The global refugee crisis represents a potential transformational moment in world history. Nations from Africa to Asia to Europe to North America with troubled pasts of ethnic conflict and of putting political and economic self-interest above humanitarian needs have an opportunity to write new chapters in their national stories. Religion is playing and will play a critical role.
Religious fashion matters. It matters to individuals who view wearing head scarves, kippas and turbans as a positive expression of faith, and it matters to societies increasingly setting restrictions on religious attire in response to concerns ranging from security to the belief that increasing diversity represents a threat to the essential character of their nations. So how, in the face of intense political and social pressures, can nations balance issues of religious freedom, tolerance and national identity? A developing body of research sheds some light on the debate.
An increasing importance of faith, an openness to alternative medicine and a lack of access to quality care are contributing to a resurgence in religious healing among Arab Muslims. The tasks that lie ahead include creating stronger, cooperative relationships among the religious and medical communities, and building health-care systems enabling citizens to receive quality medical care at a price they can afford.
How extremist organizations that preach violence have gained such a foothold in Pakistan is less a story of faith than a textbook example of the cycle of violence and conflict that erupts when governments and political interest groups use favoritism and coercion to manipulate religion to their own ends. The result is the world’s second-largest Muslim nation finds itself in its fourth decade of warfare, with a precarious democracy hanging in the balance.
At their best, faith-based organizations and religious communities have embraced Ebola victims with loving care, heedless of their own safety in treating the suffering and working with public health officials in education and prevention efforts. Still, amid the uncertainty that has gripped governments, world health officials and religious groups alike, responses have been varied over religious rituals such as Muslim and traditional African burial practices encouraging the washing of the dead, Christian practices such as exchanging hugs and handshakes and receiving communion orally and the reliance on traditional healers that provide sources of comfort and hope to believers but also pose public health risks.