Mehraj ud din Bhat
Citizens must be active participants in their regime. They must constantly perform acts of goodness and kindness. Such actions will keep public sentiment positive, the idea of having a religious and political authority strong, and Islam as a faith and way of life ever relevant. The regular God-fearing Muslim who works for a living, has a family, and struggles to pay the bills must, unlike Vladimir and Estragon, act”
The world is shifting towards a post-globalized, nihilistically driven post-modern, right wing hate-mongering fascist reversion. In the perennial conundrum of these subtle ultra-progressive waves, religion is the key factor, and denominator, used and misused in shaping narratives across territorial boundaries. It can equally play an important role to create an atmosphere, if used in its own proper contextual framework, as a bridge to cast away the ideological demons engulfing this planet. Religion is important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is undoubtedly a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.
In the popular mind, to discuss religion in the context of international affairs automatically raises the specter of religious-based conflict. The many other dimensions and impacts of religion tend to be downplayed or even neglected entirely. The contribution that religion can make to peacemaking—as the flip side of religious conflict—is only beginning to be explored and explicated. Religiously-motivated initiatives have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world. However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. David Little argues in, “Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution”, that shares the experiences of 16 such remarkable religious peacemakers who have put their lives on the line in conflicts around the world from Israel-Palestine to Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sudan, South Africa, El Salvador, Indonesia and beyond. For each of them, religious texts and traditions have served both as a source of inspiration and as a practical resource in resolving conflict. These grassroots peacemakers are powerful, but underutilized actors for resolving some of the world’s most horrifying conflicts.
After post-September 11, the world is seized with the dangers of religious extremism and conflict between religious communities, particularly between two or more of the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The threat of religious extremism is real and well documented. The connection between religion and conflict is in the process of being thoroughly explored, however, to the extent that hyperbole and exaggeration are commonplace. In the popular mind, to discuss religion in the context of international affairs automatically raises the specter of religious-based conflict.
The many other dimensions and impacts of religion tend to be downplayed or even neglected entirely. The contribution that religion can make to peacemaking—as the flip side of religious conflict—is only beginning to be explored and explicated. All three of the Abrahamic faiths contain strong warrants and axioms for peacemaking. There are past cases of mediation and peacemaking by religious leaders and institutions. For example, the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches mediated the short-lived 1972 peace agreement in Sudan. In South Africa, various churches were at the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid and the peaceful transition. The most dramatic and most frequently cited case is the successful mediation the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio achieved to help end the civil war in Mozambique in 1992.In the pretext, religious studies fall in the larger trajectory of social sciences and social scientists play a key role in shaping and engaging with diverse narratives prevalent in our community. The importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration is one of the pressing needs to address the multifaceted challenges faced and religious education can play a key role in shaping the narrative of peace and bridge the gap between organizations and communities.
The inadequacy of social science based conflict resolution theories to explain some key elements in deep rooted conflicts, as well as the inability of our tools of peace to go deep enough to change attitudes and inner motivations rather than merely external behavior. On both counts, I believe many helpful insights could be gleaned from non-social science disciplines. For example, depth psychology (Jungian psychology and psychoanalytical theories) can give us more insight into conflict behaviour such as deep hatred, genocidal cruelty, intransigence, and self-abnegation than can rational social science explanations. Theology and spirituality can give us better handles for introspective methodologies such as confession, repentance, seeking and giving forgiveness, atonement, compassion, love and mercy than political science, sociology, economics, anthropology or law can do. A useful way of addressing the inadequacies of our social science understanding and tools would therefore be to seek more cross-fertilization between social science and equally with non-social science disciplines.
Role of religious institutions and leaders
Given the nature of the problems we are facing as humanity, I would be remiss not to invoke the role of religion, religious institutions and leaders in enhancing or detracting from our tools of peace. Earlier in this presentation, I had suggested a metaphor of a self-constructed prison for the condition in which we find ourselves in many conflict situations. I feel, with globalization and the problems we are unleashing on ourselves, this metaphor is becoming more and truer as a representation of our existence on this planet. I believe the reason why we have the kinds of wars, upheavals; physical and psychological suffering in the world is because we are experiencing a deep moral crisis instead of just political, economic and socio-cultural ones. There is a void in the world that is crying out to be filled by moral and ethical leadership. Somehow, it feels as if we are losing our anchor as humanity. We have lost our sense of who we are, what our purpose on this earth is, and what our rightful duties and responsibilities are in return for this marvellous gift of life. This confusion is being exacerbated by the so-called modernization and globalization processes.
