Including the Migrants
Religion’s Response to Refugees
by Anashwara Ashok
The recent refugee crisis in Europe shifted public attention to the plight of refugees in different parts of the world. Every country has a different approach to resolving the refugee crises emerging from conflicts in Africa, West Asia, and South Asia. Many factors affect the decisions being taken on the fate of refugees, but one factor is often overlooked: the historical relationship between religion and refugees. The world’s religions all preach the importance of having compassion towards the needs and rights of refugees. Migration and exile are often central themes in narratives explaining the origin of a religion.
Jewish texts mention the episode of the Exodus faced by Jews, when famine forced the Israelites to migrate to Egypt from their homeland. The Egyptians imposed the cruel practice of slavery on them. Recognizing their misery, God sends Moses to liberate the Jews and take them back home. God saved the Jews from the oppression and cruelty faced in Egypt, obligating them in turn to respect refugees or migrants who seek shelter. Since God extends his care to all human beings on Earth, Jewish people are bound by the duty to uphold a principle of universal humanity, valuing every person.
The Gospel of Matthew explains how Joseph and Mary, on learning King Herod’s evil intentions to kill their infant child, flew to Egypt with baby Jesus soon after his birth in Bethlehem. This threat of persecution forced them to seek refuge in Egypt. Believing Christians must have compassion towards the plight of refugees. Christian texts preach helping refugees and the outcast by ignoring boundaries created by religion, ethnicity, or nationality.
The history of Islam shows how under the threat of persecution by the Quraysh clan of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad was forced to migrate to Medina. This migration is closely linked to the origin of Islam. One of the tenets of Islam emphasizes the need to aid and protect needy travelers because all emigrants are under the special care of Allah. Hence, Islam requires Muslims to provide asylum to refugees, both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Hinduism promotes the concepts of ‘dharma’ and ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam.’ According to the Hindu epic The Mahabharata, dharma requires that ‘one should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to oneself.’ It also refers to the duties every person is enjoined to follow regarding other human beings. Hence ‘dharma’ compels Hindus to respect and fulfil the needs of refugees. Similarly, ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam,’ meaning ‘the world is one family,’ rejects the boundaries embedded in the world in the form of nationality, ethnicity, and religion, prompting Hindus to help refugees fleeing persecution and seeking asylum, irrespective of their differences from oneself.
Considering these religious linkages with refugees, followers of these traditions should be more sensitive to the refugee crisis emerging around the world. Their sensitivity towards refugees should be manifested in their actions of assimilating the refugees into their societies or providing them a safe and secure livelihood. The common emphasis of all religions on protecting refugees without discrimination, if followed, will make the world more peaceful to live in.
This article was originally published on January 28, 2018 by URI North Zone India and Afghanistan.
Header Photo: Elisa Finocchiaro, C.c. 2.0 nc