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Articles

Posted on Thu 28 March 2024

The Role of Religion in Conflict and Peacemaking - The Round Table - October 202

ABSTRACT

This article will seek to describe the role of religion in society both in terms of cohesion,

where it can provide a spiritual and moral ‘glue’ for a particular society and its ‘prophetic’

aspect, where it can challenge the state of society and the direction it, or some elements in it,

may be taking. It will then consider how religion can go wrong and fuel conflict between

religious and ethnic groups within nations or between nations. Examples will be given from

the Middle Ages, early modern Europe and contemporary nationalisms in Asia and Europe.

Religion can also be a powerful force for making and maintaining peace between groups and

nations. This can arise directly from religious conviction or it can be the result of patient

dialogue between representatives of religious traditions as to how their tradition encourages,

or even requires, them to work for peace whether locally, nationally or internationally.

Particular attention will be given to the ‘Abrahamic’ faiths because of their global reach and

because they are a factor in conflict, as well as in peacemaking, in so many parts of the

world. There will also be discussion of the accountability of religious traditions in the context

of inter religious dialogue, in the media and in the public square, regarding their role in

promoting fundamental freedoms, good stewardship of the natural world, working to bring

conflict to an end and promoting peace and  collaboration among diverse ethnic, religious and

socio-economic groups

KEYWORDS Religion; peacemaking; social cohesion; values, Abrahamic faiths;

Christianity; Islam; prophetic roles; interfaith dialogue

Introduction

Spiritual experience is personal. It has to do with a person’s experience of the transcendent

and with allegiance and adherence to a community of faith, with its beliefs and practices.

Such experience is hugely important and merits close study of its nature and claims. Our task

here, however, is to consider religion as a social, even political, expression of the spiritual

and to ask what importance it has in the causes of conflict and whether it can promote peace

between different groups and nations.

The Social function of religion

Sociologists have long recognised the social function of religion, where it has been thought to

be the ‘glue’ which has held societies together, providing cohesion necessary for a society to

function effectively. It is true that, in doing this, they have concentrated on religion as symbol

and ritual rather than the experience which is most important for believers. As I have said

elsewhere, however, the importance of such a view lies in seeing religion as providing the

basis for moral order, social solidarity and justification for conflict, when it occurs, as also

value for suffering endured for the sake of social survival or well-being. 1

Is religion redundant?

More recently, some sociologists have claimed that religion is no longer necessary in certain

societies because its social functions have been taken over by the State or voluntary

organisations and that democracy, rather than a transcendent moral order, provides all the

legitimation that is needed. The views of those schools of thought such as sociologie

religieuse, which are interested in the continuing role of religion in society, are dismissed as

‘unscientific’ because they have refused to accept the basic assumptions of those who believe

in the inexorable secularisation of societies alongside industrialisation and globalisation.

Bryan Wilson, a representative British sociologist, in his classic work has claimed that

sociology is ‘a product of western civilisation’. 2 Such a statement can, of course, be

challenged in a number of ways, but, to take just one example, there seems complete

unawareness of the work of scholars like Ibn Khaldun, the great North African social

historian (1332-1406), who is sometimes regarded as the father of sociology. Is this because

western scholarship is unable to conceive of a medieval Muslim who could write in terms of

cause and effect, of drawing universal conclusions on the basis of observable phenomena,

and who could discuss change in terms of social dynamics and not as directly willed by

God? 3 With Ibn Khaldun, however, such commitment to objectivity goes hand in hand with

acknowledging religion as important for social organisation. His account of ‘asabiyyah, or

social cohesion, Professor Akbar Ahmed tells us, is based on a spiritual view of the world and

of human society. According to the Qur’an, human beings are God’s representatives on earth

(2:30) and human social organisation must reflect this trusteeship. 4 Neglect of Ibn Khaldun is

not dissimilar to that of Christian based ‘religious sociology’, labelled ‘unscientific’ by those

who claim to adopt a ‘value-free’ approach but whose values are, in fact, undeclared.

The limits of the modern State

The much vaunted effectiveness of the modern state is limited to the provision of material

benefits and to providing security and freedom for its citizens so they can live as they choose.

