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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Safi supports ethic of love

By Lyndel Owens
News Editor

Friday, October 26, 2007

Omid Safi, professor of religion at University of North Carolina, advocated love as the solution to global troubles in his Oct. 17 chapel talk and lecture "Getting beyond the Clash of Civilizations: a Religious Perspective."

Safi, a distinguished author, activist, and scholar, delivered his lecture in Viking Theater. In his talks, Safi synthesized ancient and contemporary sources with cross-cultural perspectives to develop his argument in favor of utilizing religion as a "force for justice and a means against tyranny."

Safi envisioned love as the sentiment that bonds humanity together as one body. From this connectedness, Safi reasoned that love for humanity motivates efforts to positively assist both the victims and persecutors.

Paraphrasing a passage from the Koran, Safi said, "Come to the aid of your brother whether he is oppressed or the oppressor."

He added that people must deliver what the persecutors need instead of what the persecutors want. "You come to the aid of the oppressor by stopping him," he said.

Safi explained that a powerful king once demanded a wise sage pray for him. The sage told the king this was a poor decision as the king would not be pleased if the prayers were answered. The king insisted, and the sage acquiesed, asking God to kill the king, thereby delivering people from his tyranny and preventing him from further sin.

Safi also addressed United States foreign policy in his lecture, emphasizing our responsibility to find root causes of violence. "It is the edifice that produces violence that needs transformation," Safi said.

He acknowledged that many citizens believe this to an extent, but they revert to feeling ashamed of their government instead of being filled with love for a troubled institution. "Shame will not change the world into something better. One must hold members of the one's own community and members of humanity to the same pedestal. Shame and guilt cannot transform humanity into something better. Love can – it is a divine attribute," Safi said.

Sarah Bosch '10 attended the lecture and appreciated Safi's distinction between the reactions. "Instead of feeling ashamed of our nation's actions, Safi advocated love as the solution. When he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King's saying, 'a time comes when silence is betrayal,' it really got me thinking," she said.

Other students who attended the lecture were moved by Safi's words to share their own perspective on the issue. "Love is the answer because it is love that motivates you to save the oppressed, and it is love for the oppressor - as your brother - that forces you to stop them. And, most importantly, it is love for humanity that fuels the urge to raise it from the dirt," Laya Hess '10 said.

The idea of oneness was the backbone of the lecture. Safi repeatedly emphasized the need for people to pay more attention to community and manifest religious ideals through advocacy for others. "The oneness of God is not news. The oneness of humanity is. I think that for a lot of us we are trained to notice particularity instead of oneness," he said.

Safi advocated a positive focus on this oneness to inspire social change. "If we spend too much time discussing what religion is not," he said, "we will lose what it could be used for - a tool for public good."

According to Safi, religion and humanitarianism are not mutually exclusive. He believes activism often has a religious impetus. Consequently, he believes religion ought to be understood as a unifying aspect of humanity. "[Activism] brings together spiritual concerns and concerns for social justice," he said.

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