Religion is a very sensitive and personal topic. It is not only simply what one person practices; religion can be all-encompassing, representing the core of an individual and who they are. From religion, people derive their identities, their world view, their beliefs, their purpose, their communities, and their way of living. Individuals can even start to become convinced that their worldview or their religion is the only truth and the only way to live life, which can often translate to intolerance or even acts of violence toward the other. Pope Francis believes that interreligious dialogue is necessary for peace-building between individuals and groups around the world.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, the Pope writes that these dialogues must be done with “an attitude of openness,” love and respect. Not only does Pope Francis see religious dialogue as necessary for peace-building, it is a fundamental step towards religious freedom for every individual in all parts of the globe. The ability to freely practice and express one’s religious affiliation is a much-needed right, considering how important religion can be to people. Since religion can certainly be the soul-life of a person, to prohibit someone from engaging in what is dear in his/her heart, and furthermore to kill someone simply because of what he/she believes in is a tragedy. Religious freedom is considered a fundamental human right, having the ability to decide and choose what one should believe.
Extremist groups are formed when there is no religious tolerance. Jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are ruthless in their approach to create an Islamic state. Their strategy involves forcing individuals to convert to their hardline version of the Islamic law, or killing those who do not comply. In the past, the Ku Klux Klan also murdered African-Americans in their attempt to take back the U.S. as a white Christian nation. On a less extreme note, countries like France have placed a legal ban on the wearing of head coverings, which causes Muslims to feel targeted and persecuted.
A most recent case of religious persecution hit the headlines on Thursday when a Sudanese Christian, Meriam Ibrahim, refused to convert to Islam and was sentenced to death in May. However, the court overturned the sentence this sentence in June. Ibrahim then fled the country with her baby child and flew to Italy, where she met Pope Francis. When Pope Francis met Ibrahim, he placed his hand gently on her daughter’s head as a gesture to symbolize his empathy for Christians and all those who were persecuted for their faith.
Religious persecution is in large due to the group’s inability to see past their own beliefs. Their religion and their worldview is the only “right” way, thus, others must conform to this. However, Pope Francis believes religious dialogue is necessary, for it can hopefully help people to broaden their perspectives and come to an understanding of others. The more interactions people have with “the other” group, the less they are viewed as “enemies.” Thus, it is in the context of religious dialogue where change can occur.
Opinion By Joyce Chu