In providing these, the state assumes certain givens like the inalienable dignity of the person,

equality and liberty which it has acquired from a moral tradition which is not merely

utilitarian. It is often claimed that the modern state is effective in what it delivers but we are

not told in what areas it is effective. Even in its limited domain, without the acquisition of

values such as human dignity, equality and liberty, which have spiritual roots, the state

cannot deliver in important areas of human life. When equipped with these values, it can

create the conditions for friendship, community, neighbourliness and care but it cannot

manufacture these since they arise from people’s world view, spiritual life and moral values.

The Return of religion?

The Austro-American sociologist, Peter Berger, who had been a disciple of Max Weber, had

begun to see already in the 1960s the futility of a ‘value-free’ approach. It tended towards an

implicit atheism and to marginalise the role of religion in society. He began to identify

‘signals of transcendence’ which can be identified in any human situation, such as the

propensity towards order and a corresponding fear of disorder. In religious terms such an

inclination is seen as reflecting the order of the cosmos itself, a transcendent order which

supports human attempts at ordering family, community and national life. It is not that all

such attempts are perfect or even justifiable. It is rather the instinct for order that is itself

remarkable. Just to say that it is built into us to ensure the survival of the species is not

enough because the question then arises as to why, in a random and unordered universe, that

should be so.

Berger also mentions ‘hope’ as another of his signals of transcendence: whether our

eschatology is secular or religious, we are all oriented towards the future both with regard to

our own expectations and the wellbeing of the groups to which we feel we belong. Such a

view of the future depends on a view of time which is, as in the Bible, linear rather than

cyclical and genuinely open to change and development. Berger also mentions our innate

sense of justice (and outrage at injustice) as another of his signals, as are, of course, art,

music, sport and our sense of humour. 5

Alasdair MacIntyre has shown how so-called ‘value-neutral’ approaches to history

and sociology have resulted in a kind of moral and spiritual amnesia. According to him, the

canons of the social sciences will allow the charting of spiritualities and moral systems, one

after the other; but will not permit the identifying of those which tend towards greater

personal, familial and social integration and which towards disorder and disintegration. Such

a paradigm results in a spiritual and cultural relativism which refuses to affirm what is

beneficial in a particular tradition or to disapprove of dispositions and behaviours which

damage the social fabric of the family, community or nation. It is well known that he goes on

to advocate the emergence of new forms of moral and spiritual communities where virtue

based living is possible and valued.

In fact, a dual approach may be possible where belonging to such defined

communities enables, and even heightens, a contribution to wider society which may be

indifferent or hostile to the values bring promoted by these communities. MacIntyre points to

the need for a new St Benedict, evoking the Benedictine rejection of a decaying and decadent

social order and resistance to an encroaching barbarism. To this we could add the

conservation of whatever was valuable from the past and the dissemination of learning and

culture. To be, in other words, a light in the darkness to which men and women would be

drawn for enlightenment, safety and fellowship. 6

Religion, morality and law

Whatever the dissolvents at work in different societies, it remains true that historically (and in

many parts of the world, today), religion has been the basis for social cohesion and lies at the

root of most moral traditions. It can, of course, be conceded at once that non-religious people

can act morally, even altruistically, and that sometimes they can be better morally informed.

The issue, nevertheless, is whether religion can give a better account of the rise of moral

awareness and of fundamental moral principles, such as the primacy of conscience, the equal

dignity of all humans and our sense of duty. As even Immanuel Kant recognised, such an

account can best be given by an appeal to a Supreme Being who is both the ground for such

ideas and the one who brings about their vindication, if not in this life, then in the next. 7

Religion, and its accompanying moral tradition, are also related to the emergence and

development of law. We must, of course, distinguish between religion and law and even

morals and law. What may be spiritually and morally desirable is not always suitable for

legislation. There is, nevertheless, a real connection between moral and spiritual values and

law: our estimates of the human person, of justice, compassion and human relationships,

which are required in law making, are often grounded in a religious and moral world view.

Indeed, if law is to be effective, it must be seen to be well grounded morally. In the long run,

neither the slavish following of public opinion nor mere coercion will be adequate.