The secular religion of “rationalism”; the very self-centred, anthropocentric view of life and Earth; and the instrumentalization of everything out there in the universe for the gratification of our greed and selfish satisfaction seem to have added to these tendencies. At least, when the world was less interdependent, if one pursued such suicidal and self- destructive tendencies, the impact, to a very large extent, used to be limited to a restricted circle. Now, with the world shrinking due to globalization, the impact of one’s actions is not only on oneself but on everybody else as well. There is a great need for leadership to save humanity from itself. Religious leaders and institutions have a unique opportunity to become the conscience of humanity and help re-establish sanity and healing in this broken world by giving us insight into how to deal with the more deep-rooted sources of human conflict than our politicians, soldiers or merchants can do. I believe that religious institutions and leaders can play a very important role in the contemporary world by becoming moral beacons to humanity which is fast losing its sense of direction
Resolving Conflict through Religious Education
I have met and worked with people of different faiths and found their convictions for peace and justice to be just as clear and strong as with many Christians. They base their work, too, on the tenets of their faith. Allow me to present some thoughts about peace from people of eleven great faith traditions. We can identify certain areas through which we can achieve the goal of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.The consultation centered around four selected themes: a) critical perspectives on peace theories and practices b) Power, resources and poverty–challenges for ecumenical solidarity and human rights c) Religions in conflicts–challenges for interfaith cooperation for peace d) Peace and justice in a globally changing world – multicultural conflicts and global ethics.
Religious organizations have a major impact on inter-communal and international conflicts. During the Cold War, religious as well as ethnic and nationalist conflicts were relatively neglected in the study of international relations and peace research. After the implosion of the communist bloc, the escalation of nationalist violence was a surprise. Some expect an escalation of religious conflicts as well. Despite an increase in the attention to the religious dimension of conflicts, it remains an under-researched field. There is no useful typology of religious conflicts; no serious study of the impact of religious organizations on conflict behaviour; no comparative research of peace-making and peace-building efforts of different religious organizations. The world cannot survive without a new global ethic, and religions play a major role, as parties in violent conflicts, as passive bystanders and as active peace-makers and peace-builders.
Hans Küngs’ thesis that there cannot be world peace without religious peace is right. Representing two thirds of the world population, religions have a major responsibility in creating a constructive conflict culture. They will have to end conflicts fuelled by religion, stop being passive bystanders and organize themselves to provide more effective peace services. Religions and religious organisations have an untapped and under-used integrative power potential. To assess this potential and to understand which factors enhance or inhibit joint peace ventures between the Christian religions, but also between the prophetic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the Indian religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) and the Chinese wisdom religions, is an urgent research challenge.
Samuel Beckett’s classical 20th century work in absurdist theater, “Waiting for Godot”, eloquently elucidates the point that sitting around idly waiting for a saviour is not acceptable. The two main characters Beckett’s classic play, Vladimir and Estragon, idly wait for the mysterious Godot to come and save the day. At the end of the play, after Vladimir and Estragon have prattled around unproductively, they are reminded about the limited time we all have on this earth. Pozzo, an older, physically diminished, and now wiser acquaintance from the previous act reminds Vladimir: They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then its night once more. One clear lesson that Muslims worldwide can take from this story is that they must act positively in order to make life in this earth, or dunyā better. Vladimir and Estragon ultimately fail to heed Pozzo’s message, and in the end resolve to commit suicide, which they could not even effectively do. Faithful Muslims genuinely believe that Allah is going to have the final say in regard to the events that unfold on earth. In a very famous sūrah, commonly referred to as the Istikhlaf verse, which states;
Allah has promised such of you who believe and do good works that he will surely make them succeed (the present rulers) in the earth, even as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others); and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He hath approved for them, and will give them in exchange safety after their fear. They serve Me. They ascribe nothing as partner unto Me. Those who misbelieve henceforth, they are the miscreants.
Muslims across territorial and intellectual landscape see this verse as a divine promise that one day the Khilāfah will be restored and that it will offer perfect worldly justice. However, this does not mean Muslims are to idly wait for this event to transpire—they must challenge injustice and offer alternative, Islamic political solutions and end the cycle of religious intolerance and exclusionist mentality. The level of intellectual maturity in our religious discourse, the sheer parochial redundancy in the standard of our thought process, if compared to the idea and understanding of Islam with our pious predecessors put the contemporary religious discourse to absolute embarrassment. From an Islamic paradigmatic framework, it is incumbent upon individuals across societies to work to make their societies flourish and where individuals will live according to God’s mandate—of serving God through serving people and become the representatives of God on earth. Citizens must be active participants in their regime. They must constantly perform acts of goodness and kindness. Such actions will keep public sentiment positive, the idea of having a religious and political authority strong, and Islam as a faith and way of life ever relevant. The regular God-fearing Muslim who works for a living, has a family, and struggles to pay the bills must, unlike Vladimir and Estragon, act. That is to say, they must make following religion, aiming for freedom and justice a reality. Otherwise, like Vladimir and Estragon, they will continue to struggle until their ultimate demise.
— The author is a doctoral candidate at the Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic studies, University of Kashmir and can be reached at: [email protected]