have been impressed by how deeply religious people are, and it is not only on the surface. At the same time, I have often been surprised by the shallow knowledge that many ordinary people have of Islam, even well educated people. Perhaps, there is a need for better educational programmes in the schools and society. Again, back to my home country Norway. We cannot boast of being a very religious country anymore, although I always say that religion is still important in Norway, but people dont carry it on their shirt sleeves, the way people do in Pakistan. But Norwegians still have fairly good knowledge of the countrys main religion, Christianity. Now, we should also gain better knowledge about and understanding of other religions, including Islam, the largest religious society outside the state church. Although knowledge does not automatically lead us to greater understanding, yet, it is a basis for greater understanding, and therefore also for greater tolerance and openness, and for having the confidence of showing understanding for those who disagree with us. If we know more, we will be in a better position to show forgiveness and mercy, because we have come closer to God Allah, to greater understanding of His word. In addition, there is faith, not only knowledge and prescribed behaviour. We must not forget that belief is between the individual and God. We have to pray to be given faith, and do our utmost to do Gods will, to do the best to our ability, unto all fellow human beings. We will not judge others, because we will know we are far from infallible ourselves. I hope we remember this in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Norway, USA, and in all other countries. When debates become heated and we run out of arguments, we should ask ourselves: What would I have wished my opponent did to me when I was cornered, when I was downtrodden, at loss, yes, maybe even wrong? I would have begged him to show mercy, and then I would have thanked him and tried to understand and learn his way of thinking and behaving, and maybe he would have learnt something from me as well. Blessed are the merciful, because they show Gods will in everyday life, their lives become sermons and examples of how we should live. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist currently based in Islamabad. Email: