Kampala Geopolitics Conference

Are Religions Peacemakers or Troublemakers?: The Role of Religion in Volatile Societies

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Mwambutsya Ndebesa asserted that while religion may
not be at the core of conflict, “it has provided itself as an
instrument to be used for fighting wars”. He argued that
political oppressors have used religion to legitimise their
power and claim that they are divinely appointed.
The discussion then moved on to address the
tendency to link Islam to terrorism.
Thomas Volk said that a monolithic Islam does not exist,
and that some people who identify as Muslim today do not
even speak Arabic and therefore do not really understand
what is written in the Quran. Volk pointed out that 99.9 per
cent of Muslims live peacefully but that only 0.1 per cent per
cent are radicals and extremists.
Ahmed Hadji said that when he survived the terrorist attack
at Kyadondo Rugby Club, Kampala, in 2010, he overheard
people saying that Muslims were behind the incident. “Islam
is a pure and deeply humane religion. It says I wish for my
brother what I wish for others. Many extremists invoke
outdated texts for political ambition.”
Hadji said it is absurd that every time there is crime, for
instance the killing of sheikhs in Uganda, the first suspect is
a Muslim. “We [Muslims] are treated as ‘the other’.”
Maximiano Ngabirano, who is also a Catholic priest,
said religion has been captured by ideology and politics.
“Religion has always been used by politicians to rally
support. People have been known to join wars on religious
background. A story is told of how military chaplains would
bless ammunition before a war.”
On the role religion plays in creating tension, Leah Erenyu
said that while religion is a source of social cohesion,
shared values, common goals and togetherness in time of
hardships, it has also been used as a form of social control
to keep people in check. “It is used to further a particular
Ndebesa said there will never be a time when there is no
tension created by religion, but added that it can be a great
tool to promote peace if not abused. “It’s only a problem
when that tension is destructive.”
Hadji, on the other hand, said there are underlying issues
that need to be addressed, such as the interpretation
of texts and religious literature. “We need to understand
before we simplistically engage. Step away from cheap
Sr Dominica Dipio, a participant, asked if there is something
in the text of the Quran that lends itself to misinterpretation.
To that, Volk responded that there is need to speak about
the root cause of radicalisation of religious texts and
Ndebesa concluded the discussion by stating that religion
should borrow a leaf from secularism which does not
impose and is open to pluralism.

Meet the Panelists