Undertones of Religious Tolerance in Ashoka's Documents
Throughout global history, religion has played an important role in the way people lived their daily lives. The enduring issue conveyed in the Documents One, Three, and Four is religious tolerance. Religious tolerance is the act of allowing others to think and/or practice other religions and beliefs. Equality of different religious beliefs was significant in history, and still is today.
Document One explains one of Ashoka’s (leader of the Mauryan Empire at the time) Rock and Pillar Edicts, which was to follow Ashoka’s instructions to make sure Dharma is being followed by respecting others’ religions. In Ashoka’s edict, he says “Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.” In other words, Ashoka is saying that we need to be thoughtful of one another’s beliefs. He then continues to say, “Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘let me glorify my own religion’, only harms his own religion”. In this statement, Ashoka brings up the point that intolerance of someone’s religion is negligent, and won’t “protect with Dharma, to make happiness through Dharma, or to guard with Dharma.”
Document Three describes how the Islamic Empire started conquering many regions, mainly the homes of people who were not Muslim. So an agreement was made between Umar I, one of the first and most powerful caliphs, and the Christians of Syria. It stated, “we ask you for protection for ourselves, our prosperity, our possessions, and our co-religionists… that we will not recite our services in a loud voice when a Muslim is present… and that we will not strike an Muslim”. What the agreement is saying is that they (Christians) will not praise their religion in front of Muslims, as a sign of respect, but in return they want protection of themselves and their riches. Throughout this letter written by the Christians, they continue to name different ways that they will show their veneration towards the Muslims. The document proclaims “we will not refuse the Muslims entry into our churches either by night or by day; that we will open the gates wide to passengers and travellers; that we will recieve any Muslim traveler into our house and give him food and lodging for three nights”. The Christians even go as far as offering the Muslims food and a house for a few nights as long as Chrictians can practice their in private, since their land was being overthrown by the Islamic armies.
Document Four mentions how under the Mongols’ control, China was highly supportive of many different religious beliefs. In particular, the document says “Islam, for example, was well supported, and the Mongols built quite a numver of mosques in China. The Mongols also recruited and employed Islamic financial administrators – a move that led to good relations with the Islamic world beyond China, in particular, with Persia and West Asia”. The Mongols encouragement of Islam led to interconnectednes between Islamic culture and other parts of the world. Secondly, China also advocated other religions, such as Buddhism. The document reads, “The Mongols were also captivated by Buddhism […] and they recruited a number of Tibetan monks to help them rule China and promote the interests of Buddhism. The most important of these monks was the Tibetan ‘Phags-pa Lama. This policy resulted in an astonishing increase in the number of Buddhist monasteries in China, as well as in the translation of Buddhist texts”. Alternatively stated, the Mongols interest in Buddhism caused the amount of monasteries, a building where monks live to practice their religion, were built. And till this day, millions of people living in China identify their religion as Buddhism.
Overall, one’s religious beliefs is extremely important to respect. As shown in Documents One, Three, and Four, religious tolerance was crucial to people all over the world.
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