Ziedan explains how violence becomes religious and political

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

In his latest book, “Al-Lahoot Al-Araby wa Osol Al-Onf Al-Diny (Arab Theology and the Origins of Religious Violence), Youssef Ziedan explores the way arguments amongst religious scholars and their involvement in politics lead to violence amongst the religious masses.

Zeidan starts with a theory on the influence of Arab heritage in the Levant (Sham) on their theology as Christians and later on as Muslims, to develop the discussion on violence.

The author is the 2009 Arabic Booker prize winner for his much debated work “Azazeel, a historical fiction of Hypa, a Coptic monk in the fifth century AD witnessing troubled times in the Church’s history as it attempts to curb the wave of heresy spearheaded by Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople. As it portrayed violent events of the time such as the murder of Hypatia, the world’s leading philosopher then, the novel prompted an unfriendly reaction from some Coptic clergymen when it was first published.

In a reply to such reactions and in an attempt to put them in context, Ziedan wrote a series of articles in the Egyptian independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled “Asrar Al-Khelaf wa Ahwal Al-Akhtelaf (The Essences of Disputes and the Horrors of Disagreements), which serve as a prologue to his discussion of the triangular relation between violence, religion, and politics that he discussed in “Arab Theology.

Although the issue of violence is only loosely related to his theory of the evolution Arab theology, Ziedan makes a clever connection between the two. As he believes that “the three Abrahamic religions are in fact one religion, sharing one essence, he goes on to add that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share three common characteristics which he concludes makes their separation from politics simply impossible.

The three religions, Ziedan holds, believe in a “messenger between God and the people. They believe in a form of “eradication, which God or the believers themselves perform of the infidels. This only applies to Christianity as it believes in the Old Testament. Finally, all three religions believe in a very strong form of “exodus, a revolution.

The first two shared characteristics hint towards a relation between politics and violence but the idea of exodus erases all doubts that this relation is inevitable in the societies of the grandchildren of Abraham.

At the end of his book, Ziedan attaches a talk he gave a few years ago about the patterns and processes by which violence, religion, and politics connect and fuse together in the three Abrahamic religions. The violence he speaks of isn’t only restricted to the kind associated with the start of the religion; but the kind that takes place after a religion has established itself, gained what political power it hoped for, and started to define the details of its identity through theological wars, which is often more intense and brutal.

“The tri-sided movement [between violence, religion, and politics] takes the form of a whirlpool after having been a discussion, and here roles change and are confused into each other; the politician turns religious and violent, the religious gets political and violent, and violence becomes religious and political.

Ziedan’s exposition of such a vicious cycle with many historical examples to support his points make this second part of the book as interesting as the first. But when it comes to solutions for this still pressing global problem, Ziedan promotes the inevitable expected ones: mutual understanding, knowing the other, and international cooperation.

He does, however, hold some thought-provoking viewpoints when it comes to applying these strategies. He tells his readers that dreams of separation of religion and politics will only remain dreams, and that the “so-called religious dialogues claiming that all religions call out for love and peace are simply witless.

Another example is when Ziedan speaks of balance in a religious society. He calls it a great illusion that people think that “the stricter the governmental laws and religious verdicts are, the more morally steady life on both the individual and communal levels.

There is a tone of the ultimate difficulty, at times impossibility, of implementing these ideas into practical results which affect change. There is a tone bordering on despair but another tone that sees hope in the situation the world faces today as politics and religion breed more violence.

The book starts like it ends with a similar duality of hope and despair with Ziedan telling his readers that “this book was not written for the lazy reader, and not for the ones used to ready-made answers to the usual question. At the end, it’s just a book which may or may not change anything.

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