Why do religions maintain their peaceful values when they are in the minority and leave them behind when they gain power? This is perhaps one of the main questions underlying the religious debate. Faith-related disputes are common across the globe, with more and more hotspots of conflict emerging in various regions.
"Justice in an unjust world", the webinar organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, addressed this and other questions of religious experience in a world hostile to minority faiths on Thursday.
The panel of speakers included Ahmadiyya Community spokesperson Qamar Fazal, Manuel Torres Aguilar, Director of the UNESCO Chair in Conflict Resolution, and conflict reporter Karlos Zurutuza. Mansur Ata Ilahi, a renowned member of Muslim society, also spoke.
Qamar Fazal opened the video conference with the recitation of two verses from the Koran on justice to frame the discussion. "Peace and stability in the world are threatened and under continuous risk. In some countries, leaders and governments do not fulfil the rights of their people and afflict them with grave cruelties and injustices," the spokesman began.
In this vein, Fazal denounced the "disorder" on the planet with the proliferation of armaments, division and direct confrontations that have been taking place in different regions. "We, as Ahmadi Muslims, are disappointed that part of this disorder is centred around the self-styled Arab countries and that this chaos is associated with Islam".
"It is a tragedy of gigantic proportions that these so-called Muslim scholars seek to falsely justify their hate-filled and malicious acts in the name of Islam," Fazal said.
Contrary to the current perspective, Torres argued that religions are a peace treaty in themselves, although they are sometimes manipulated as a pretext to push certain actions against them.
This has led many to link the values of Islam with extremism and violence. For the Ahmadiyya Community spokesman, the solution lies in going to "the primary source", i.e. the Koran, to see if these are truly Islamic precepts.
Fazal claimed the role of the UN as a protector of weaker nations, but also criticised the way the body operates: "It should not be the case that some countries exercise undue power and influence or that permanent members of the Security Council only look after their own interests and use the power of the veto, even if it clashes with those of the majority".
"The self-styled Muslim governments have failed their people," Fazal said. Some powers sell arms to Arab states while others sell arms to rebel groups. For the organisation's spokesman, the only important thing is that "the cheques of the arms suppliers are good so that billions are added to their national budgets".
Torres warned that "the world is not unjust, but injustices are committed". The disputes are rooted in the finiteness of the means to satisfy or meet all needs, according to the UNESCO expert.
"For conflict resolution, it is vital to understand the other person's point of view," Torres said. For the professor, this is one of humanity's great unresolved debts to which it has not been able to find a clear answer. "Perhaps it is our natural habitat when it comes to relating to each other".
However, Torres is optimistic about the evolution of human beings: "If we analyse the military conflicts that exist in the world, they are neither more serious nor more numerous than they were 2oo years ago". In any case, the consequences could be more devastating.
It is up to the Professor of History of Law and Director of the UNESCO Chair in Conflict Resolution to make the initial reflection: "Why do all religions preach and practise values such as love, peace and justice when they are in the minority, and when they are in the majority they forget all these principles?"
The history of Christianity and Islam supports this thesis. "When [religions] relate to power they end up imposing their dogmas".
With more than 20 years of experience in conflict coverage, reporter Karlos Zurutuza made the terms of the debate tangible. The journalist described the situation of Ahmadis and Christians -among other minority religious groups- in Pakistan, persecuted by the dominant Sunni ethnic group, the Punjabis. For Zurutuza, however, this is part of a global dynamic "of persecution of those who are different".
The legal weapons for the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in the country, according to Zurutuza, are the blasphemy laws, issued during the British occupation in order to protect the various faiths that made up the Pakistani map. However, the legislation was modified two centuries later to protect exclusively Sunni Islam, "the most orthodox Islam".
Therefore, anyone who is not covered by this law "is liable to be persecuted", as in the case of a young Christian man who was lynched to death for bathing in a water tank owned by a Punjabi family. "Murder is allowed because it is free," he said.
Zurutuza shared similar experiences with the Ahmadi community in Algeria, or with the Kurds in Syria a decade ago. The reporter stressed that this problem is currently spreading throughout the Maghreb area and increasingly in Morocco. "Once you open up this ban, it becomes easier and easier to perpetrate hostilities."
"I've been doing this for two decades and I have the feeling that it's impossible to keep up," Zurutuza added. "It gives me the feeling that there are more and more flashpoints and that they are exploding faster and faster." He believes that the response to this spiral of violence is preceded by the transition from a bipolar world to a multipolar world with more and more focal points of individual interests.
The palliative lies, according to Zurutuza, in education. "There is no better way to control the population than by keeping it illiterate", therefore, academic and moral education must be the vehicle for peaceful coexistence and the development of more cohesive societies.
Mansur Ata Ilahi concluded in this sense after adding that "education alone is not enough, but it must carry a series of values and contain a religious message". The principle of responsibility that inspires the religious message is paramount for the member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.