Religion in public life

Religious beliefs, practices and values are also often related to the emergence and

development of national and community institutions. Monarchy, government by consent in

various forms, civic bodies, voluntary organisations and institutes of higher education can

often appeal to a religious foundation or claim religious inspiration or justification. Even

where there has been intentional separation of the State from any one form of religious

expression, as in the USA, the foundational documents can still invoke transcendental beliefs

and values. It may be that, in the course of time, the religious basis of social and political

institutions is eroded, in some cases to the point of becoming vestigial. At key points,

however, it serves to remind those in authority that their authority is not self-generated but

has its basis in a higher realm to which it is also accountable. In the United Kingdom, for

example, the Coronation as a service of consecration, prayers in Parliament, oath taking,

chapels in colleges and hospitals, each, in a different way, testifies to the role of religion in

social organisation. As Callum Brown notes, even in a rapidly secularising context, nothing

has replaced Christian discourse in public life: no new religion, no new credo, no ideology

not even some kind of state sponsored secularism. 8 The dangers of deliberately creating a

spiritual and moral vacuum in national life, by removing the remaining signs of the spiritual

from public life, will be obvious to many. What might fill such a vacuum in a world of

competing religions and ideologies?

The Prophetic element in public life

So far, we have concentrated on the cohesive aspect of religion in society. In the Judaeo-

Christian and Islamic traditions particularly, there is another aspect of it to the fore. This may

be called the prophetic. Walter Brueggemann, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible, tells us that the

prophetic is about nurturing, nourishing and evoking a consciousness and perception

alternative to those of the dominant culture. Such a consciousness will critique an order

which exploits and oppresses groups of people because of their ethnic, religious or class

origins. It will criticise the refusal of God’s offer of newness by clinging on to privilege and it

will energise the community so it can live on with hope towards the future. He sees Moses as

the paradigmatic prophet who brings into being an alternative community which rejects the

false hierarchical system of Egypt and is formed as a people and nation by continually

recognising that it was God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. With Jeremiah, the

truly prophetic spirit will grieve at the faithlessness of the existing order, and, therefore, its

self-inflicted, approaching destruction, but it will also sow and nurture seeds of hope in a

coming liberation. For him, the cross of Jesus is the ultimate criticism of injustice, prejudice

and oppression. Just as his Resurrection is par excellence that which energises towards a

hopeful future. 9

Where Islam is concerned, its Prophet’s initial proclamation of the one God, Allah,

who is just himself and requires justice in society, brought about a hostile reaction from the

elite of his home city of Mecca whose prosperity was threatened by such a prophetic

proclamation. 10 The city’s prosperity seems to have been built on popular pilgrimages and the

cult of the so-called daughters of Allah: Al-Lat, Al- Manat and Al- ‘Uzza , as well as of other

gods. A particularly exploitative form of usury was also practised and there were other social

evils, such as the exposure of female children which outraged Muhammad and were

condemned by him. Such a ‘prophetic’ element has repeatedly revealed itself in the course of

Islamic history: in the revolt of the Kharijites who rejected the emergence of of a hereditary

and worldly Caliphate, or in those Sufis who realised that religion was simply being used to

uphold and to prolong a particular political and social order. In the nineteenth and twentieth

centuries also Muslim reformers have criticised corruption and exploitation of their own

times. It seems true that much of the energy of resurgent Islam, both moderate and extreme,

arises from such a ‘prophetic’ view of the relation of religion to society. 11

It needs saying that while Judaism, Christianity and Islam are especially ‘prophetic’ in

their origin and orientation, other traditions, such as the Indic, may also display prophetic

elements. This is manifestly true, for example, of Sikhism, which has emerged in history as a

result of vigorous interaction between the Bhakti (or devotional) tradition within Hinduism

and the preaching of the Sufis. This interreligious interaction led to a kind of non- sectarian

devotionalism which lies at the root of the Sikh founder Guru Nanak’s teaching. His teaching

emphasises monotheism and a personal knowledge of God but also lays stress on a rejection

of caste distinctions and on commensality. 12

Much earlier in the Indic tradition, the Buddha himself, drawing on anti-caste

traditions within Hinduism, had proclaimed social equality. Buddhist belief in the need to

