Forging Spiritual Hospitality And Peaceful Co-existence Through Interreligious Dialogue

Only about 16% of the world’s population identifies as non- religious.  This means the vast majority of the world’s people identify with any of the about 4,300 world’s spiritual faiths and religions, and that pluralism, heterogeneity, and diversity of faith are a normal part of human culture. But all too often, there is conflict between religions. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre gave an estimated figure of 45.7 million people who were internally displaced at the end of 2019 due to armed conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations.   According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report that was titled “Confronting Global Forced Migration Crisis”, religion played a huge role in the nearly 66 million people that were forced to migrate globally. Although certain climes may experience more intense and severe inter and intrareligious violence, but no part of the world is insulated from this crisis.

For example, the power struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East has led to violent actions.   The role that religious beliefs play in providing motivation for this violence cannot be over-emphasized. In places like Syria and Iraq, the targeting of other faith groups continues, justified on the grounds that they are polytheists, heretics and worshippers of the devil. In an account given by a former religious extremist, she said her religious teacher taught her to be in a fight mode and inflict violence against anybody who fell out of line. Tragically, neither intra-religious nor interreligious violence have abated in recent times. Instead, the world continues to see widespread wanton killing, destruction of property, and the means of livelihood as a result of religious extremism. A report released by Pew states that more than a quarter of the world’s countries in 2018 experienced high incidences of hostilities motivated by religious hatred. This includes mob violence, terrorism, and harassment of women for violating religious codes.

A study of the initial guiding philosophy of Boko Haram (which in English means “Westernization Is Sacrilege”) helps to connect the dot between religious extremism and violence. The sect originally boasted of its commitment to the propagation of Jihad, and later incorporated political ideologies into its supposed fight. In no time at all, it established affiliations with other Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). In 2015, it took the name ‘Islamic State West African Province’, after pledging alliance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. This further strengthened its capacity to inflict more damage and violence on Nigeria and neighbouring countries. As with other violent religious groups that are affiliated with FTO, they become systematically methodical in their modus operandi. They launch simultaneous attacks in multiple places, recruit and train foot soldiers, and procure arms and ammunition. They also deploy strategy for self –financing that often include periodic raiding of market, kidnapping and accepting ransom and negotiating with government from a position of strength.   To tell the truth, Boko Haram has also been unsparing of Muslims who disapprove of their actions. That is why the nefarious activities of the sect that include killing, kidnapping, destruction of properties, burning down of worship centres have put Muslims at the receiving end more than other religious groups.

The fight, originally about the imposition of sharia law in all northern states of Nigeria and the outright repudiation of a Christian presidency, witnessed another gory dimension when the sect started waging war against the government. Their reason, being the extra-judicial killing of their founder, Mohammed Yusuf by the police in 2009, made military barracks and security agents their prime targets. Just to get a sense of proportion, a decade of Boko Haram’s terror activities have led to the killing of 30,000 people and the displacement of nearly 3 million people, based on the assessment report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The United Nations Development Programme report estimates that Nigeria’s economic cost of terrorism between 2006 and 2016 is valued at $97 billion; which happens to be almost 19 times greater than that of Libya and over 22,000 times greater than Burkina Faso. Marvel not that the survey of more than 21,000 people from all regions of the world by Best Countries in 2020 identified religion as the primary source of most global conflict today.

 The Role Interreligious Dialogue Can Play In Spiritual Hospitality

I acknowledge that other methods can be used to contain and prevent religious violence. And for a fact, multivariate analysis shows that interreligious violence is caused by a number of factors. Therefore singling out Interreligious Dialogue (ID) as a unilateral solution is a gross simplification of the problem’s complexity. However, ID appears to be one of the most effective tools to prevent violent extremism that faith leaders can apply for many reasons. One, certain religions and religious leaders are apolitical and would certainly not get involved in the secular politics that involves the election or selection of a credible political leader that may forge interreligious unity. Two, it is a dangerous weapon that can be used to prevent religious animosity and violence. The saying goes “Prevention is better than cure” and for sure, ID can help nip in the bud the propensity to commit violence and can also help to establish a peace bond between different faiths. Three, it’s been researched that most religious fundamentalists who engage in tortious acts of violence, identify with certain faiths, or religious ideologies. Therefore, engaging in ID with their faith leaders sends a peaceful and harmonizing signal to religious extremists. A sign of truce, reconciliation between religious leaders connotes the sheathing of sword to followers.

Effective Guidelines for Result-Oriented Interreligious Dialogue

Interreligious dialogue participants must eschew religious dogma. In the best possible way, they must be trained in the act of civil conversation. They must have records that aren’t sullied with pent-up angst towards people of other religions. They must also employ the spirit of empathy, sympathy and humanism and appreciate the opportunity to encounter new thoughts and understanding.

Participant must always resist any attempt to evangelize their faith. The urge to evangelize their faith depicts certain motive of religious superiority. Participants may reveal their religious beliefs and the ones that are sacrosanct during conversation; it must nonetheless be misconstrued to convey proselyting.  The goal in an interreligious dialogue is to transcend division and move for lasting peace and relationship.

It is helpful that participants don’t sound intellectual, theological or philosophical during an interreligious dialogue. The use of certain jargons or the attempt by certain participants to dominate the conversation from the standpoints of intellectualism, erudition and certain set of beliefs must be prohibited. What basically constitutes the conversation of an interreligious dialogue between participants is the urge to know more and arrive at peace-building consensus.

Sensitivity to people’s vulnerability will help prevent misrepresentation of other peoples’ beliefs.  One way to avoid misrepresentation is to allow people to express their spiritual and religious beliefs without let. Whether questions are asked or answered, they must not be to disparage or castigate certain religious beliefs.

ID must have a dissemination chain. Participants should share their takeaways’ from interfaith dialogue with members of their own faith community for the purpose of learning, changing and gaining new insights. This helps community to grow relationship between different faiths.

Inter-faith Dialogue doesn’t have to always be elitist in composition. That is; it should not only involve conversations between top hierarchies in the faith community. ID can be reciprocated between the active leaders and members of faiths at the state, local and municipal level. Due to bureaucracy, it sometime takes time to pass down resolutions or recommendation made at the national level of interreligious dialogue to municipal communities.

It doesn’t have to take the happening of interreligious violence before ID is constituted. It is advisable that members, leaders of different faiths in the society meet and dialogue as often as possible. By this, violence can be nipped in the bud and grey issues capable of inciting violence can be resolved amicably. Dialogue should be continual and must be constantly evaluated to improve its efficiency in ensuring peace and relationship between different faiths.

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