As this year’s Ramazan is coming to an end and Eid ul Fitr will be celebrated by Muslims, with members of other religions living in the same communities, we all pray for peace. We pray for peace in our hearts, the right relationship with God and fellow human beings. Let my article today be a prayer for peace, an attempt to contribute to a world where, irrespective of faith, we can all live better in our religions and in the communities we share with others. My prayer for peace goes beyond religion, suggesting that the basis for morality and ethics, indeed for peace, is not only to be found in one religion, but in the broader human experience.

This year, in a world with terrible wars raging at this very moment, our thoughts and actions, in our own contexts – and our prayers – become more important than ever.

Two young friends, Afzahl and Tariq, whom I talk with at their work places in a restaurant and a photocopy shop, have urged me to write about the Israel-Palestine conflict. They find the conflict entirely senseless, keeping them awake at night worried about the extent of human evil. The main victims are Muslims, but the suffering goes beyond that; it is a human tragedy also for the Jews, and those on either side who may not really be believers.

I cannot answer their questions or find a solution to the more than six decade old conflict. But I can talk about it, think about it, learn about it, and talk more, and encourage young men to stay engaged. It is people like Afzhal and Tariq who eventually will solve the conflicts plaguing our world, as well as misunderstandings that are closer to home, such as the one in North-Waziristan where a million people in recent months have become displaced. Couldn’t better ways have been found to reach peaceful solutions?

In Syria, dozens of people are killed daily and more than a third of the country’s population has become refugees. It was a similar percentage of Afghanistan’s population that became refugees and IDPs when the wars raged there. For most, life can never be brought back to what it was; it cannot be rebuilt. Only future generations can do it- only they can build a new future.

Then there are many other violent conflicts and wars, even in Europe. And there are structural wars and the ruthless oppression of poor people, while the rich cruise comfortably at the top of it all. Those are struggles we barely see as wars; they are not as sudden as direct wars, but they are cruel and deprive people forever of active peace. The leaders of our world’s economic and political system don’t want us to see this as war. And leaders who use religion to fuel conflicts do not want us to see the wrong in that either.

Frederik Willem de Klerk, the South African president who released Nelson Mandela from 27 years of imprisonment, paving the way for democratic rule, said that he believed that there was no conflict that could not be resolved by meaningful negotiations if there was will on both sides to do so. Wise words from a wise man, who also practiced what he preached. Maybe he came late to his conclusion in the tragic history of South Africa’s apartheid, a system with many parallels to Israel’s occupation and blockade of Gaza and the handling of the Palestinians at large. But de Clark did find the right answers. May we all see reality for what it is, and find the truth in all tragic conflicts, and do what is right.

Since time immemorial, people have been concerned about good and evil as philosophical, religious moral and ethical issues; today, we also add, social and economic aspects. One commonly cited verse in the Bible, Romans 7:19, reads: ‘I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep doing.’ And another one, Peter 3:9: “Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Yet, we also know that religions historically, and in our time, are used to divide and split, and to do what is wrong, not what is right. And when religions are misused, we often let it pass because it may give power and right to the side we agree with. Or, we claim it is against the faith… but then it is people who practice the faith wrongly. Let us pray that religious leaders and the faithful understand the teachings in the right way, and interpret them as is right in our time.

Some philosophers, faithful to one religion or the other, may advocate universal moral principles and ethics thus ensuring the wellbeing of all human beings everywhere at any time. Those of us who belong to one of the world’s major religions, will say that our religion is right and best, and that our principles are best, because they are given to us by God. We will advocate that others should follow our rules and standards.

It is my hope that the debates within and between religions could distinguish between dogma and doctrines, on the one hand, and the practical and administrative ways of our daily lives, on the other. Ecumenical cooperation should not be about dogma and doctrines, as they differ and are sacred to the specific religion. The cooperation should be about how we live together in this world, and how we let the foundations of faith in the broad sense guide or lives, the moral and ethical standards that we follow, which all human beings know are right … because God is in each of us.

This will be my prayer for peace at the end of Ramazan this year, and the whole year.

Dear reader, may I wish you Eid Mubarak.

 The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com