Religion, War and Human Rights

By Bonny Ibhawoh,

Religion has historically been a key source of human rights violations. From the medieval battles of the Christian Crusades to contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, religion has often been invoked in ways that cause pain and suffering to others. However, religion can also be an effective means of promoting human rights and peace in our world. Think about it! Every region I know has something positive to say about human rights. We just have chosen not to pay attention.

Hinduism: Hindu tradition teaches non-harm of the self, others and the earth and offers passive constraints on recourse to violence. Idea of Ahmisa “non injury” or the absence of a desire to harm is a central tenet of Hindu ethics.

Confucianism: One of the five Confucian virtues is “Jen” (human-heartedness) which is described by Confucius as the principle “to love all men.”

  1. 475 – 221 B.C.E. The disciples of Confucius compileThe Analects– a Collection of Confucius’ discussions with his disciples. The Analects has heavily influenced the philosophy and moral values of China and other East Asian societies.

“Fan Ch’ih asked about benevolence. The Master said, “Love your fellow men. He asked about wisdom. The Master said “Know your fellow men.” Fan Ch’ih failed to grasp his meaning. The Master said, “Raise the straight and set them over the crooked. This can make the crooked straight.”— Confucius, “On Rightful Conduct of Rulers and Subjects” (The Analects, Book XVIII)

Even though it was patriarchal and hierarchical, classical Confucianism did hold the view that all people have the capacity to become flourishing moral persons in the community, if not exemplary sages. This view comes close to maintaining a position of moral equality even within social hierarchy, at least with respect to people’s moral potential.

  • Judaism: Judaismteaches tolerance, accountability, justice and the infinite value of human life.

“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.” — Leviticus 19:17-18

“Thou shalt not curse the deaf.” — Leviticus 19:14. (Disability rights)

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.” –Leviticus 19:15.

Judaism teaches that the individual has the right not only to life, but to security from harm, to health, dignity and making a living – all specific factors involved in assessing costs in cases of damages (Bava Kama, Mishnah 2:6).

  • Christianity: Jesusof Nazareth, the central figure in Christianity, preached virtues of love, compassion and justice.

Love your neighbour as yourself. — The Bible, Mathew 22:37.

  • Islam:Prophet Muhammad, the central figure in Islam preached the virtues of tolerance, charity and equality.

“Oh mankind, we have created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other, not that you may despise each other.” — Koran, Surah 49:13.