Day by day, the world continually forgoes religion and leans toward the secularism so openly adopted by New Age Atheists who denounce faith in favor of ‘reason’ and Agnostics who are more certain of God’s inexistence than the possibility that he could indeed be real. Most of those who categorize themselves within these groups use several reasons in support of their arguments. One of the most common ideas that proponents for secularism tote about is that which reads ‘the world would be much more peaceful if religion did not exist’, which suggests that faith and war share a positive correlation. From my perspective, I find this position on the tendency of religion to cause explosive conflict and mass genocides incredibly problematic. The following constitutes the defense of this opinion as shortly aforementioned, my focus centering on one of the most popular monotheistic traditions: Islam.
Growing up, my childhood formed the epitome of a background splattered with colors that reflected unparalleled diversity, new languages that I aspired to learn with every new encounter of different peoples and of course faiths that I sought to understand both within and beyond the confines of my Religious Education classes. Yes, Religious Education classes. RE. They were central tenets of the primary school education I received as I attended one of Kenya’s British International Schools, Braeside. Within each lesson, we explored the basics of different faiths and studied the themes of everyday life within the contexts of different beliefs. Not once did any of us as students reach the conclusion that religion caused wars despite the basis of the country’s history.
One of the most recent examples either of us could have drawn upon to support the ideological formula that religion equals conflicts of massively destructive proportions was that of the Al-Qaeda bombings that shook the city of Nairobi near the United States Embassy and the UN Headquarters. They took place in 1998, when I was only about two years old. To claim that I have my own memories from that day would not be quite so credible but the knowledge of this incident stayed with me upon the beginning of my primary school education to a couple of years later. I began at a school that was only based on the Kenyan system of education; therefore my religious classes were based solely on Christianity. When I transferred to Braeside, my world was opened to new experiences. Sure, I had encountered Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus before, but in this school, I not only wondered about the beliefs possessed by adherents to Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, I learned. During my time there, I amassed a great number of Muslim friends; in fact, most of my friends were not Christian. One of my most fond memories was when we would greet each other, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike with ‘As-salamu Alaykum’ and respond ‘Waalaykum Assalam’. It meant ‘peace be upon you’, and that was the image I grew to associate my Muslim friends: peace.
Imagine my surprise upon coming to the United States and hearing the word ‘Muslim’ associated with terrorism. It was indeed appalling beyond belief but instead of sitting back and assuming that it was wrong to associate Islam with peace, I delved into the issue and gathered as much knowledge as I possibly could. Throughout my intake of information, it appeared as though religious motivation was the reason as to why terrorism was and continues to be on the rise today. The popular perspective formed where terrorists are concerned insinuates that these are madmen who suddenly awoke with a vengeance against the West and were directed by this ‘obscure deity’ known as Allah to bomb Americans in the name of “jihad”. Indeed, terrorism can never be justified but those who carry it out do so out of political motivation. The key here is political, not religious conviction. The realization that extremists merely use Islam to justify their political actions severs the connection between the actual religion of Islam and the jihadists who claim it as their own faith. Once one takes Islamic beliefs and corrupts them to fool the world into believing it to be a fundamentalist tradition of terror, it ceases to be Islam, but becomes something else. Therefore this religion doesn’t cause wars; it’s the underlying issues that extremists use it to justify that causes wars. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, but everything to do with politics. Similarly, one cannot claim that if it weren’t for Christianity, the Spanish Inquisition would never have taken place because the oppression that the monarchs of Spain subjected non-Catholics to was not of Christian tradition. Rather, it was pure misuse of the Bible’s teachings, and any deviation ceases to be biblical or Christian. Additionally, there was the political motivation to reclaim Spain as a western state after the changes it endured through being ruled by Arabs. In short, I do not believe that religion causes wars and conflicts–man does, using ‘religion’ as a means of justifying atrocities and brutalities committed against others in pursuit of political interests.
by Joy Malonza