Religions Should Unite to Tackle Violence and Greed in Society, says Broadcaster
26 April 2007

The faith communities need to work more closely together to tackle social ills, such as drug and alcohol abuse, said the broadcaster Indarjit Singh, addressing a Greencoat Forum in London, 24 April.

‘We look at social problems from the wrong end of the telescope, constantly worrying why violence is on the increase,' he said. Too much police time was spent on drug-related crime. ‘The response? Let's decriminalize rather than question why the use of drugs has risen so dramatically.’ Likewise, society’s response to increasing alcohol abuse was: ‘Let’s extend or abolish licensing hours to spread the incidents of drunkenness and loutish behaviour. The government now recognises a rise in binge drinking.’

Tackling such social issues emphasized, ‘the importance of religious communities working more closely together,’ he said. ‘We have previously unheard of prosperity and all the necessities of life and, potentially, more leisure time. But, we also have a less contented society.’

The ethical teachings of religion could help to tackle the underlying issues in ‘an all too callous society that consistently panders to greed and selfishness. We’ve neglected the basic ethical teachings of right, wrong and social responsibility.’

Respect for each other’s faith traditions was a theme of his inspirational talk, given at the Initiatives of Change centre in London.

Dr Singh, who is the editor of the Sikh Messenger and the Director of the 'Network of Sikh Organizations' in the UK, was speaking on, The Importance of Religion in Today’s Society.

Renowned for his BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day broadcasts, he received the Inter-faith Medallion for services to religious broadcasting in 1991, and was awarded the OBE in 1996. Introducing him, Edward Peters from Oxford described Singh as, ‘one of the most prophetic voices in Britain.'

Singh called for greater dialogue between the faiths: ‘Today, all of us have shared responsibilities and shared interests in the well-being of the whole community. We cannot make progress in building cohesion and tolerance unless we are aware of the needs and sensitivities of different faiths.’ Knowledge and understanding of different beliefs and cultures was, ‘no longer an optional extra, but a basic necessity for all of us.'

He opened his address with a brief history of Sikhism. Founded by Guru Nanak over 500 years ago, Sikhism had acted as a bridge between the Hindu and Muslim communities during a time of conflict on the Indian sub-continent. This was, ‘between the majority religion, Hinduism, and Islam, the newer arrived religion from the north, which felt theirs to be the true religion.’

‘It was against this background that Guru Nanak taught that God isn’t interested in your claim that yours is the best religion. God is at the centre and different religions have different paths to the same God; they are just different ways of approaching God and all should be respected.’

He likened this to climbing a mountain. There were many paths up the mountain, but as one approached the top, ‘the more we share in common. The same vision is in front of us.’

An important aspect of Sikh teaching, he said, is respect for other religions. ‘Nanak emphasized the equality of all human beings. He taught balanced living, and not to wrap oneself up in only meditating or chasing money. What he wanted to do was change a society which was emphasizing ritual and forced religion.’

Sikhism, which numbers 25 million adherents around the world, ‘is not a proselytizing religion,’ he added. ‘I believe that no one should say, “ours is the final word." It is up to God, not to us. It is the practice of religion that is important and for this reason I applaud the people of Great Britain for accommodating other religions.’ Guru Nanak wanted to show that there were practical guidelines for all people at all times.

‘Our task is not to convince others that our beliefs are the best, but to live out those beliefs. If you can conquer yourself, you can achieve anything in the world. We need to look to improving ourselves first,’ Singh said. There was an ‘inner light in all, given by God’.

On a personal note, he told how he was educated at school in Britain and found that children from the Catholic and Jewish faiths were excused from school assembly and prayers. Thinking this was a way to avoid some school attendance, he told his mother that since he was a Sikh, he should also be excluded. His mother told him to, ‘forget it and learn something.' His mother’s teaching of respect for other faiths had had a profound influence on his life.

Neil Mence