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The Big Question: Divine Concord

From the Winter 2011/2012 Faith issue  

What role does faith play in promoting peace?

Faith plays many roles in the world, but perhaps none so immediately important—to believers and non-believers alike—than its ability to promote peace and understanding, or to undermine it. We have asked our panel of global experts to weigh in on this aspect of faith in the modern world.  

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Marcus Braybrooke: Interfaith Forgiveness

For many, religion is more a matter of identity than of belief. The focus is on what you wear, what you eat, or whom you marry. As such, religion is seldom the primary cause of conflict but can add to hostility. You may be killed because you are uncircumcised, but not because of what you actually believe in. When conflict starts—besides caring for the injured and refugees,  protecting non-combatants, counteracting propaganda, and calling for peace—there is little a religion can do.

Communities of faith acting together, however, can play a vital role in healing the wounds of conflict. Many truth and reconciliation commissions are inspired by teachings of forgiveness. In Guatemala, the Catholic Church established a “Truth and Memory Project” in 1998, chaired by Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was brutally murdered two days after presenting the report. It described human rights violations against civilians during the civil war from 1960 to 1996. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Increasingly, religious leaders are working together for peace through interfaith sharing, which is essential to conflict prevention. Ignorance and prejudice can be dispelled by helping people learn about each other’s beliefs and practices. Effective communication creates friendships and overcomes the xenophobia lurking within us.

Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke is President of the World Congress of Faiths, co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, and the author of numerous books on religion, including Beacons of the Light.

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Master Jinje: In Introspection, Truth

When it comes to promoting peace, it is up to each individual to seek it. If we genuinely seek to understand the essence of our “True Self,” great peace will naturally follow. We should strive to understand who we really are before we are ensnared by intolerance, jealousy, and greed. When we develop this internal wisdom, the world becomes One House.

In great peace, there is great freedom and great wisdom. These transcend the volatility of emotion (or the absence of emotion). Love or no love, judgment or no judgment—these are not pairs of opposing concepts but are one and the same. In great peace, we find blessings, freedom, comfort, and compassion. Each of us already has this great wisdom in our minds. Within our “True Self,” lies every truth of the universe. The most direct way to get to peace is at the primary state. If we seek our “True Self,” we can be of One House—within our hearts, within our minds, within our world.

Great Korean Seon Master Jinje is the 79th Dharma Heir of the Buddha and is the greatest living master of Ganhwa Seon (Korean Zen).

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Ayeda Naqvi: Sufism Celebrates Differences

When it comes to promoting peace, there is no force as pivotal as faith. In Sufi philosophy, faith means to surrender to the divine will, a belief that there is a power greater than us at work in the universe. At the core of this belief lies the concept of tawhid, or unity. Tawhid is not only the unity of God but also a unity of all creation. For the mystic, all creation is a reflection of the One because, as the Quran observes, “Wheresoever you turn is the face of Allah.” So, honoring all creation in its diversity is a Divine duty. In fact, the mystic should celebrate differences rather than demonize them, seeing all beings as the culmination of Divine love.

One can’t attack another if the other is also the reflection of God.

Ayeda Naqvi is a Sufi journalist for the Daily Times (Pakistan).

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Susan Hayward: Religion Inspires Peacemakers

Religion is most important to people seeking survival amid violence.
These people turn to their faith’s leaders, traditions, and texts as they determine how to respond to the crises around them. The individual and community discern from religion whether violence is justified. Sometimes faith inspires believers to serve as soldiers or suicide bombers, but religion, of course, is not a precondition for violence. Many violent movements are compelled by secular causes, and sometimes religion inspires extraordinary acts of nonviolence toward achieving a just peace. Many ancient traditions nurture spirit and energy and work to dismantle the machineries of war.

While faith is by no means necessary for peace, it plays an important role for many men and women striving for peace. Not every peacemaker is religious, but faith has motivated and shaped the approach of many great peacemakers from Desmond Tutu to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. As religious leaders articulate their commitment to peace and pluralism, they continue to challenge the religious narratives in our world that propel violent conflict.   

Susan Hayward is a program officer at the Religion and Peacemaking Center for Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace.

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Thabo Makgoba: Religious Communities

Religious communities have a responsibility to remind the world that true peace is neither a zero-sum game nor a legalistic obligation. Rather, if we are prepared to pursue peace, the path will take us beyond the limits of mental or emotional calculation and open new realms of redemptive possibility. Genuine and lasting peace is within the grasp of those who seek it unreservedly. Relationships can be reconciled, and past adversaries can go forward together toward a more hopeful future.

Of course, it can be challenging and may take years to reach the painful heart of any conflict. Restorative justice transcends merely identifying and punishing wrongdoing. Meetings between victims, offenders, and community members help victims gain an active role in restorative justice and encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions. Recognizing that conflict may be a symptom of something gone awry, the aim should be to bring more fundamental healing and wholeness. The judicial or mediative process is just one part of the solution. Faith and understanding play even bigger roles. In this way, disputes can be resolved and become stepping stones to a better future. Comprehensive solutions like these, which are open to boundless possibilities of transformation, forgiveness, and redemption, hold the greatest hope for real and lasting peace.

Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.

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James Miller: Harmonious Systems

The primary ethical stance of Taoism, China’s indigenous organized religion, known as wuwei, means “effortless action.” This idea harnesses the flow of vital energy in human bodies, the natural world, and the cosmos to ensure all can flourish. With wuweiin mind, peace becomes not merely the absence of human violence, but a system thriving with minimum external intervention. In human bodies, this is called health. In the natural world it is called ecological balance. Taoists say they foster peace by seeking to bring health, harmony, and balance to human life, the social world, and the natural environment. Taoists envisage human life woven into a cosmic fabric—the Tao. War is a symptom of the alienation of humans from the Tao, and peaceful development is the result of their alignment with it.

James Miller, associate professor at the Queen’s School of Religion, Queen’s University in Ontario, has published four books on Chinese religion and two monographs.

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Bodhinatha Veylanswami: Mutual Respect

In the Hindu tradition, the phrase “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” means the whole world is one family—a belief of mutual respect between all individuals as family members. Mutual respect has been emphasized in a number of important speeches. In June 2009, President Obama told an Egyptian audience, “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Speeches by world leaders extolling mutual respect are important, but more needs to be done to solve the problem of intolerance. The challenge is to pass this message of respect to the individual families that comprise society. This is where religious leaders can help. In a way that reflects their different religious traditions, faith leaders need to present their unique formulas for mutual respect. When there is more mutual respect, there will be more peace.

Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami is the head of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery in Hawaii and publisher of Hinduism Today magazine.

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Mishaal Al-Gergawi: Moral Framework

Religions legitimize themselves and become relevant by providing a moral framework for humans to live in a just manner. What remains is the application of this framework and the multiplicity of interpretations. For that, we jointly employ faith and reason. One can choose to exercise those faculties to promote peace or seek conflict. At times, Islam—like other religions, philosophies, and ideologies—has been hijacked by extremists who seek conflict. But extremists are called that because they are the few and the loud at the fringe of faith.

True faith can only lead to peace. Desperation and discontent can blind people to the importance of coexistence but not deafen them to the drums of hate and war.

Mishaal al-Gergawi is an Emirati commentator on current affairs.

• • •

Compiled by
Yilin Tim Chen and
Pauline Moullot

[Photo: SBA73 ]

(Downloadable PDFs of individual World Policy Journal articles can be purchased through SAGE.)

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