The Importance of Religion in Peace-Building

Dr. Farida Khanam | Diplomatic Square | March 07, 2016

Since most people believe in one religion or the other, the role of religion can never be overstressed when it comes to peace building. But it is crucial that religious people should refrain from extremism and tread the path of tolerance. This is the teaching of all religions. No religion approves of extremism. If they follow the teaching of their religion, this will reinforce the culture of tolerance. And the culture of tolerance is indispensable for the establishment of peace.

Since the majority believes in one religious system or the other, religion provides a ready-made instrument for establishing peace in society. If we speak of peace and tolerance with reference to religion, it will have a vast appeal. People will attach great importance to it and will try to practice it. But one has to sedulously refrain from extremism while communicating the teaching of the respective religions. If this can be done, religion will, without doubt, prove to be the greatest means of bringing about peace in society.

It is also a fact that religion in its real authentic form teaches well-wishing for one another. Jesus Christ once said, ‘Love your enemy’, which means to establish friendly relations with everyone including one’s opponents, and win over one’s enemy by using the power of peace. In business, a customer-friendly culture is adopted. Similarly the essence of the social teachings of every religion is a human-friendly culture.

History tells us that in every age, religion has been the means of uniting or joining people – far from splitting them asunder. But in the age of democracy in modern times, a new culture has come to be promoted – that of the Vote Bank. This has divided people into different groups. Now human relationships have become that of rivalry rather than the brotherhood of man.

This phenomenon has emerged in the wake of democratic politics. Democratic politics is undeniably important. But there is a great need for religion not to be politicized.

The need of the hour is, thus, to awaken the spirit of religion. It is, therefore the duty of religious scholars to engage themselves in this most important task.

The study of religion tells us that one thing is common to every religion and that is Spirituality, or a non-material outlook. A non-material outlook is essential to peace. In this respect, peace is deeply related to religion. A material outlook disturbs peace, while a non-material outlook fosters the environment of peace. This is why most important way of establishing peace is to revive the spirit of religion.

The ideology of Islam is a peaceful one in the full sense. Islam embraces the whole of humanity. It does not believe in the ‘We’ and ‘They’ concept, but rather it believes in the ‘We and We’ concept.

The Prophet of Islam once observed that all human beings are God’s family. All human beings are blood brothers and blood sisters. Therefore, they have to live in this world as a universal family.

There are many religions in this world, and they have many things in common. While there are also many differences, Islam teaches us to manage the differences, rather than trying to eliminate them. The formula of Islam in this regard is to follow one and respect all.

Peace is, without doubt, extremely important. It would be right to say that peace is the greatest good, the summum  bonum –without it no progress is possible, neither religious nor secular.

The formula for peace in Islam is the same as has already been adopted in the secular world and that is, peaceful co-existence. This formula is a practical one. This is the only formula in this matter which is practicable.

There are two parts to every religion: Belief and the value system. The value system relates to the social system which is based on ethical norms. And ethical norms are common to almost all religions. There are some differences in beliefs, but beliefs are of a theoretical nature. They are in the mind of the believer, so differences in belief do not create any problem so far as the establishment of peace is concerned.

One part of every religion is its spirit and another is its form. Spirit is the essence or the real part of every religion. For instance, speaking the truth, honesty, well-wishing, etc. – the spiritual content of religion does not create any problem. The problem is always created by the form of the religion. When the form is emphasized, differences, clash and confrontation ensue.

According to Islam, the spirit of religion is its real part and the form of religion is a relative part. Islam forbids stressing the relative part, which is called extremism in Islam. Islam’s emphasis is on spirit. So far as form is concerned, the way of tolerance will be adopted.

Islam attaches great importance to the life ‘hereafter’. According to the teachings of Islam, man should make the success of the Hereafter his greatest concern. If a living awareness of this concept is produced in man, material differences, and controversies will be minimized and replaced by a non-material or other-worldly outlook. This verse of the Quran is significant:

And God calls to the Home of peace (Paradise) (10:25).

This means that according to the creation plan, peace and harmony should prevail in human society. God Himself is peace. He intended this world to be peaceful, and only a peaceful world will be able to receive His blessings.. A peaceful world is like a paradise on earth. It is only in such a world that we can meet and establish contact with God Almighty, the Creator of man and the universe.