Bahai News - Religion Fueling Conflict or Fostering Peace
Religion Fueling Conflict or Fostering Peace
It is interesting that in the UK where I live religion is increasingly
looked upon by many people as being responsible for fueling conflict.
People choose to adopt a more secular approach towards life; religion is
becoming more and more a taboo subject, especially for the young, who
want to see society develop towards more equality.
Since World War II there have been tremendous changes in Britain's
demography. Society has become more multiracial, multilingual,
multicultural and multireligious. This is particularly true for the big
cities. The increasing influx of refugees from conflict areas such as
Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan and, presently, Kosovo, has
stretched the resources of the state and of the welfare sector; it also
causes tensions between the host population and the new arrivals.
The laws on racial and gender equality are more than twenty years old. There
is, however, recent legislation against discrimination of pupils from those
backgrounds and it guarantees equal opportunity for access to services and
employment. Sikhs and Jews are considered ethnic minority communities and
are therefore protected by the race relations legislation, but the new law
does not cover religious discrimination. The recent investigation into the
stabbing of Stephen Lawrence has shown that there is still much
discrimination and a big gap between policy and practice.
I already wrote before in Current Dialogue about some of the
initiatives that began in the UK and which helped to put the interfaith
movement onto a global map. The World Congress of Faiths (WCF), the World
Conference on Religion and Peace, the International Interfaith Centre (ICC)
all have an international basis and membership but operate from the UK. The
ICC has been involved in developing programmes which combine international
interfaith dialogue, academic research, information sharing, networking and
community building. It has developed particular expertise in facilitating
dialogue between people who may find that difficult when in situations of
conflict, especially when religious communities are implicated. Beginning
in March 1997, conferences were given in Oxford and Ireland on the theme
"Religion, Community and Conflict." Thus opportunities were afforded for
members of communities in conflict to come together in a supportive and
friendly atmosphere and to share concerns. Dialogue continues and links
are maintained and built upon for peace-building. The ICC and the WCF
collaborated on a recent publication, Testing the Global Ethic. While it
is acknowledged that religious differences may aggravate conflicts, there
is hope that the moral values shared by people of faith can provide a
basis for communities and nations to live together in peace and harmony.
The WCF's recent publication All in Good Faith is another initiative
in this sense, namely, a resource book for multifaith prayer.
The Interfaith Network for the UK, on the other hand, "works to build
good relations between the communities of all the major faiths in
Britain: Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh,
and Zoroastrian." It is a link between more than 80 member bodies "to
help make Britain a country marked by mutual understanding and respect
between religions where all can practise their faith with integrity."
There are four types of member organizations: faith community
representative bodies, national interfaith organizations, local
interfaith groups, educational and academic bodies. The Network conducts
its work on the principle that "dialogue and co-operation can only
prosper if they are rooted in respectful relationship which do not blur
or undermine the distinctiveness of different religious traditions."
During its ten year history the Network has become a much respected
organization. It can count on the complete loyalty and support of its
member organizations, and also entertains fruitful links with government
departments and other national or local bodies. The present archbishop
of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, has paid it the ultimate compliment
when he said, "There is no other organization which provides such a
trusted forum of exchange between all the main faith communities in the
United Kingdom. We must do all we can to ensure its future, since the
task of building bridges between these faith communities can only become
Its publications are excellent resources for building interfaith
awareness and understanding, particularly Building Good Relations
with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs, and Religions in the UK: A
Multi-Faith Directory (in collaboration with the University of
Derby, which, incidentally, has set up a Multi Faith Net).
At government level, the Inner City Religious Council, formed in 1992
and re-launched in July 1997, provides a forum for government and faith
communities to work together on issues facing inner cities and deprived
urban areas. Its membership is drawn from faith communities having a
substantial presence in these areas, namely Christian, Hindu, Jewish,
Muslim and Sikh. The Council plays an important role in the dialogue
with the government about developing policies that affect disadvantaged
urban communities. Members are encouraged to offer skills and
partnership to the government for tackling issues such as religious
discrimination, unemployment, rehabilitation, youth matters and health.
At the local level, there are numerous initiatives taking up particular
issues within a locality. For example, consideration has been given to
establishing a multifaith chaplaincy team with opportunities for
multifaith services, where possible.
Bilateral dialogues are being conducted between Sikhs and Christians in the
UK and four conferences have been given, exploring issues of commonality
and difference. One result of these meetings was to continue Scripture
studies in West London. Whenever possible, small groups of Sikhs and
Christians meet to study passages from Sri Guru Granth Sahib or the Bible,
to learn from each other while respecting each other's commitment to their
own faith. It is difficult at times, but the trust built up over the years
is such that there is now a unique bonding as God's people together, yet
diverse. In this testimony, I have tried to give a little flavor of how
religion can be a vehicle for peacemaking rather than an instrument of
division and conflict. Baba Farid says in Guru Granth Sahib:
Do not speak in a way that causes hurt
He further says, that to stop creating conflict, we should do the following:
The true God resides in all
Do not break another's heart
For all humans are precious.
Those who hit you with fists
Religion can be a wonderful path to resolving conflict, provided its
teachings about humility, compassion, forgiveness and respect for the
individual and communities are fostered by listening and speaking to
each other in a spirit of openness.
Do not box them down
Go to their homes
And kiss their feet.
Charanjit AjitSingh, a Sikh, is a lecturer and writer on Sikhism.
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