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World Social Forum: Overcoming Violence

“India is going through enormous insecurity because religion is being used for violence,” Siddhartha, a member of an inter-religious group working for peace and justice in Bangalore, told participants at a seminar at the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

From the Worldwide Faith News archives

22 January 2004 (WCC) — “India is going through enormous insecurity because religion is being used for violence,” Siddhartha, a member of an inter-religious group working for peace and justice in Bangalore, told participants at a seminar at the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

At the 20 January seminar on “Religious resources to overcome violence” organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), Siddhartha gave some examples of religious-instigated violence in India. Recently in Mumbai, a bomb reportedly placed by Muslims exploded, killing scores of people; in 2003 over 2,000 Muslims were “literally massacred in Gujarat in the name of religion”.

For Siddhartha, the ruling majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is propagating a fundamentalist brand of Hinduism and relegating Muslims and Christians to second-class status. “What will happen if the BJP wins the election [scheduled for April this year] or is in a coalition where it has more representation? How can a religion as inclusive as Hinduism become so exclusive?” he asked.

On a more positive note, Siddhartha highlighted India's potential for peace. He said that religious communities in the multi-religious nation of over one billion people are challenged to work towards a “hermeneutic of hope”, that is, to reinterpret their different religious traditions to lift up the values of peace and justice in their core messages.

Reviewing the Middle East situation from a Muslim perspective, Mohamed Mosaad from the Egyptian chapter of the United Religions Initiative (URI) emphasized the need for religious leaders to give a spiritual dimension to concrete situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and provide spiritual resources that could help resolve it.

Referring to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, he said that there is an “apologetic Islamic discourse” which seeks to define “who is right and who is wrong” and to respond to questions being raised in the West about violence and Islam.

He cautioned against misrepresentation of the Koran in order to respond to a secular situation. Mosaad suggested that Muslims should reflect on how a concept like Jihad (holy war) used to work in the past, and how it could work now. In his provocative view, while Islam is not a religion of peace and love, it is a religion of fairness and justice.

The director of the Jerusalem-based Inter-faith Encounter Association (IEA), Yehuda Stolov, said that like Islam, Judaism is sometimes misused to suit a political situation. Inter-religious dialogue allows people to co-exist without hiding their differences, but putting political issues aside. Formed in 2001 by peace activists, the IEA is dedicated to promoting real co-existence and peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East through cross-cultural study and inter-religious dialogue.

On the topic of violence against women, LFW executive secretary for Women in Church and Society, Priscilla Singh from India, presented an LFW contribution to the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence. The document, entitled “Churches say no to violence against women”, presents the results of a world-wide survey on the issue; it affirms that violence against women is a global reality even within the church.

Religion, noted Singh, usually treats women as victims, often offering only a “charitable response” on an individual basis. Instead, churches should tackle the issue as a whole; to do so effectively, they need to see the image of God beyond gender, promote masculine models that are nurturing and caring, and revision and rewrite theology with a feminist perspective.

Singh also called for efforts to go beyond dialogue towards concrete experiences that allow a new kind of relationship between men and women to develop.

Rejecting modern political 'messianisms', Rev. Jairo Suarez from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia called for strong witness from churches in the social and political sphere. The fact that fifty years of civil war in his country have brought the churches together is a paradox, he reflected.

Ordep Trindade, a Brazilian Candombli priest, stressed the message of peace as well as the ecumenical dimension of this religion, brought to Brazil by African slaves.

The seminar was moderated by Dr Guillermo Kerber from the WCC International Relations team. In his opening remarks, Kerber suggested that religion has played an ambiguous role in conflicts at the national and international levels; while it has often fuelled conflicts, at other times, it has made important contributions to overcoming violence.

Ms. Pauline Mumia, English editor of Lutheran World Information, the news service of the Lutheran World Federation, contributed to this article.

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