Role of religions in world peace: utopias or sources of hope?

When we read the history of religions on a global scale, we tend to suspect about their positive role in world peace. Indeed, we notice that religions certainly preach for peace but unfortunately they also made war!


The fight against heretics, crusades, inquisition, excommunication, genocide, contemporary takfirism and the tensions  in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, despite the close link with geopolitics,  tell us much about the complex relationships between religion and violence.


Religions seem to be "at the heart of the great conflicts of our time" and let us say it clearly: no religion today - neither from a historical nor contemporary point of view - (even in Buddhism)- has any lesson to give to the other religious traditions, especially on two structural issues: violence in the name of religion and the women’s issue!


But in spite of this global configuration one can ask a naive question: Is it really Religion that challenges the world peace or is it a system of power that in every movement of the history, re-appropriates the sacred in order to increase their legitimacy ?? Peace researcher Markus A. Weingardt said: "Anyone who wants to provoke a conflict and go to war doesn’t need religion to justify it."


Yet it is true that many people are dying and have suffered (still suffer) throughout history, the atrocities provoked by religions’ conflicts. But, can the world be really more peaceful without religion? I don’t think so. Secular and ideological visions such as fascism, nationalism, racism, colonialism, communism, imperialism and their geopolitical interests prove the opposite. The majority of millions of deaths during the wars of the twentieth century have been victims of secular ideologies and not violence directly motivated by a  religion.


It is also true that religions have been able to bring peace and resolve many conflicts. Religions are indeed able, by their force of moral motivation, to promote and establish world peace.


But at this level, it may be necessary to ask a preliminary question:  what religion are we talking about? To answer this question we have to make the distinction between the spiritual and ethical dimension of religions and their institutionalization or formalization in a hierarchical authority.


Even Islam, which was initially born without intermediate hierarchical authority, has, over time, built up its various religious institutions and official representations, as the caliphs, imams and muftis, who today constitute by their strong influence and their hegemonic power over the religious knowledge, a sort of evident religious authority.


Where does the problem lie?


Having made the distinction between the spiritual message of religions and its institutional dimension, one could easily answer that it is in fact all these institutions with their sacred authority and the lived political instrumentalization, which at one time or another, endorsed violence  in the name of the sacred.


Today, it is true that the politicization of religion has invaded all the geopolitical space of the monotheistic world and it remains true that the religious instrumentalisation of conflicts and secular violence is well recognized. Behind many religious slogans we have identity, ethnic and political crises that have contributed to the spread  of the most deadly wars.


All this remains true,  however, it would be necessary to recognize that all these political instrumentalization of the religion is however done, in the name of a reading of the original scriptural sources and as such , finds a certain number of textual arguments that encourage,  and sometimes unconsciously endorse a certain tendency to violence, which extremists will use to confirm the legitimacy of their cause.


And it is there, in my modest opinion, where religions- especially Islam today - would have to initiate a deep work of reinterpretation and re-contextualization to bring realistic solutions to the multiple theological impasses of the traditionalist interpretation.


It is also a question of getting out of this banal rhetoric of interfaith dialogue and its unproductive monologues which are at the antipode sometimes of our sad realities. Because and let us say it clearly:  religions do not dialogue, they never did it and will never do it ... It is the human beings with their faith, as believers and witnesses of their respective traditions that can dialogue, about how they live together, and sometimes they fight each other into the reality of everyday life.


We should begin by questioning our own convictions, the ones we were inculcated in and that are reflected  in the majority of religions: the preeminence, the superiority, the certainty that we are- and not the others -  the only ones who hold the divine truth and that the other believers are- poor of them- lost and damned forever.


This aptitude to consider ourselves as holders of the "Divine Truth" rejecting all those who refuse it,  is the “feeding matrix” of all symbolic or real violence of  yesterday, today and the future… .. This vision hinders what is the essence of monotheism: the liberating divine unicity that should normally be our "common theological place".


Therefore, it would be necessary to have the intellectual and "spiritual" courage to make a non-apologetic and realistic approach to the Texts. Some parts of the Bible and the Quran are more or less violent. To deny it or to refuse to see it is to continue to allow the extremists to use and manipulate them as they want...


The contextualized and historical interpretation of these – and I focus mainly on Islam - is not in contradiction with an interpretation based on Faith and deep conviction .


The institutions as well as the religious actors have today the hard task and the moral responsibility of the social and global peace. And the most important part of this moral responsibility is to put and end to the denial of the reality of the world in which we live.  


This world is actually completely wounded by the challenges of a globalization that has upend the foundations of today's human societies ... And refusing to see it means refusing to understand the complexity of our reality today and thus it means that indirectly we endorse the daily violence suffered by many devastated identities.


Indeed, religious institutions - of whatever monotheistic religion they may be - do not generally and formally endorse fundamentalism and its violence, but they must do it concretely on the ground of realities, using  the great ethical potential of their spiritual message.


To commit ourselves in the name of religions for peace is to make a realistic commitment to freedom of belief   because without this fundamental freedom there is no freedom at all.


Peace is at this price. Individual liberties, equality between men and women, freedom of belief, social justice, struggle against social and racial discrimination ... It is on all these questions that religions have their say and to find solutions to these questions is to work for the social and world peace ...


It is true that religions carry a message of peace and freedom, but do they have today the capacity to do so and to implement it in the complexity of our world today?  It is not up to religions to answer this question but to those who today claim to speak on their behalf!

 Asma Lamrabet

May 2019

À propos de l'auteur


Native de Rabat (Maroc), Asma Lamrabet, exerce actuellement en tant que médecin biologiste à l’Hôpital Avicennes de Rabat. Elle a exercé durant plusieurs années (de 1995 à 2003) comme médecin bénévole dans des hôpitaux publics d'Espagne et d’Amérique latine, notamment à Santiago du Chili et à Mexico.

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