Religion and conflict: The myth of an inevitable collision

Indonesian Special Forces Police walks by burned motorcycles following a blast at GPPS in SurabayaLeaving aside the almost unimaginable spectacle of parents taking, even training, their children to die for their ideology, the recent attacks in Surabaya raise the issue of conflict between religious communities.

While few Muslims identify with these terrorists, it may nevertheless leave the impression that it is simply the exacerbation of an essential enmity between Christians and Muslims.

Such a thesis would accord with Samuel Huntington’s well-known “Clash of Civilisations” argument, which posited that civilisational boundaries, often marked by religious identities, would define the coming world order.

To exemplify this type of thesis, especially that conflict between religions is prevalent, one may look beyond events in Indonesia, which play into a wider militant neo-jihadi assault on Christianity, to clashes between: Jews and Muslims in Israel-Palestine; Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka; Hindus and Christians and Muslims in India; or, many other examples including intra-religious violence, for instance between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The list of events where we see violence across inter-religious lines in both contemporary and global history seems almost endless.

However, history suggests that this may not be the whole story, indeed peaceful and positive inter-religious relations may be the norm rather than the exception.

The well-known Constitution of Medina alongside the agreement from Prophet Muhammad with the monks of St Catherine’s Monastery are signs that peaceful and harmonious inter-religious relations were endorsed by the founder of Islam.

His battles were not fought against other religions, but against those who had attacked and oppressed the young Islamic community.


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