Introduction to IJWP, September 2019
The relation of religion to governance is one of the most important yet disputed aspects of the modern state. Should a state merely administer services on a territory or should it use its force to impose a specific set of religious beliefs and values on all of its citizens and residents? And, if a specific set of values is imposed, should there be limits to what the state is allowed to impose? For example, should it merely define crimes as harmful to a citizen’s life or property, or should it be criminal to hurt someone’s feelings or express a view different than state policy? And, who determines state policy on religion: the ruling family, the will of the majority, or some constitutional process?
This issue of
Religious favoritism always leads to the exclusion or second-class citizenship of others. Or, in a worst-case scenario, genocide. In the case of Syria, the Arab Spring created hope among these less-favored groups that a new system could emerge that either treated citizens of all religions equally, or reversed the tables and installed some other religious group, and their religious values, in power. This led first to civil war and secondly to foreign states and interest groups aligning with and supporting various factions. As in other historical wars, most contestants in Syria expect to impose their values on all citizens after their victory.
The anarchy and fighting in Syria largely represent the pre-modern monarchical or tribal idea that the ruler determines the official values of the state. However, the Arab Spring generally conveyed the idea that the majority of the population would determine the official religion, as happened in Egypt after the overthrow of Mubarak when the Muslim Brotherhood won a popular election. The idea of adopting a constitutional process that disestablishes religion and allows a diversity of religious ideas and values to coexist in the state was not really supported by any of the major players. Even U.S. President Obama was willing to support the religion of the elected majority and did not push for
Our second article, “The Role of Civil Society in Religious Extremism in Pakistan Post-9/11,” by Khalid Shafi examines the relationship between religious extremism and civil society. While the idea of civil society existed in the ancient world, it is a concept that developed in the West with the rise of religious pluralism and tolerance in the modern state. Civil society involves the legal existence of a plurality of religions, NGOs, social clubs, and other voluntary organizations. These organizations often perform social services like education, social welfare, crafting, and other activities that serve the development and interests of citizens.
The idea of
Religious “extremism” is a widely-used label that implies the opposite of civil behavior. It is generally associated with the willingness of a group to use violence against those who do not accept or conform to that group’s doctrine or orders. Religious extremism can be intolerant of others and often considers others to be less human and not entitled to any human rights. Psychologically it is associated with lack of education, experience, and a narrow consciousness that does not include others. It is more common among people who are young, sheltered, and indoctrinated, such as in some of the more fundamentalist madrasas in the Middle East. Religious extremism is not limited to
Shafi argues that in Pakistan the government is not able to deal with the high level of religious extremism in society. Pakistan, while a Muslim society, is a modern constitutional state that allows religious pluralism and civil society. Thus, Shafi examines whether civil society has a role in reducing religious extremism and violence. He argues that poor economic and social conditions, illiteracy, and unemployment are some of the causes behind the increasing number of extremist groups. He conducted a survey in which 90 percent of respondents believed that religious extremism was among the top five issues in Pakistan. Over 50 percent believed extremism cannot be combatted with government power, and 84 percent believed that civil society is the most desirable way to eliminate religious extremism.
Our third article, “Interreligious Peacebuilding through Comparative Theology” by Darius Asghar-Zadeh, argues that mere tolerance of the existence of people who are different is an insufficient foundation for peace. He is a student of comparative religion steeped in the knowledge of both Muslim and Christian traditions. He states that faith-based groups have a major role to play in peacebuilding communication. Peace and conflict studies cannot be successful if it is limited to the study of state interests and
Asghar-Zadeh argues that the development of “religious literacy” should be an essential core competency for scholars and other agents engaged in peace work. It is important to understand that Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and other major religions have peace as a core component of their faith. The social sciences, which have often viewed religion critically, if not with resentment, should see the importance of a relationship between peace studies and theology. The relationship should be “defined in terms of
Asghar-Zadeh introduces the idea that “comparative theology” provides a methodological approach that is the most adequate form of interreligious peacebuilding. In comparative theology, the members of even strongly differing groups of religious beliefs try to understand each other’s
In discussing the important social concepts of freedom and love, Asghar-Zadeh contends that freedom can only be successfully achieved with the acknowledgment of others’ freedom. Love is the strongest guiding notion in
Continuing on the theme of comparative religion and interreligious peace building are two of the books for review in this issue. A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict, by Naim
Norman Swazo’s book, Destroying Idols: Revisioning the Meaning of “God,” is an in-depth application of the tools of contemporary post-modern criticism and linguistic analysis to the Jewish and Christian traditions that we have inherited. It is a stark realization to discover that contemporary orthodox Jewish and Christian doctrines are essentially theological idols constructed by rabbis and theologians and that both the monotheism of Judaism and the Trinitarianism of Christianity might be divergences from the original Jewish and Christian worldviews that shared a “di-theism” of Father in Heaven and “Lord,” or “Son” active in the world.
Gordon L. Anderson, Editor-in-Chief