eliminate suffering can also bring Buddhists to resist injustice and oppression which cause or

increase suffering. Their belief that it is desire which causes much suffering can lead them to

warn against unbridled consumerism and their commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence,

should lead them to be advocates of peace and of seeking change through non-violent

means. 13

The Renewal of the Prophetic

It is the case, of course, that religious traditions, as they have developed historically, do not

always fulfil their prophetic vocation. There are temptations to compromise with the

powerful and the wealthy. They can also provide support for the existing order without

asking whether it is unjust. Sometimes, however, there can be a renewal of the ‘prophetic’

within a particular tradition. This can come about because of the work of a charismatic

individual, like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, or it can be a response to political

and economic circumstances in which the poor find themselves, as with the emergence of

various theologies of liberation in different parts of the world.

At its best, the prophetic aspect of religion can empower individuals and groups, such

as the Dalits in India, making it possible for them to affirm their identity and dignity in ways

denied to them in the past. It can provide the means for criticising an unjust social and

political milieu and it can give the poor and powerless tools to mobilise and to challenge the

privileged and wealthy. It can bring about attitudes of ‘critical solidarity’ towards one’s

national or communal context where loyalty is not shown by uncritical subservience but by

asking critical questions regarding justice, privilege and equality before the law.

Does religion cause conflict?

An estimate of the various aspects of religion, such as the one given above, can lead to people

asking if it is more an apology for religious belief than a critique of it and that it does not

correspond to the experience of many who may see it, rather, as the cause of conflict in

families, local communities and within and between nations. They may well ask how this

aspect of religion, which they may claim is its only side, is to be evaluated?

It is certainly the case that religious belief, and formal aspects of religion, have

sometimes been, and still are, a significant aspect of many conflicts. In the West, people often

associate the so-called ‘wars of religion’ with a great deal of suffering in middle Europe and,

for many, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) marks the dawn of modern times, at least in

political terms. At this time, the principle of non-interference on religious grounds was

established and people were recognised as citizens regardless of religious affiliation. 14 The

ensuing ‘privatisation’ of religion was to make sure that religion could not be a major

element in conflict between nations. To what extent this was successful can, of course, be

debated. What Westphalia did do was to restrict public engagement to formal rules of

conduct and to denude the public square of any commitment to beliefs from which moral and

spiritual values arise and thus to impoverish public discourse. As far as the ‘wars of religion’

are concerned, it is not at all clear whether the conflicts were only, or even mainly, due to

religion. It seems there were many other factors involved including national interest, political

intrigue and envy of ecclesiastical property.

The Crusades

Taking another well-known example, the crusades were called because pilgrims from Europe

to the Holy Land were being obstructed by the Seljuk Turks, the unhinged Fatimid Caliph,

Al-Hakim, had wantonly destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the

Eastern Roman Emperor, Alexius Comnenus, was appealing directly to Pope Urban II for

assistance as the Seljuk armies were overrunning his Asian territories. When Urban called the

first of the crusades, these were all factors in his mind but he may also have been glad to

divert the attention of the knights and soldiers of Europe towards fighting the Turks and

Arabs in the Middle East rather than each other in Europe. 15 There were barbarities and

cruelties on all sides and the crusaders often forgot their original mission in their thirst for

land and plunder. I sometimes remind colleagues that the crusades were never solely directed

against Muslim Turks and Arabs. There was one against Christian Byzantium itself which,

arguably, weakened it and opened the way for Constantinople to fall to the Turks in 1453

AD. There were also crusades against the Jews and the Albigensians and one proposed even

against the Protestant powers during the conflicts of the sixteenth century! 16

The Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf has extracted from contemporary Arab sources,

the Arab Muslim view of the crusades. As with Christian accounts, it is, of course, biased but

it does establish that the Eastern Christians suffered at the hands of the Crusaders, that some

of the crusading armies were barbaric in their treatment of conquered populations and that the

overall result of the crusades was to weaken the position of Christianity in the East. 17 once

again, we find that religion is an important element in the conflict but there were many

others, such as both Turkish and European desire for land, the need to secure Western Europe

from further Muslim inroads and to divert conflict away from Europe towards the Middle

East.

