Acceptance and respect are the requisites for long-lasting peace in plural societies. World Tolerance Day is celebrated on Nov 16 every year. This day is significant as it celebrates tolerance, an important principle that acknowledges diversities among people and ensures the survival of these differences in societies.
Tolerance is generally defined as the attitude that allows for the peaceful co-existence of conflicting views and ways of life within the same society. It calls for acceptance of practices and conduct that one finds objectionable and also signifies the refraining of exercising power to interfere with disliked differences.
Hence, tolerance is considered an essential virtue for social peace and social stability and helps to address the problems of peaceful co-existence in contemporary pluralistic democracies.
Though this is the case, tolerance should not be regarded as the only appropriate instrument to address the problems of peaceful co-existence in today’s pluralistic societies.
To some, tolerance indicates a form of superior-inferior relationship between conflicting parties.
For peace to work and to be continuously preserved, it is important to think of and preach virtues that can shift societies beyond tolerance. We need to realise that the diversity of our world’s many religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities must not be regarded as a pretext for conflict. It is actually a treasure that enriches us all as human beings.
Peace can never be established without some form of tolerance and acceptance. Therefore, acceptance is the other needed step towards long lasting peace in plural societies and what moves societies beyond mere tolerance. It indicates that members of the society recognise the differences in communities and embrace these differences positively.
Apart from tolerance and acceptance, respect must also be the guiding principle in dealing with differences of opinion and the existence of different religious faiths, cultures and ethnicities in a plural society.
With tolerance, acceptance and respect, peace will eventually become permanent in society. Islam is a peaceful religion which encourages mutual understanding, tolerance and also respect towards people of other religions and cultures. For Islam, the essence of peace in communities characterised by differences in cultures, religions and ethnicities is justice.
Injustices, inhumane treatment towards others and conflicts occur as a result of the inability to tolerate differences of opinion and failure to establish peaceful co-existence within society. The universality of the principle of justice and its compatibility with human nature becomes the formula that can guarantee peace and harmony on earth. Justice is not restricted to particular groups only but it is for all. Only when such a critical religious principle is applied to all could it remove all discontent, hatred and prejudice. Hence, this principle which underlines the Islamic worldview is very pertinent for the practice of tolerance, acceptance and respect, which are all important values to ensure peaceful co-existence. It is also important for all of us to understand that establishing peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society needs collaborative and sincere efforts among its people. Thus, religious values must be understood and upheld by all religious followers.
Acceptance and respect, which are also values emphasised in all religions, should become important underlying principles in realising the goals of peaceful co-existence and efforts in peace-building.
Sometimes, threats to peace in societies are caused by unfamiliarity towards people or groups who are different from us. For instance, Islamophobia, which is fast becoming a worrying problem in the world today, is also the result of ignorance and an incorrect perception of what Islam really is. No doubt, it is also the effect of irresponsible acts by certain groups that have associated Islam with identities and values that are truly alien to Islam. Therefore, as members of a multi-racial and multi-religious society like Namibia, we need to make the effort to get to know one another better.
Tolerance, acceptance and respect can only be imbued within society if we are not afraid of these differences and find commonalities that could glue us as a nation, as a continent and as world.
Through this, peace is no longer limited to just co-existing with one another but will become a lasting character of the society where its people live harmoniously, united in the spirit of togetherness and mutual understanding.