The convergence of faith and human rights has faced vehement debate. In recent decades, where extremists groups are carrying out atrocious acts “in the name of God”, xenophobia and Islamophobia have become increasingly commonplace in western nations. This begs the question of whether religion has a place in human rights movements, or if there is a place for human right in religion. Nowadays, faith leaders play active roles in mediating conflict and organizing humanitarian assistance. Various faith organizations are realizing the importance of forming partnerships with different faiths, and finding the commonalities that can connect rather than divide us. At the very heart of almost all religions are teachings of love and compassion. In this conversation, we seek to discuss the role of faith in promoting human rights across the globe and strategies for strengthening partnerships between secular and religious human rights defenders.
Thank you to our featured resource practitioners who led this conversation:
- Jill Jacobs, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
- Jeff Boyd, Adventist Peace Fellowship
- Hassan Abdi Abdille, Muslims for Human Rights
- Marie Juul Petersen, Danish Institute for Human Rights
- Salaam Bhatti, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
- Erin Wilson, Centre for Religion, Conflict, and Globalization, University of Groningen
- Caitlin Light, Christian Peacemaker Teams
- Dr. Amineha Hoti, Centre for Dialogue and Action
- Emily Brewer, Presbyterian and Peace Fellowship
Strengthening Connections Between Human Rights Leaders and Faith Leaders
Faith leaders can be a conduit for strengthening human rights in their communities, and among the congregations they serve. Preaching sermons that teach about human rights helps bridge the gap between religion and human rights. Jill Jacobs gives the example of rabbis who celebrate Human Rights Shabbat in their synagogues. This is a time where they devote the sermon and often some teaching time to speaking about human rights from a Jewish perspective.
There are commonalities between various religions that encourage peace, such as treating others with the same respect and kindness you would want someone to treat you. While different religious texts may not use the same language, shared values can still be identified. Erin Wilson brought up this point of being conscious about languages, and how one phrase can mean different things in different contexts. Caitlin Light expanded on this by noting how miscommunication across cultural and linguistic divides can create the appearance of divisions when there are none.
Marie Petersen used the example of women’s rights in the Middle East. Places like Pakistan are resistant to language like “women’s rights” or “gender equality” because its considered western, and that women should be equal to men. In Muslim communities, the word “equality” is controversial because it implies sameness between genders, and can be threatening to principles underlying Islamic gender relations, which focuses on a balanced partnership between genders rather than sameness. Therefore, the term “equity” is more useful in these contexts.
Dr. Amineha Hoti brought up the point about religious villainization in the media, referencing a news report about a bomb blast in Lahore. The news claimed the attacks as one strictly on Christians by Muslims, when in reality both Muslims and Christians were killed. This raises many questions such as how do we avoid pointing blame at entire groups? How can we teach empathy and understanding? One participant suggested the promotion of peace within our own faiths, and teaching faith through a peacemaking lens.
Part of forming partnerships, and even inter-faith partnerships is about finding commonalities, rather than focusing on differences. Uniting around a common goal is a reminder that our differences are not insurmountable obstacles to forming relationships. As one participant noted, one of the basic common elements of every religion is love, meaning to love others as we would love ourselves. Caitlin Light added to this point, suggesting that by putting partners at the center of any work can help ensure that we are not imposing our own values in a context that is not our own.
Examples of tactic Implementation
Resources shared by participants
UNHCHR: “Faith for Rights”
IMPACT: Charlottesville, A local interfaith social justice organization
- Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice, Or Rose, et al.
- The Dignity of Difference, Jonathon Sacks
- To be a Muslim, HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan
- The Thistle and the Drone, Professor Akbar Ahmed
- Faith and Human Rights: Christianity and the Global Struggle for Human Dignity, Richard Amesbury and George Newlands
- Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition, Christopher Marshall
- Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel
- Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, 2nd Edition, Dennis A. Jacobsen and Bill Wylie Kellermann
- Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice, Joe Holland and Peter Henriot
- Faith in Action: A Handbook for Activists, Advocates, and Allies, The Faith in Action Writing Collective
- Valuing Diversity: Towards Mutual Respect and Understanding