Are religions of Semitic origin particularly prone to involvement in conflict?

Sometimes it is said that the religions of Semitic origin, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are

particularly prone to being involved in conflict. This is not to excuse them but we have to

note that in both the Hindu Epics, the Mahabharata (of which the Bhagavad-Gita is part) and

the Ramayana, religion is used to justify participation in conflict. The Emperor Ashoka, until

his conversion to Buddhism, was engaged in wars of conquest and even Buddhism could not

prevent wars of conquest and succession in the kingdoms of South-East Asia. 18 Today also,

we see a kind of militant nationalism, with Buddhist undertones, in countries like Sri Lanka

and Myanmar.

The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb rolled back the policies of his more tolerant forbears

in his attempt to turn the Mughal Empire into an Islamic state with the strict enforcement of

Shari’a, or Islamic Law, as he understood it. He ordered all newly built Hindu temples to be

torn down, jizya, or the poll tax on non-Muslims was restored and various military campaigns

were undertaken against ‘infidel’ areas of the Empire. One of these, against the Sikhs,

resulted in the capture and execution of their leader, the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, causing

enduring bitterness among the Sikhs. Aurangzeb’s actions were responsible for transforming

the Sikhs into a militarily effective people prepared to combat what they saw as Mughal

aggression and oppression. 19

British Imperial policies and the growth of communal consciousness

Whether intentionally or not, certain British imperial policies in India, such as the

introduction and extension of separate electorates for religious communities, led to the

strengthening of communal identities, in which religion was a significant ingredient. Each

socio-religious community developed its own political organisation and this became a basis

for different kinds of religious nationalism. The Muslim form of it came to be expressed in

the demand for Pakistan, a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Not to be left behind,

the Sikh kind turned into the struggle for Khalistan, a homeland for the Sikh community. We

are now seeing the resurgence of Hindu nationalism which sees India as a homeland for

Hindus and questions the loyalties of communities like the Muslim and the Christian if they

do not endorse this vision and accept that, at least culturally, they have to be Hindus as well.

Is this the end of India’s much celebrated secularism which guaranteed freedom of religion

and which respected religious views without being identified with any one of them ? 20

Religion and nationalist chauvinism

The mix of religion with communal and nationalist chauvinism that we are currently

witnessing, in post-Gandhian India is not, of course, limited to it. I had occasion to be in

Bosnia during the civil war there. I had gone on behalf of Christian Aid to see whether we

could work with Islamic Relief without regard to creed or confession. In the event, this

proved more difficult than we had anticipated because communities were so sharply divided

and there was much bitterness on every side. We discovered at close quarters how closely

identified religion and ethnicity had become. The Muslims, for instance, resembled the Serbs

and the Croats in many respects but were distinguished by their religious identity which, in

some cases, extended only to their name and a dim memory of their ancestry. The dominant

feature of the ethno-religious landscape was the identification of Serb nationhood with the

Orthodox Church and the extreme expression of such a consciousness was shown in the

attempted ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims from ‘Serb’ areas and beyond. In Kosova, on the

other hand, the situation was characterised with the Muslims being in the majority and the

Serbs a minority. A more recent visit to the region has confirmed for me my sense that

religion and ethnicity represent a potent mixture which, if not properly addressed, could, once

again, result in a conflagration. 21

The re-emergence of ‘sobornost’ as a unifying and reenergising principle among the

Russian people, with its recognition of the spiritual and moral dimension of community life,

can be a welcome development. If, however, Orthodoxy is seen as intrinsic to being Russian,

this does raise questions about the place of other ethnic groups, other churches and other

religions in post-Soviet Russia. Such questions remain unsettled and seem to growing in

intensity with the passage of time. 22 The conflict in Ukraine, which has geopolitical

dimensions related to great power interests beyond the scope of this article, reveals,

nevertheless, the desire for solidarity among Russian speaking people, wherever they may be,

and a chauvinistic memory that it is Russians, rather than Ukrainians, who truly represent the

historical consequences of the Baptism of Kiev. Sobornost can thus be seen to have both a

positive and a negative aspect.

