By Sensei Adorador
On September 1, we celebrated Eid al-Adha, or Eidul Adha (as it is spelled in the Philippines). It is an Arabic word that means “Festival of the Sacrifice,” which, for Muslims, commemorates the day the Prophet Abraham intended to sacrifice his son but was instructed by God to offer an animal instead. It is the holiest festival and is considered an official holiday in our country.
In the context of religion, Islam is a region of peace, coming from the world “Salaam,” which means peace; it is why we have Darussalam (abode of peace) and Muslim greetings like “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” which means “Peace onto you.”
However, when we discuss Islam or Muslims, it is always associated with terrorism and violence. Is religion violent? Is Islam a religion of violence?
Religion is neutral
Looking into the rationality of religion, prominent sociologist Emile Durkheim, considered one of the principal founders of modern sociology, said, “If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.”
Religion contributes greatly to the field of morality and offers meaning and purpose in answering existential questions; it is crucial for those who need religion to provide direction. Durkheim added, “Religion provides social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs, social control to enforce religious-based morals, and norms to help maintain conformity and control in society.”
However, religion can also incite violence based on the text and interpretation being used as justification for certain acts.
In the Middle Ages, Catholics implemented the inquisition on those they considered “heretics” or “witches,” unleashing carnage upon countless individuals. Today, Muslims are now being discriminated against because of terror activities conducted by the ISIS (or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
The recent happenings in Marawi City were orchestrated by the Maute group, with the siege in the city brought on by Muslims.
Religion itself is a neutral institution, but religion is also susceptible to violence and can be used as a vehicle for peace.
‘Mediatization’ of Jihad
Whenever we hear the word “Jihad,” it is associated with violence and terrorism. The culprit behind it is the media, who translated the word as “Holy War.” However, from a Muslim perspective, what does the word mean?
Jihad means an internal struggle of a person and their method of becoming a better human being. At some point, it also came to mean defending one’s sovereignty and integrity.
Propelled by terror attacks, the definition of Jihad has turned negative.
Roots of violent religiosity
Putting into context recent religious violence, it can be said religion is not the cause of violence nor is it the supplier of peace, but it may complicate the way anger is expressed – in other words, religion can be used as language in the way one expresses suffering.
For example, when former President Joseph Estrada commanded the armed forces to bomb areas of Mindanao in 2001, local youth saw how their parents were killed and, combined with religious text, the events emboldened their anger.
Experiencing violence is one path towards radicalization. When a religious community witnesses violence, poverty, and marginalization, their world view may claim these were the effects of Christianity.
Some of these radicalized Maute group members lost their parents in the aforementioned bombings in Mindanao.
Another group to consider are those who live in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which, according to the National Anti-Poverty Commission, is the poorest region in the country. The literacy rate in the region is also lower than the national average, with reportedly only 20 percent of school-aged residents enrolled in high school.
However, poverty is not always a prerequisite for violent religiosity. In Europe, many professionals are behind extremist attacks, but their background is based on discrimination.
In the Philippines, Muslims comprise about five percent of the population and are considered an “underclass.” The mere sight of a woman in a hijab incites fear and it is this discrimination that has led to global islamophobia.
Youth and fundamentalism
78 percent of ISIS fighters are youths. Why? The youth can be easily persuaded; if you indoctrinate the youth with narrow-minded theology – one belief and one way of interpreting text – that leads to fundamentalism. Furthermore, those who interpret the same text differently are also considered “heretics,” which makes the youth even more susceptible as they cannot question the demagoguery of a persuasive preacher.
Fundamentalism can be very powerful in shaping how one views suffering around the world and that fundamentalism, if not controlled, can lead to extremism.
Fixing the crooked mindset
The only way of ending the vicious cycle of religion extremism is through inter- and intra-faith dialogue. Inter-faith dialogue refers to an exchange of ideas between different religious leaders, in hopes of bridging the gaps separating their faiths and finding commonalities. Intra-faith, on the other hand, is dialogue within the religious community, which allow for individuals to reflect on their own theology.
Changing worldviews can also be done through proper education, not just to religious leaders but the general public.
Last month, I attended a forum about religious extremism at the CICM (Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae) Retreat House in Talisay City. I was surprised to see many high ranking officials from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, government officials, and other religious institutions gathered to attend the forum, put on by the Alter Trade Foundation and the Paghilusa sa Paghidaet Negros.
Reflecting after the talk, saw it was too easy just to blame religion for bombings and terrorism, it is mostly fueled by the majority opinion of the country (and encouraged by the media). Why do we have this problem in Mindanao? Why is there violence? Is this violence inherently part of religion?
Perhaps we must look to ourselves and question if personal biases are what contributes to violence./WDJ