[email protected]

February 06, 2012, Monday

Wars of religion

Remarkably, “wars of religion” have not occurred in the history of Islam. Surely, “conquest” is a victory gained as a result of war, and there were conflicts between Muslim states and non-Muslim residents both in the course and aftermath of conquest. However, a war for “religious reasons” is unique to continental Europe and such wars go down in history as “wars of religion.” The important factor that plays a role in conquests is not “religion” but political causes and the desire to gain war booty.

In modern times, two important developments caused wars of religion to occur in the lands of Muslims. One of them was that non-Muslim citizens were affected by the nationalist ideologies of the 19th century, originating from the Balkans, and also by the desire to revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The other reason was that non-Muslims who stayed in the land of Muslims were no longer dhimmi (a non-Muslim subjects living within the Ottoman Empire). They were degraded to a “minority” position in these nationalist states and they also, of course, refused to tolerate certain kinds of deprivation. The previous model, developed by Islam, both minimized the revolts of non-Muslims against the empire and also prevented wars between different religious groups.

In broad terms, the bloodiest war experienced by those living in and around Damascus was the Lebanese civil war that started in 1975 and ended officially in 1991. The issue of who would have more control over Lebanon was the cause of this war, which claimed the lives of 150,000. What lies behind the problem between Israel and Palestine is that Israel, founded as a nation-state with a Zionist ideology, invaded the lands of the Palestinians.

Nigeria and Egypt are two countries that were affected by religious conflicts that divided Sudan. Within the ever-increasing violence in Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa, places of worship are sabotaged. Thirteen people were murdered in the first week of 2012 in an attack organized by armed groups on a church in Yola -- the capital of Adavama state, situated in the northeast of the country. One day before this attack, 21 people were murdered in an attack during a meeting held in the city hall of the town of Mubi. An organization named Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks. But on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2,000 Muslims guarded the churches where Christians performed a religious ceremony. Al Haji Bashir Ishak, who addressed groups of Muslims who were keeping guard, called the members of both religions to come together against the common enemy and join hands. He blamed extremists from both sides.

Actually, the inspiration for this model of behavior in Nigeria is the model of solidarity that was first seen between Muslims and Christians in Egypt on the first day of the Tahrir Square uprising. The most effective way of preventing religious conflicts that Egypt tried to provoke was by both sides coming together to protect each other’s sanctuaries. In this manner, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups came together to guard churches, and Christians created a human chain to protect Muslims during the Friday prayer in Tahrir Square. Furthermore, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Izzaddin, Freedom and Justice Party leader Muhammad Mursi and General-Secretary Saad el-Katatni participated in a religious ceremony held in a cathedral in Cairo overseen by Coptic Pope Shenouda. This perceptive and discerning attitude calmed the clashes.

There are also examples of this model behavior from the last century. During the 1915 deportations in Turkey, some greedy tribes and powerful men in the territory wanted to include Assyrians in Mardin in the “banishment and deportation of Armenians” and they wanted to kill or exile innocent people from their land. However, sheikhs and public leaders in the region stood before the doors of Assyrian houses. Saying “Over our dead bodies,” they protected their neighbors with whom they had been living for centuries. Of course they couldn’t protect all of them.

Personal precautions taken in Nigeria and Egypt in the past were effective to a certain extent. Today the situation is serious. My opinion is that ethnic and religious clashes, and religious wars, cannot be solved with a logic purporting the idea of a nation state.

Previous articles of the columnist