By Augustine Bahemuka, Commentator on issues of peace and society

Augustine BahemukaThe dark cloud that hovered over last month seems to have slowly faded into the passing of time. However, this cannot be true for individuals and families that were directly affected by the November 16, 2021, twin bomb blasts in Kampala. We send them condolences. Uganda held Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels based in Eastern DRC responsible for these heinous acts of violent extremism. It was not the first time ADF rebels were alleged to have attacked Ugandans. However, there was a dynamic shift in ADF’s recent attack, which seems to have received less attention than deserved from the discussions that followed. The CCTV footage released by the Uganda Police showed that the two bomb blasts along Parliamentary Avenue and at Central Police Station were detonated by three suicide bombers, who also ‘died in their own movie’.

Suicide bombing, for most of what is known to many, is a well-planned mission executed by individuals who have undergone a lengthy period of training and preparation; and their minds infused with religious fundamentalist ideologies with promises of rewards in the ‘afterlife’. This is technically referred to as religious radicalization, which poses a great threat to our country. It is my conviction that through interreligious dialogue, radicalization of young people can be countered to a considerable extent.

How then can we create and sustain a culture of interreligious dialogue where we understand and respect each other; and avoid misinterpretation of the differences among our different religious beliefs? This is important because religious fundamentalists are known to manipulate the ignorance of vulnerable individuals in society by recruiting and radicalizing them to carry out terror attacks.

This writer has since worked with various ideas on mitigation of radicalization and violent extremism in the Daily Monitor newspaper and other media and was particularly impressed by one. During the recent graduation ceremony of Al Mustafa Islamic College located in Kajjansi, Uganda, the guest-of-honor urged institutions of higher learning to expose learners to studies on religious fundamentalism to counter global terrorism. In his opinion, Muslims and non-Muslims are equally ignorant about Islam, hence, the need to acquire more knowledge about Islam [and Christianity] to reduce misinterpretations. I would like to argue in favor of the good professor (guest-of-honor)'s proposal.

Religious SimilaritiesFirst, there is a range of convergence between Islam and Christianity, including their roots in the person of Abraham to the virtues and civic values that they teach, most of which constitute universal moral principles. For instance, both religions uphold virtues such as human dignity and charity, and then civic values of justice and peace. Understood within their respective contexts, we can then appreciate our religious differences, which can avoid misinterpretations.

Brendan Sweetman makes an interesting case of the role played by religion in the public square. He says that only religious beliefs which can be rationally argued about should be included in the public square. He differentiates between higher-order beliefs (doctrines) and lower-order beliefs (moral values) of religion. It is the latter that should interest us because lower-order beliefs give us a more appealing appreciation of other religious faith groups and can be compared to our own religious beliefs, without delving deeper in the doctrine, which requires a deposit of faith for one to understand.

Secondly, religious studies will broaden the knowledge of learners and deepen their understanding of the history of both Islam and Christianity. This becomes very important because it enables us to make arguments on religion within context, rather than appealing to ignorance. These two aspects, and many others, can create an environment of interreligious dialogue where folks can listen to each other in their communities with minimal religious misjudgment. Having acquired some knowledge and appreciation of other religions, this can consequently reduce on the cognitive gap, which has been manipulated by religious fundamentalists in driving their own selfish agenda such as terrorism.  

Augustine Bahemuka,

This article was originally published in the Daily Monitor and published here with the author’s permission. The views expressed here are solely those of the author (Editor).