Faith is power, and it is necessary to use this force for good. The politicization of religion is very destructive. Our will to move together toward prosperity and development can bring about peace, stability and national unity, writes Nourhan ElSheikh, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University. The article follows up on the Valdai Club’s conference Religious Polyphony and National Unity.
Over the course of one day, November 24, an unprecedented dialogue was hosted by Valdai Club. Representatives of the country’s three major religions (Christianity, Islam and Buddhism), as well as academics from Russia’s near and far abroad participated. The discussions underscored a number of important messages.
First, as diversity is the nature of the universe, mutual understanding is the only way to achieve national unity and world peace. It is important for us to respect each other despite our differences. It is dangerous to disregard others or try changing them by imposing certain beliefs and practices.
Second, loyalty to one’s homeland must be above any ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation. It serves as a guarantee of national cohesion and prevents social unrest in every country. Russia is a unique example in this context. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others stand hand-in-hand combating the aggression of neo-Nazism. This is how the whole world should be. Everyone must stand against extremism of all kinds.
Third, faith is power, and it is necessary to use this force for good. The politicization of religion is very destructive. For example, there are 1.8 billion Muslims all over the world, who represent about a quarter of its population. Those Muslim communities, whether majority or minority, are anchor points of a global network of interactions which may be used to pursue cooperation or conflict. Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS (banned in Russia) realized this a long time ago. They have used these religious bonds to serve their destructive and disruptive goals. Thousands of terrorists from all over the world flocked to the struggle in Afghanistan in the late seventies, then more recently in Syria and Iraq under the pretext of “Jihad”. That led to the ruin of these countries, the suffering of their people and serious threats to regional stability.
It is important for religious faith to serve as a motive for cooperation, development and prosperity. Building bridges among Muslim societies and with others should enhance global peace, stability and security. That can be achieved through two main pillars, cultural and economic ones.
On one hand, it’s necessary for people to know and understand Islam as well as other religions. We have to know each other. Maintaining a myopic view of Islam, which reduces everything to appearance, is harmful. The veil and beard should not be associated with violent, destructive and inhuman behaviour. Islam, like all religions, calls for peace with oneself, society and all humanity. It stresses the virtues of raising children in a family setting, and sees education as a necessity. Schools must be open to everyone, without discrimination on a religious basis.
On the other hand, economic cooperation is also highly vital. There are many Muslim societies that need to improve their living conditions, so that people don’t fall prey to poverty or the exploitation of terrorist groups. Terrorist groups tempt people with financial gain, which serves as a major attraction for potential adherents. ISIS provides an obvious example of that, and the same can be said about neo-Nazism in Ukraine.
Economic and social development help create an environment that repels and resists extremism and terrorism and weakens local support for terrorist activities. Economic development also reduces the involvement of new members in terrorist organizations, especially in societies where terrorism is generally considered a reaction to the deterioration of economic and social conditions. It alleviates economic deprivation, meets their needs, and provides members of these communities with alternatives to the temptations of terrorist organizations. However, the ability of economic development policies to combat terrorism depends on their effective implementation. It must meet needs that reflect the most urgent requirements of the target communities.
‘Homeland’ is for everyone. Our will to move together toward prosperity and development can bring about peace, stability and national unity.