Like other fundamentals of human life, religion also can go wrong

We see, therefore, that for good and bad reasons, religion has contributed, and continues to

contribute, to conflict at different levels and of various kinds. We can agree also that religion

can and does go wrong. If spiritual or religious awareness is innate in us then, like other

aspects of being human, it will be possible for it to be distorted and become pathological. Our

capacity for love, for example, is one of the noblest features of humanity. It can be

characterised by selflessness, sacrifice and care but, if it goes wrong, turning inwards on

itself, it can wreak havoc in our personal lives, damage or even destroy others and cause

immense suffering for families and communities.

Patriotism, or love for our country, is noble and to be admired. As social creatures, we

need to belong and one way of belonging is being part of a people or nation. Such a sense of

solidarity can make for the common good, provided it is not turned in on itself, becomes

excluding and exclusive or promotes xenophobia and fear of the ‘other’. We have witnessed

how all of this can happen and is happening, jeopardising regional and world peace and

putting minorities at risk.

Just as love and patriotism can go wrong, to name but two of the most valued human

commitments, so can religion. From the point of view of a Christian anthropology, there is

nothing in the human condition which is not capable of rising to the heights but, at the same

time, everything is also touched by the possibility of going wrong. Other religious traditions

will, no doubt, have similar analyses of human nature. Here Reinhold Niebuhr’s comment

about democracy is apt: human capacity for justice makes democracy possible and the

inclination to injustice make it necessary! 23 As with other fundamentals of humanity, our

experience of the pathological in religion should not blind us to its existence, nor to its

capacity to inspire and encourage men and women to selflessness, service and sacrifice.

What is good religion?

Religion is often the catalyst and even the agent for reconciliation and peace making. The lay

led St Egidio community in Rome is dedicated to the work of making peace between warring

groups and has been recognised for its role in peace making, for example, in the civil war in

Mozambique. The courageous Muslaha movement in Israel/Palestine is dedicated to seeking

reconciliation between Jews, Muslims and Christians in a polarised and dangerous situation

and the famous Alexandria Declaration on peace in the Holy Land came about through the

initiative of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. It is well known that religious leaders, like

the Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Catholic Archbishop Stephen Naidoo, led

the fight against apartheid in South Africa, at a time when most of the political leadership

was imprisoned or exiled. In many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, churches and

other religious groups are engaged in the struggle for the poor to have access to justice and to

have their basic needs, like employment, housing and food, met by sometimes reluctant

regimes and elites. Organisations, from a variety of religious backgrounds, have been

involved for centuries in delivering education and healthcare to those who otherwise would

have had only marginal access to these facilities.

We can agree then that religions can go wrong and cause suffering in the world but so

can secular ideologies. It can be argued, for example, that National Socialism, Marxism,

Maoism and nationalist chauvinism have caused more large scale human suffering than

religion has ever done!

The Scope and purpose of interfaith dialogue today

It is true that the Jewish people, out of all proportion to their numbers, have had a huge

influence on public and personal morality either directly through their sense of an educational

and moral mission in the world or through the agency of the Christian churches which have

taken the moral message of the Hebrew Bible, and Jesus’ understanding of it, all over the

world. Islam also has many points of contact with this moral tradition. 24

The Jewish people cannot, therefore, be excluded from dialogue about justice and

peace in our world today. It is, however, the two great missionary religions of our day, Islam

and Christianity, which bear the greatest burden in ensuring a peaceful and just international

order. Dialogue between them is essential so that each side can discover and appreciate the

beliefs and commitments of the other. It is important that each should know about the

spiritual experience which lies at the root of the practice of religion of the other and it is most

desirable that they should cooperate in the building and prospering of local communities.

