Early this year I was speaking with someone about the escalating violence in the city of Nairobi. The person in question knew something about violence from first-hand experience. Only a few days previously thugs had roughed him up as he was arriving home from work. My acquaintance proposed an easy solution to the problem: kill all the thugs. He explained to me that this is what had been done in his estate some years back and afterwards they had had peace for six years.
I was rather taken aback by this proposed solution to violence, the more so since the person I was speaking to called himself a pastor. That someone who professed to be religious could so easily propose the Old Testament punishment of a tooth for a tooth for offenders surprised me and made me wonder about the real impact of religion in our society.
Perhaps I ought not to have been surprised. Impartial students of history will admit that all religions have at one time or another chosen the violent option: we have only to think of the crusades, of the inhuman treatment of slaves and of the American Indians, of the Indian-Pakistan conflicts and the continuing violence in the Middle East.
It is therefore legitimate to put a question mark after the title of this issue: Can religion save us from conflict, as we have done. Is not religion itself often the cause of conflict?
This question has taken on added importance after the 11th of September 2001. The matter of the relation between religion and violence has had to be faced more honestly. And in fact, a great deal of soul searching has gone on, especially among people who have been involved in interfaith dialogue for quite a number of years. They realise that it will be difficult to continue to work together for peace unless we together squarely face the contradiction between religions that, on the one hand, appear to advocate peacemaking but that, on the other hand, have to admit of violent actions on the part of their adherents, both in the past as well as in the present. In this issue of WAJIBU we have given views by Christians, Muslims and Jews on this subject.
Few countries have escaped conflicts between adherents of different religions or of clashes between sects in the same religion. Kenya is no exception: in connection with the constitutional review process, we only recently witnessed a war of words between Muslims and Christians on the question of Kadhis courts. We have therefore given space to both a Muslim and a Christian to give their views on this issue.
This incident was a setback for interreligious cooperation in our country, the more so since there had been a good climate for such cooperation in the past. This cooperation was exemplified by the Unfungamano initiative in which a group of leaders representing different faiths helped to resolve the crisis facing Kenyans in connection with the constitutional review initiative. See the article by Al Hajj Yussuf Mûrigû on this topic.
Religious leaders have been involved in trying to resolve political conflicts in Africa for a decade or more. A Kenyan ambassador, Bethuel Kiplagat speaks about the religious convictions that motivate him to be active as a peacemaker in various countries on our continent.
Interfaith dialogue has actually been a reality in Africa for quite a number of years. The continent has been home to representatives of two global interfaith organizations, namely, the World Conference on Religions and Peace and the United Religions Initiative. There is no question that they have been doing useful work here and elsewhere. Were it not for such organizations, fewer of us would have had the opportunity to become acquainted with believers in other faith communities. See the articles that give instances of initiatives started by them.
The challenge for these organizations and for all individuals of good will is now to go beyond working together to resolve existing conflicts and work together for a future where conflicts can be prevented. The article by Rashied A. Omar points the way.