Can religion justify crimes against Humanity?

Religious violence has resurfaced in the past decade. The rising religious tensions and a growing sectarian divide are evident across the world. Be it the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East, the outbreak of violence between Christians and Muslims in Africa or the persecutions of Hindus in Pakistan, religion seems to play a major role in crimes against humanity globally. In a world where around 84% of its population still identifies with a religious group, it becomes relatively easier for people to point a finger at religion and let it absorb all the punches. However, reasonable that may sound, the problem arises when religious groups led by their leaders oversimplify the connection of religion with intolerance and the violence it may cause. In this article, we shall try and look into how religion has led to violence over the years and how religion justifies crimes against humanity.

How Religion leads to Violence?

Abrahamic Religions like Christianity and Islam claim to be revealed religions, in simple words, a religion based on some sort of a divine revelation or truths conveyed by God. The believers or the missionaries of these religions are charged with the duty of spreading the word of God, as God himself wants everyone to accept this truth. But, how does a religion deal with people who refuse to accept the same? Due to this very question, there were many occasions in history where both Christianity and Islam were intolerant of one another; some events often scaling up to the point of violence.

For a believer, the truth that the God has revealed is of utmost importance, hence, anyone who denies or questions this truth is dangerous, as some believers themselves may be misled by these denials, which ultimately threatens the existence of the said religion and it becomes all the more important to eliminate any nonbelief.

The people, who hold this view, find it hard to come to terms with secular ideas, or even practical common sense because according to them these are truths which will never be arrived at by humanity. Christianity has a long history of such acts of intolerance, including the persecution of Jews, crusades against Muslims and the Thirty Years’ War, which was a religious war, fought in Central Europe and resulted in over 8 million deaths. Consequently, nations initiated somewhat tolerant policies towards the imposition of their own religion. Christians, after a long and historically complex process, started to embrace the idea of tolerance. Meanwhile, many thinkers and philosophers began to question religion vehemently; even the idea of complete rejection of religion was now intellectually respectable.

In addition to this, the changes in the economic and social structure of our society including the formation of capitalist economies, advancement in technology and democratic movements further undermined the traditional role of religion. Religious belief and practices became more liberal and came to be regarded as expressions of personal convictions rather than a State-enforced one, propagating values of a peaceful secular society especially in Europe and the United States. As a result, this gave rise to a newly found and revised set of Christian values which were far more tolerant and inclusive compared to its predecessor.

However, the same cannot be held true for Muslims. Today, only a handful of Muslim nations have high levels of religious tolerance. Majority of the Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Iran have strong restrictions on non-Muslim beliefs and practices. A majority of Muslims in Islamic countries advocate for Islamic Law (Sharia) as the law of the land, according to a Pew Research Center poll in 2013. The poll also found that 76 percent of these Muslims in South Asia and 56 percent in the Middle East favoured executing Muslims who gave up their religion and in 10 Muslim countries 40 percent favoured applying Islamic law to non-Muslims.

This goes on to show that for a significant number of Muslims globally the revealed truths of Islam are not only matters of personal faith and beliefs but also has an important place for public matters in an orderly society. Intolerance should not result in violence against non-believers, but that is inevitable considering the logic of ‘divine revelations‘ unless interpretations of these texts are subject to non-religious constraints.

But, the path to modern tolerance has proved to be more difficult for Islam than for Christianity and many Muslims still do not accept these constraints; as a result of which a significant minority see violence against non-believers as a divine duty. One could argue that there are social and political forces at play and religion is unduly reprimanded and to a certain extent that is true but one cannot ignore the logic and history of religion. This does not mean that Islam is an evil religion, but it does mean that it hasn’t necessarily been reformed to the extent that Christianity has. An implied danger exists in any religion which claims itself to be God’s own truth.


Can religion justify crimes against humanity? No, it certainly cannot. Unfortunately, the truth is quite the contrary, with a noticeable increase in violent religious groups emerging globally. What religion can do is advance with time and that starts when religious leaders and experts, especially in an ever more connected world, help counter the spread of hate and violence in the name of God and promote values of a more inclusive and peaceful society. Religion has a rightful place in the public sphere and enshrining a proper interpretation of Freedom of Religion in International Law will promote dialogue and improve Human Rights. Reforms in all the major religions of the world are required to counter War Crimes, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing and other violent activities committed in the name of religion.

Editor’s Note
In a world full of diversity in terms of language, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc., the concept of tolerance is found to be of utmost importance. People who are tolerant of this diversity are the need of the hour in our world. This article gives a brief overview of the history of religious intolerance across the world in light of certain instances and also explains how religion can lead to violence by giving examples from the past. The author concludes by saying that religion can never be a reason to justify crimes against humanity and all the major religions in the world need some major reforms in order to counter the violence taking place because of religious intolerance across the globe.

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