|World Religions: Prejudice and Discrimination
People sometimes say that discrimination is created when prejudice is combined with power. Prejudice is the attitude of someone whose opinion is not based on fact. Prejudice can be triggered by differences of religion, race, colour, sex, language, disability or age. Prejudice is not illegal, as an attitude can’t be illegal, but discrimination is illegal.
Discrimination and human rights
All forms of discrimination go against the first two Articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2 Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Christian: prejudice and discrimination
Christian attitudes towards prejudice and discrimination
Christianity teaches that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Therefore there is no reason to treat people differently.
Christian teaching about other people is based on love and this is stated by Jesus:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
There are also two important teachings in the writings of Paul about this:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
No one can follow these teachings perfectly, and there will be occasions when Christians, like those of other faiths, are guilty of prejudice and discrimination.
But there are many examples too of Christians challenging injustice when they see the laws of God being broken.
Hinduism: prejudice and discrimination
Hindu attitudes towards prejudice and discrimination
In Hinduism people are born into different groups called varnas. Each varna has duties called dharma. The Purusha Sukta (Hindu text) explains how the different varnas were formed from different parts of the body of Purusha, the first ‘cosmic man':
His mouth became the Priests; his arms were made into the Warrior, his thighs the People, and from his feet the Servants were born.
Rig Veda 10.90
Brahmins are priests and teachers
Kshatriyas are warriors, rulers, and leaders of society
Vaishyas are traders and merchants
Shudras work in manual jobs
Some people are believed to be so unclean that they are outside of the varna system. These people call themselves Dalits (oppressed). For jobs they have to deal with dead bodies and clear away rubbish. They are often treated badly and are not allowed to mix with everyone else. However, it is illegal in India to treat anyone in this way.
Hindus believe that all people are part of one unified whole. All life forms are part of the ‘stream’ of life, so harming another living thing is the same as harming yourself.
Because of this, many Hindus believe that it is wrong to be prejudiced against someone just because of their ethnic origin or differences.
In reality, however, there are individual Hindus who are prejudiced because they consider non-Hindus as inferior to Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.
Islam: prejudice and discrimination
Muslim attitudes towards prejudice and discrimination
The Qur’an (the Divine Book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad) teaches that everyone was created by Allah (God) and that everyone is equal:
Of His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours.
O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have divided you into tribes and sub-tribes for greater facility of intercourse. Verily, the most honoured among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.’
Therefore there is no reason to treat people of different races differently. The Prophet Muhammad showed how important this teaching was in his last sermon, when he said:
All mankind is descended from Adam and Eve, an Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab; a white person is not better than a black person, nor is a black person better than a white person except by piety and good actions. Learn that every Muslim is the brother of every other Muslim and that Muslims form one brotherhood.
No one can follow these teachings perfectly, and there will be occasions when Muslims, like those of other faiths, are guilty of prejudice and discrimination.
But there are many examples too of Muslims challenging injustice when they see the laws of God being broken.
One such person is Farid Esack, a Muslim university teacher who decided to challenge racism and inequality in South Africa at a time when Apartheid was the political system. Today he continues to work with people of all religions to find ways to resolve conflict, misunderstanding and injustice.
Muhammad said: "Believers are in relation to one another as parts of one structure. One part strengthens the other."
Bukhari Hadith 8.88
The most excellent jihad is the uttering of truth in the presence of an unjust ruler.
Tirmidhi Hadith 17
Judaism: prejudice and discrimination
Jewish attitudes towards prejudice and discrimination
Judaism teaches that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and that everyone should be treated well. The Jews have experienced times in their history of being the 'stranger' or 'outsider' without a homeland. Jewish scripture reflects this experience:
When an alien lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your G-d.
They also believe that everyone is descended from Adam and Eve and so should be given equal respect:
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
Judaism teaches that everyone should follow their own religion to please G-d. The only rules that apply to all people are those of the Noachide Code, given to Noah by G-d after the flood:
Worship only G-d
Do not blaspheme
Do not murder
Do not steal
Do not commit adultery
Do not be cruel to animals
Establish a system of law and order so that everyone can live together in harmony
Writing on a shop window identified a Jewish-owned shop.
Although Jewish people have been the subjects of discrimination for many years - particularly in the 20th century Holocaust or Shoah - Judaism teaches peace:
The world endures on three things - justice, truth and peace
Ethics of the Fathers 1:18
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
No one can follow these teachings perfectly, and there will be occasions when Jewish people, like those of other faiths, are guilty of prejudice and discrimination.
But there are many examples too of Jewish people challenging injustice when they see the laws of G-d being broken.
Match the following halves of sentences together:
Jews were persecuted
All mankind is descended from
Article one state that all humans …
There is neither Jew nor Greek
The Noachide code
The Qur’an teaches
You shall love your neighbour
People should follow
slave nor free
their own religion
are born equal
in the Shoah
Prejudice + Power
Adam and Eve
are the oppressed
that everyone is equal
was given by God