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What do religions teach about refugees?

With 84% of the world’s population identifying as religious (Hackett & McClendon), the teachings of religious texts should naturally have a large impact on people’s beliefs and actions in regard to many topics. Therefore, this blog post will provide an insight into what Hinduism, Buddhism, Judiaism, Christianity and Islam teach about refugees.


Hinduism’s Mahābhārata contains Anushasana Parva which explains that ‘one should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self’ (Section CXIII). It would of course be considered injurious to one’s own self to not be supported if safety concerns meant it became necessary to move elsewhere. Furthermore, the Maha Upanishad says ‘for those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family’ (VI-72-73a). This suggests we should focus on our similarities rather than our differences, and care for one another as we would for our own relatives.


The importance of dāna, or generosity, is emphasised in Indian religions such as Buddhism. One of the most prominent Tibetan Buddhist teachers was Patrul Rinpoche, and he published a commentary on the Longchen Nyingthig in which he expands on forms of dāna. He writes of the value of ‘doing whatever you can to help others in difficulty’, which ‘includes, for instance, providing a refuge for those without any place of safety [and] giving protection to those without any protector’ (Rinpoché, p.238).


The Jewish Hebrew Bible, upon which the Christian Old Testament is primarily based, contains the Book of Genesis. In this story, the Israelites (a group of tribes who spoke a similar language and lived throughout the modern Middle East) uproot to Egypt as a result of famine in their region. Then, in the Book of Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt to escape the slavery they were forced into there, led by the prophet Moses. The Israelites were refugees, forced to leave Canaan to escape natural disaster and then forced to leave Egypt to escape persecution, and Moses, proclaimer of the will of God, is the example of how we should treat people in situations like these.


Christians also believe in the New Testament. This includes the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus describes a conversation He expects to have during His Second Coming, with those who have served Him whilst He has been away (25:35). Jesus says ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in’. Those He is addressing ask how they could have done these things for Him in His absence, and He answers ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me’. Essentially, this suggests we should look after those who are in need as Jesus would.


Like the Israelites, the Islamic prophet Muhammad is also said to have been a refugee. Due to the persecution of monotheist Muslims by polytheist Meccans, Muhammad and his followers, the muhajirun, left Mecca for Medina. The ansar, or helpers, are the inhabitants of Medina that welcomed the muhajirun and provided them with food, shelter, and emotional support. The Book on Business of the Sahih at-Tirmidhi shows Muhammad wants others to do the same, quoting him as saying ‘whoever grants respite to an indigent or alleviates it for him, Allah will shade him on the Day of Judgement under His Throne, a Day in which there is no shade except His shade’ (Chapter 67, Hadith 109).


This piece of writing has shown that the ‘Big Five’ world religions teach that refugees should be supported and protected. At RefuNet, we believe that even if you do not follow one of these religions, the ideas in the texts that we have shared can help to make the world a better place.


References:

Hackett & McClendon, ‘Christians remain world’s largest religious group, but they are declining in Europe’, Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/ (2017)

Rinpoché, ‘Words of My Perfect Teacher’ (Boston, 1998)

‘The Book on Business’, https://sunnah.com/tirmidhi:1306

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