Harnessing religions to promote justice, peace
Q&A with Dr Chandra Muzaffar
By YONG HUEY JIUN
Religion can be a powerful force in the pursuit of justice and peace. Dr
Chandra Muzaffar will be a speaker at a conference organised by Universiti Sains
Malaysia next week. Its Noordin Sopiee Professor of Global Studies tells YONG
HUEY JIUN why, as diverse as we are in our beliefs, we have more in common than
we think Q: How do you feel about the progress (or lack thereof) of
interfaith dialogues since you first began promoting it in 1980?
It's not quite right to say we've not had such mechanisms in the country. There have been such mechanisms. The Malayan Inter-Religious Organisation, was set up in 1956. We've had the Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship. All the religions are there, in a sense. At the level of civil society, there have been initiatives of that sort but it is the state which has not been directly involved. There are certain sensitivities about the state being involved in an endeavour of this sort.
This is part of the problem that confronts us. There's no reason why a Muslim-majority government should not be involved in interfaith dialogues. There's no reason to fear interaction and dialogue. Dialogue is integral to Muslim history because it was a part of Islam right from the beginning. The Prophet himself was actively involved in dialogues with the Christians and the Jews.
Q: Would bringing religion into the quest for peace be
The teachings of a religion do not promote violence. It's the individuals -- the people who manipulate a particular religion -- who are responsible for the distortion of the essential message of the religion. The essential message of religion is very clear: it promotes peace.
Q: Religion can be a uniting or dividing force. Unfortunately, as
history has shown, it's been more of the latter and has come to be known as the
source of numerous conflicts. Your comments.
Secondly, when religion is seen as a source of conflict, more often than not, it is not religion per se. It could be politics, the economy or other forces at work that lead to conflicts. Religion is drawn into the situation. For instance, the Maluku conflict in Indonesia. It was linked to the collapse of the Suharto regime and, to a certain extent, migration. It wasn't the fact that you have Christians and Muslims.
Q: Why is religion often drawn into conflicts?
There are individuals and groups in all religions who consciously distort religion for whatever purpose, but bigotry in the name of religion has existed for a long time. However, there are spiritual, moral and intellectual resources in all religions that can be harnessed to promote justice and peace. If you look at recent years, quite a bit of that has been happening except that we have not taken notice of people of different religions coming together to fight for global justice. For example, the campaign against the war in Iraq and the campaign to promote environmental ethics.
Q: But could it be that their common goal is what fosters that
cohesion? What happens when they are no longer fighting for the same cause?
Today, more than ever, one has to do this because if you look at every one of the major crises that confronts us, you'll find that what is really needed is perhaps a spiritual and moral transformation. If you look at it from various perspectives, you will be able to see the connections between what's happening today and the need for some sort of spiritual and moral ethics. Some people would even say this is what is really needed -- a spiritual and moral revolution.
Q: Every religion has its own set of tenets and beliefs. Given that,
how do you make people see that acceptance of another's faith need not mean an
abandonment or alienation of one's own faith?
Once you begin with that understanding, it becomes easier to move on to accepting diversity. It says in the Quran that that is part of the divine plan -- to learn to appreciate and celebrate that diversity.
In spite of this diversity, I know that there are common values and principles all of us subscribe to. These are common to all of us regardless of our faith or whether we believe in God or not.
Q: Do you think it's crucial to maintain secularism in a
The term "secular", unfortunately, has a certain connotation from the perspective of certain religious groups. People say secular as divorced from religious values. There are different types of secularism. French secularism is, in some ways, antagonistic towards religion. Indian secularism accommodates different religions. Globally, humankind is evolving into a situation where some sort of integration -- a more universal notion of the divine, spiritual and moral values, and the positive aspects of secularism -- is going to take place in the future.
The "Religion in the Quest for Global Justice and Peace" conference will be held in Kuala Lumpur from July 24-26. For registration, please call 04-653 4491 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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