Service and Justice

Service and Justice: A Common Priority Across Religions

Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama…At different points, across different faiths, they have all stood for one thing — serving humanity. They remain abiding role models not just in their communities, but for the world. “The beauty of Sacred Activism is that it brings together what is best in both the mystic and the activist: the mystic’s fiery passion for God, and the activist’s fiery passion for justice,” writes Andrew Harvey, a scholar of religion. “What is born from the fusion of those two great ennobling fires is a third fire that is love and wisdom in action.”

Service is one of the main tenets in all religions. But it does not mean just material giving — it can involve giving your time, or a skill, or fighting for the greater good and for justice. Prophets like Jesus, Muhammad, and the Buddha were great exemplars of social justice, civil rights, and community service. Whether we abide by specific guidelines for charity or simply look for opportunities to give as they arise, this practice is one of the best ways to show others we care about them and see the common humanity and unconditional value in them. That is why Hindus use the greeting “namaste,” which means “I bow to the God in you.”

It is an undeniable universal truth — when you help someone, you feel good. This is because if you believe that we are all interconnected, then by helping or serving another, you are actually serving the self. Acts of service unite all in the quest for universal well-being. They also take us away from the egotistical self.


“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
— The New Testament (Peter 4:10), Christian text


“You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly — if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”
— Qur’an (4:135), Islamic text


“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
— Hebrew Bible (Psalm 82:3–4), Jewish text


“Service in love for mankind is unity with God.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader


“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (3:19–20), Hindu text


“Those who are selfish suffer in this life and in the next. They suffer seeing the results of the evil they have done, and more suffering awaits them in the next life. But those who are selfless rejoice in this life and in the next. They rejoice seeing the good that they have done, and more joy awaits them in the next life.”
— The Dhammapada (17–18), Buddhist text


“The reason people are hungry
Is that those above levy so many taxes
This is why they are hungry
The reason people are hard to rule
Is that those above are so forceful
This is why they are hard to rule”
— Tao Te Ching (Ch. 75), Daoist text


“Since in being moral one can neither be assured of a reward nor guaranteed success, morality must be pursued for its own sake. This is, perhaps, the most fundamental message in Confucius’ teachings, a message that marked his teachings from other schools of thought in ancient China.”
— D.C. Lau, Chinese translator

Modern Philosophy and Theology

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
— Martin Luther Jing, Jr., Baptist minister and Civil Rights leader
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
— Cornell West, philosopher and activist

Check out last week’s theme: Only One God

And read about more common themes across religions!