The Daily Star —
But cherry-picked lines from a holy text can’t be used to define an entire culture. History offers numerous examples of Muslims living peacefully alongside followers of other faiths. Perhaps the most notable of these is La Convivencia, the era of early medieval Spain in which Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together under Muslim rule in a vibrant, flourishing society free from the persecution of the region’s earlier Roman and Visigothic rulers.
One doesn’t need faith in God to understand that religious persecution has no place in a just and civilized nation. As one raised by a secular family, I never embraced religion, but I learned that faith is often an integral part of others’ identity that fosters a deeper understanding of the human condition, and that such belief systems deserve respect.
As a young adult trying to make sense of an often tragic and volatile world, religion seemed to offer no solace, so I turned instead to the Stoic thinking of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, who believed that living a virtuous life alone was sufficient for happiness. The Stoics contended that by managing our most visceral reactions, we can become immune to misfortune and attain peace of mind — hence the term “stoic calm.”
Life’s fleeting, precarious nature was made reconcilable for me by modern philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Marshall Berman. Sartre argued that with no God, our existence will be defined entirely by the legacy we leave behind — and that alone should be sufficient for eternal peace.
“In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait and there is nothing but the portrait,” Sartre said in 1946’s
Existentialism is a Humanism
. “No doubt this may seem comfortless to one who has not made a success of his life. On the other hand, it puts everyone in a position to understand that reality alone is reliable; that dreams, expectations and hopes serve to define a man only as deceptive dreams, abortive hopes, expectations unfulfilled; that is to say, they define him negatively, not positively.”