By Desytia Nawris
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed the emergence of a resilient and responsive community, one that is capable of adopting new norms and to contribute to the resolution of challenges confronting humankind. Indeed the need for multi-dimensional, multi-stakeholder approach, involving greater solidarity and cooperation, is increasingly needed at all levels—village, city, national and global.
It is in the light of this need that the G20 Interfaith Forum-Regional Consultation Asia, which was held late last year, gained in significance. This was part of a series of discussions organized by the International Dialogue Center (KAICIID), the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and the National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (NCIID) of Saudi Arabia. At the heart of this initiative is the conviction that religious actors have a key role to play in a multi-stakeholder effort to address a global challenge such as a pandemic.
It is true that there is widespread skepticism about the role of religion in the development and implementation of public policy, including in the realm of public health. Sometimes religion is even considered part of the problem, as when there is an outbreak of Covid-19 cases in religious communities that continue to closely congregate without the necessary precautions against infection.
On the other hand, faith-based communities have also done their part in promoting prudent health practices and in mobilizing support for the public health policies of governments. And even long before the pandemic progressive religious movements have worked for the promotion of ethical and moral values in society. They have also strongly pursued advocacies for such causes as gender equality, community volunteerism among the youth, the fight against corruption and universal education.
So how can religious communities work with government and the rest of society in addressing global problems such as the current pandemic? The following are some ideas that came up during the G20 Interfaith Forum-Regional Consultation Asia:
- Generating a shared agenda. Governments and religious communities should create a common space in which they could together conduct a joint enquiry into the problems confronting people today;
- Mutual literacy. Governments and religious communities should generate a language that can bridge them with each other so that they can understand their commonalities and shared aspirations, although each plays a distinct role.
- The long-term view. Any collaboration between the government and religious communities should not be limited to an ad-hoc engagement. An approach that is merely reactive to an ongoing crisis, no matter how successful, will be wasting a lot of potential. Such a collaboration should be regarded as an effort to shape the future of the world.
- The inclusive approach. We should always emphasize our shared humanity and avoid resorting to divisive narratives based on such categorizations as minority-majority, secular-spiritual, etc.
What is important is to examine, promote and cultivate values and attitudes that are most relevant and useful in a time of crisis: unity and feelings of fellowship; knowing, understanding and appreciating one another; a spirit of common endeavor and a sense of a shared destiny; and above all, a conviction that we are all children of a single Divine Providence.
We need to launch and sustain conversations about the need to carry out concerted action: to identify and address the immediate needs of communities, to identify and bring help to the most vulnerable members of society, and to find ways of demonstrating compassion to those who are already suffering in the grip of the virus. And of course, we should not neglect the need to further strengthen bonds of friendship and love within our own families, and among our circles of friends and neighbors.
And there is one concrete way by which faith-based communities can help governments wage an effective battle against the pandemic: by helping disseminate relevant and useful facts—that is, the truth—that will disabuse people from false rumors, disinformation and conspiracy theories that are rampant not only in Southeast Asia but all over the world.
It is now clear that among the primary reason for the rapid spread of the Coronavirus have been the many false beliefs and pernicious attitudes about masking, social distancing and about cures based on false information and superstition. And these days it has also become clear that among the most formidable barriers to the rapid vaccination campaigns of governments are rumors, false information and conspiracy theories about vaccines.
It is therefore logical that faith-based communities, considering their well-known fundamental adherence and loyalty to the truth, can contribute to the growth of practical wisdom among the people by a judicious dissemination of science-based facts about the pandemic. Such practical wisdom will greatly help the people prevent the spread of the disease and deal with it effectively when it strikes them.
Of course, there are other needs of the population, apart from their need for truthful information, that must be addressed. I believe that in every case, faith-based communities can find a role and can be given a role to help society at large.
Editor’s note: This article is a commentary. The views expressed in it are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of PinterPolitik.