RELIGION PROMOTES PEACE AND CONDEMNS VIOLENCE
Prof. Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu
President of Religious Affairs
The role of religion and its potential capacity to contribute to conflict resolution, peace building and promotion of peaceful co-existence regardless of race, religion and language requires an assessment of the global picture. Neither the influence of religion nor its employment by many actors can be understood without understanding social, political and economic context. Therefore we need to set the context first for a fruitful discussion on religion and its relations with current events because the context has important bearings on how and why religion is involved in recent debates on the subject. We need to avoid sociological blindness and take religion into account in our analysis as an important actor today.
Let me share some of my initial observations on the state of modern societies. Modern societies are facing a number of problems on national and international levels. These problems are increasing day by day and becoming global threats. Even a problem that emerges in the remotest corner of the world is becoming a problem for the whole humanity as a result of globalization and communication networks. There is no doubt that many people are trying to find solutions to these problems which influence our relations with individuals and the larger society which we communicate. These problems seem to have an impact on many areas of our life.
Broadly speaking, we can divide these problems into two categories. The first category includes problems that threaten the future of mankind. These are starvation, poverty, unemployment, moral decay, inequality, oppressive political regimes, legal and educational problems, destruction of historical and cultural values. The second category includes problems which are closely connected to the first one. These are the lack of understanding, toleration and dialogue among people and crisis related to in/tolerance towards differences and co-existence despite diversity. These problems do not concern only one region, country or community but the whole humanity on a global scale.
Violence and terror which have been on the rise in recent years concern all of us. Religious symbols, discourse and rhetoric are used not only to justify these evil acts but also used to recruit believers. Social, economic and political problems mentioned above provide a fertile ground for such practices. The poor, the oppressed and marginalized people become easy prey to join terror groups and follow their instructions. As we have witnessed in recent years religion was hijacked in the cycle of violence despite the fact that religions condemn violence and promote peace.
As far as universal religions are concerned, the main messages of religions revolve around peace, co-existence, and dignity of human beings, social justice and moral community. In the establishment of these institutors and practices violence and terror can have no room at all. In this context let me remind you how Islam approaches to the problem of killing people. One of the widely known principles of Islam is expressed as follows in the Qur'an "...whoever kills a soul he is regarded as if he kills the whole of mankind and whoever saves a life he is regarded as if he saves the lives of all mankind..." (al-Maida: 5:32) This verse clearly indicates the sanctity of human life. Another Qur'anic verse also emphasizes this fact as follows: "And surely, we honored the children of Abraham". (al-Isra: 17:70) There are many other examples both in sacred messages and historical experiences that religion is source of peace. It has powerful spiritual capital for social peace, integration, conflict resolution and development. As religious leaders it is our duty to underline spiritual capital and capacity of religion to prevent the abuse of religion by terrorists. However, religious leaders and faith communities can not solve this problem on their own no matter how hard they work. As I have explained earlier we need to tackle with the deeper social, economic and political problems which provide a fertile ground for the recruitment of terror organizations.
Social, political and economic steps must be taken on local, national and international levels for the solution of problems and crisis that threaten our future. Even these steps are not sufficient on their own for a sustainable solution. In addition to social, political and economic steps, cultural, religious and historical heritage of the humanity should also be taken into account to find effective and sustainable solutions. In my view cultural, religious and historical heritage that we have created as humanity so far can also make a meaningful contribution to our efforts to eliminate threatening conflicts such as terror. In this context, especially religions have a lot to say to guide people. It is therefore our duty to share our views with policy makers and with the public to show that religions serve to humanity as a source of inspiration to add a spiritual dimension to the search for solutions to current crisis in the world.
 This is the text of speech made by Prof. Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu at the Conference on Democracy and Global Security organized by the Turkish National Police in Istanbul on June 9-11, 2005.