Most crucially, however, such dialogue has to be, more and more, about the mutual

recognition and respect for fundamental human freedoms, including freedom of belief,

expression and the freedom to change our beliefs and the expression of them in public or in

private. In other words, this dialogue will only make progress if there is a common

recognition of Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I have been privileged to

be part of such dialogue, in different parts of the world, and it is most rewarding to see how

different traditions draw out commitments to human freedoms from their own documents and

practices. All religions, and particularly Islam and Christianity, because together they

represent more than half of all humanity, are accountable at the bar of world opinion and,

indeed, in the context of dialogue, to each other. It cannot be acceptable any longer for

religious people to claim that a matter of basic human rights is an ‘internal’ matter which they

should be allowed to address on their own. The world, rightly, wishes to hold us to account

and we should be willing to give an account of how our beliefs determine our treatment of

others to the world and to our partners in dialogue. There is no time now for ‘kissy kissy’

dialogue, where we pat each other on the back and return content that we have done

something valuable. Today, Dialogue has to be about the realities of our world and how

religious belief is upholding or endangering basic human freedoms. From such dialogue will

emerge a view of religion as a force for justice, freedom and equality.

Concluding Comment

We have considered then the role of religion in society; in both its cohesive and prophetic

aspects. We have noted how religions can be compromised, corrupted and become an

ingredient in conflict but we have also seen that such compromise and corruption is not

unique to religion but applies to many other fundamentals of human experience. Much

conflict, similarly, is caused not by religion but by ideology, tyranny or the greed for territory

and scant resources. Religion does, however, have an obligation to promote reconciliation,

peace and justice. Such a responsibility should be an important aspect of inter-religious

dialogue and religions should be prepared to give an account of their commitment, in these

respects, to one another and to world opinion.

Notes

1. See my Conviction and Conflict: Islam, Christianity and World Order, London, Continuum

Press, 2006, pp 17f.

2. Bryan Wilson, Religion in Sociological Perspective, Oxford, OUP, 1982, pp 32ff.

3. Wilson, ibid, p. v, Akbar Ahmed, Islam under Siege, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2003, pp74ff.

See also his Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilisation, Middle East Journal 56, 1, Winter,

2002, Pp 1ff.

4. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilisation, p 77.

5. Peter Berger, A Rumour of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the

Supernatural, Baltimore, Penguin, 1969. His later book, The Heretical Imperative, Collins,

London, 1980, explores the applicability of an inductive approach to assessing religious

experience.

6 . Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, London, Duckworth, 2 nd edn,

1985, pp4f, 263.

7 . Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, New York, Harper, 1960, Pp

6, 131, 170ff. See also Michael Nazir-Ali, Thinking and Acting Morally, Crucible, October-

December, 2002, Pp 207ff.

8 . Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, London, Routledge, 2001, Pp 2-3.

9. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1978.

10 . On this early period see Martin Lings, Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources,

Cambridge, Islamic Texts Society, 1991

11 . Michael Nazir-Ali, Freedom in the Face of Resurgent Islam in Faith, Freedom and the

Future, London, Wilberforce Publications, 2016, pp173ff.

12 . See further W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Views and

Practices, Brighton, Sussex, Academic Press, 1995.

13 . Elizabeth Harris, What Buddhists Believe, Oxford, Oneworld, 1998, Pp 99ff.

14. Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, London, Penguin,1990, Pp 318ff, 444ff.

15. See further Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol 1, London, Penguin, 1991.

16 . See Conviction and Conflict, op.cit, pp 80f.

17. Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, London, Al-Saqi Books, 1984.

18. For details of these conflicts see Keith Taylor, The Early Kingdoms; Kenneth Hall, The

Economic History of South East Asia; and JG Caspario and IW Mabbett, Religion and

Popular Beliefs of South East Asia Before c. 1500 in The Cambridge History of South East

Asia, Vol 1, Cambridge, CUP, 1994, Pp157ff.

19. See John Richards, The Mughal Empire, The New Cambridge History of India, 1.5,

Cambridge, CUP, 1995, Pp 171ff.

20. Kenneth Jones, Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India, in the New

Cambridge History of India, Cambridge, CUP, 1997, pp218ff and VS Naipaul, India: A

Million Mutinies Now, London, Heinemann, 1990.

21. For an account of the conflict see Laura Silber and Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia,

London, Penguin/BBC, 1995.

22. James Billington, Russia: In Search of Itself, Washington, D.C., Woodrow Wilson Center,

2004, Pp145ff.

23. Reinhold Niebuhr in Children of Light and Children of Darkness, Chicago, Chicago

University Press, 1944, Pxxxii.

24. Conviction and Conflict, op cit, pp 41f.

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