Islam means peace, but how come a lot of violent events are associated with the followers of this great religion?
Christ preached love, but how come most perpetrators of hate crime [including racism] are christians?
“Thou shall not covet” is the 10th commandment, so how come leaders of the State of Israel find peace in coveting land that does not belong to them?
Don’t get me wrong. The above statements do not imply that all or even most Muslims are violent neither was the statement about hate crime and covetousness meant to deride millions of good people that practice Christianity or Judaism. Let’s face it; the statements only represent the irony of the religious world we live in today.
And before anyone jumps ahead of what I intend saying here, I am by no means under any impression that the world will be a better place without religion. In fact, you would be right if you label me religious. Yes, I am a proud Muslim. Nonetheless, I have found it necessary in the face of the irony my opening statements suggests, to ask myself “what is the true purpose of religion?” The answer to this question is quite important as I believe a proper understanding of religion may help us resolve most of the conflicts we find in the world today.
So, what is the purpose of religion? To start with, most religions teach their own version of the history of the world, the concept of God and the purpose of life, morality [concept of good and evil], how to live harmoniously with other people and nature, system of worship and a concept of life after death.
One can broadly classify religious beliefs into three: monotheistic [believing in the concept of one God] or polytheistic [believing in the existence of many gods] and atheistic [believing in no God]. It is also important to note that some other taxonomy classify religion by their adoption/acceptance across ethnic groups and therefore group religions into ethnic religions or religions mostly associated with an ethnic group [e.g. Juadaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc] and universal religions which are widely accepted across several ethnic groups [Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism].
Irrespective of the categorisation of religion, the central purpose of all religions is to give hope to mankind as we are faced with the certainty of a difficult/challenging existence on earth and harness the human capacity for doing good while forbidding evil acts that destroys harmony between humans on the one hand and also between human and nature on the other hand. Perhaps, the fact that religion brings hope to most [who would otherwise be hopeless] is why religion has remained such a powerful concept. And like most powerful concepts, religion can be abused and used as a mere tool to achieve selfish [sometimes, cruel or oppressive] objectives. Perhaps, that is why Karl Marx refers to religion as the “opium of the masses.”
A fair assessment of religion and its impact on human life may be very difficult to articulate in such a way as to get a consensus but it would suffice to say religion [and religious groups/organisations] has been responsible for a lot of good deeds and religion has also been exploited to perpetuate evil acts.
On the positive side, religion can take some credit for civilising the homo-sapiens as follows:
• Religion was at the forefront of establishing the “human order” and taking man out of the hobbesian state of nature where cannibalism was the norm. In other words, religion is the root of the “cultured man”.
• Religion inherently promotes charity and the care for society’s weak [Tithing in Christianity and Zakat/Sadakat in Islam, are all religious norms that supports this]
• Religion helps break the artificial barriers of race, class etc, as people of different social and racial/ethnic backgrounds are united in the worship of a common God who has created all men/women as equals.
• Religion gives hope to the hopeless and provides a redemption path to otherwise condemned people thereby alleviating the despair of the affected persons.
• Religious organisations [the Catholic church, Baptist, Anglican, Loyola Jesuit, Avi Cenna, Ansar-ud-Deen, NASFAT etc] were responsible for establishing and are still running a lot of schools, hospitals and other institutions that delivers “public good”.
• Religion established proper foundation and structure for the FAMILY, which is the bedrock of every society as any society with widespread dysfunction in the family units ends up in disarray.
• Modern religion such as Islam and Christianity even espouse broader guidelines for social justice and the political structure of the society.
On a negative note, religion has been used extensively, as a tool for perpetrating evil, including:
• Bringing disharmony amongst people due to the strong politicization of tenets of religion and the doctrine of claiming “exclusive right to paradise or the kingdom of God”, especially by the Abrahamic religions [Christianity, Islam and Judaism].
• Religion has also been used as a tool to perpetuate ignorance and indirectly control the mind of the ignorant masses. This point is very cogent as many clerics/imams are perceived or they position themselves, as authorities that cannot be questioned and they sometimes abuse this position to propagate messages that are at variance with the true messages of their professed religion to a relatively large ignorant masses who are too lazy to study their religion.
• Many wars and conflagration have been centred around religion and religious misunderstanding leading to avoidable loss of lives and properties.
Actually, the point about the “ignorant religious masses” is the key of the write up. I strongly believe that most of the problems we find today in the form of distorted religious practices and negative impact of religion on society highlighted above can be solved directly and indirectly by curing the masses of its ignorance. For me, the importance of knowledge in all we do should be obvious to all and especially the “religious masses” given the ample direct signalling by God in His holy scriptures that “KNOWLEDGE IS GOLDEN” or how else do you explain the fact that God always ordain His messengers with knowledge before calling them to their missions:
• He did this with the first man and prophet, Adam, ordaining him with knowledge of all things, including good and evil, before assigning the task of taking care of the garden.
• He ordered Prophet Muhammed [S.A.W] to “read in the name of your Lord” and gave him knowledge to carry out his prophetic mission.
• All prophets have one way or the other encouraged seeking knowledge [religious and otherwise] and actually position knowledge-seeking as a virtue. Prophet Muhammed [S.A.W] is reputed to have said “seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every muslim” [Ibn Maajah].
So why does a lot of religious people still ignorant despite all these cues, directives and ordained messages?
Why are we retrogressively moving into mass ignorance despite having attained a level of enlightenment that is unprecedented in the history of mankind?
Let me suggest a few casual factors:
• There is mass ignorance because religious leadership across board has been greatly corrupted in the process of trying to gain political control of religion.
• A system of “defensive evangelism” has led religious leaders to scare their followers away from seeking knowledge especially the knowledge of other religions and faith, thereby leading to the widening gulf between followers of different faiths.
• The growing redundancy approach to religion as merely a platform for seeking God’s favour/miracles and socialisation has led many followers to abandon the basic tenets, traditions and code of conduct of their religion in exchange for mostly invented conventions [ termed innovation/bid'ah in Islam].
I am sure you can think up more casual factors of the retrogressive tendencies of followers of otherwise, progressive religions. More importantly, I am sure we can all think up ways of reversing this trend particularly in Nigeria.