A guest editorial by Javed Khan,

President of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand

Our Spiritual Selves

In the coming days of the week, Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter. According to Christians, Easter is a festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It commemorates the event which is the keystone of Christian faith, hope and promises of eternal life.

Although Muslims do not observe Easter as a religious celebration, we do believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) as one of the mightiest messengers of God, born miraculously to Mary (Peace Be Upon Her). Like Christians, Muslims believe that Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) gave life to the dead by Godís permission and that he healed those born blind and the lepers by Godís permission. In fact, no Muslim is a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him). "Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary. . ." Koran 3:45). Islam stresses co-operation and the sense of collectiveness. It encourages a caring and sharing attitude among Muslims and also with everyone else. This allows a community to develop strong bonds and a high level of trust among individuals. The acceptance of universal values such as family responsibility, community above self, honesty and compassion for others is certainly positive for anyone , whether Muslims or non-Muslims.

Like Christianity and other world religions, Islam stands for peace and forbearance. Islam very strongly emphasises the rights people have over each other. It seeks to preserve peace in society by training and urging its adherents to fulfil the rights of each other. In Islam, salvation is not possible by just fulfilling the rights of God; one has to fulfil the rights of other human beings also. "Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. For Allah loveth those who are just" (Holy Koran 60:8).

Islam is designed to be a religion embracing the whole of life, imbuing every sphere with mercy and justice. In this way, Islam seeks to enable human beings to live in accordance with their true nature which incorporates the physical, intellectual and spiritual aspects.

Every one of us, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, requires progress in all aspects of life. The Glorious Koran is replete with Godís commands and exhortations to humankind to seek improvements in their lives:"Verily, Allah will not change the condition of people until they change what is in themselves" (Holy Koran 13:11). Working for the progress of the community is the essence of service to God and Islam encourages people to work together and to be ready to help one another. Islam has been brought down to be a mercy to mankind. For Islam to be a mercy, its adherents, the Muslims, must be merciful to mankind.

In New Zealand, we are blessed with peace and racial harmony. Generally, there is also greater understanding among New Zealanders of different faiths . The recent incident of the publication of the carton caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was a good example. The matter was handled with sensitivity and empathy which culminated in an amicable resolution.

Greater understanding leads to greater respect, surely a catalyst for peace and harmony in any society. Religious harmony in a multiracial society like ours is crucial for peaceful co-existence among the various communities. Religious harmony, therefore, is not a lofty ideal but one which is vital for stability and progress. Every one of us has a stake and a part to play in observing and promoting racial and religious respect and accord. By these means we strengthen our social fabric and cohesion, making New Zealand society as a whole stronger, healthier and more vibrant.

Easter as a religious festival may prompt many of us to consider the matter of our spiritual selves, to take time to reflect on the universal values of mercy, compassion, of peace and respect, of justice and equality.

Easter, therefore, provides a wonderful opportunity for our communities to reflect on some of the religious teachings which impact upon our lives here in New Zealand and make us people of faith, albeit different faiths, in this pristine and beautiful land of ours.

I wish all Christian brothers and sisters a very happy and safe Easter!