By Father Stephano Kamwaza
For the past few months, Malawi, which for long has been known as the warm heart of Africa, has been characterised by an atmosphere of instabilities both in political and religious circles. Malawi is indeed in flames and it has become so hard for people to live together not even among religious groups.
The feeling of hate towards people of other tribes and political parties is rapidly permeating our society like a notorious contagious disease capable of resisting any cure. Peaceful talks initiated by different individuals and independent bodies are apparently failing to bring the intended results of unity and peace. This has actually induced others to painfully conclude that Malawi is slowly losing its pride as the warm heart of Africa and is embracing the label of being the burning bush of Africa.
The fighting between Christians and Muslims is gradually taking root as well. What happened at Mangochi Turn Off in Balaka where a school and a mosque were partially destroyed because of this increase in sour relationship between Christians and Muslims is an impeccable explanation that things are slowly falling apart. It must be said that it is so shocking to find people belonging to different religions fighting against one another since “all religions preach love as their core teaching” (C.P. Varkey).
The question is; how has Malawi, a country within a continent known to be notoriously religious, lost its spirit of peace? Why should religion, instead of preaching peace and becoming a liberating force be a source of hatred among people? Should we say that religion is never relevant for bringing peace and harmony in our countries?
It is known that on top of African Traditional Religions, Malawi has other two main religions; Christianity and Islam. Both of these religions are well accredited for preaching peace, love and unity. Why is it then that despite such a religious atmosphere the country seems to be heading towards a division?
In the words of Pope John XXIII, “Peace on earth – which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after – can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order,” (Pacem in Terris). However, it is imperative now that we promote not just a religion per se but a religion with a spirituality of peace in Malawi.
The spirituality of peace is that which fosters integral growth and brotherhood among people. Suffice to say beforehand that religious beliefs, even here in Malawi, form part of the strongest sentiments which are capable of driving people to perform some actions which, in the opinion of others, might appear either justifiable or unjustifiable, moral or immoral, rational or irrational.
Chiwoza Bandawe, psychologist, sustains that “spiritual forces play a central role in the lives of many Malawians.” This is why some people can strongly justify acts which contradict some universal values when religious fundamentalism is at work. In this case, religion, if well channeled, is one of the best means of fostering universal values like peace since through its convictional sentimental principles one can be pushed to promote acts in favour of such values.
The promotion of peace and “social justice form(s) an integral part of the preaching of the gospel as love and forgiveness and almsgiving.”
Many Malawians belong at least to a certain religious grouping, whether by practise or association or just a mere register in the books. This phenomenon should somehow suffice or contribute to enhance the spirit of peace in the country.
Nevertheless, this is not the case. Religion has become a tool for merely identifying oneself with a certain religious group but not being pushed to act according to the beliefs and principles of that specific religion. In this case, religion is only reduced to a name leaving behind the practise or adherence of the teaching of that particular religion.
The spirituality of peace that we are proposing here creates a mind-set which seeks to “address grievances by creating a broader space for dialogue and understanding, a process which would lead to reconciliation” (Varkey). A religion with a firm spirituality of peace is never to be identified primarily with a feeling of belonging to a particular religious group but a decision to act in correspondence with the teaching of that particular religion.
The greatest tragedy with the human race when it comes to religion is that people forget its teaching and principles when it comes to practise. We forget about the Bible’s “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and we disregard the Koran’s “until you want for others what you want for yourself, none of you will be a true believer.” When it comes to acting we do not remember the African Traditional Religion’s sayings “it is impossible to make peace with the sword” and “If your neighbour insults you, do not insult him in turn.”
Religion, with an emphatic spirituality of peace, is a rescue to Malawi’s instability. “Our spirituality enables us to see that in other people, the pattern of God is perpetually alive. When I devalue another human being, without doubt I am devaluing somebody who carries God’s pattern in him or her” (Chiwoza Bandawe). In this case, when Malawians stop restricting their love only to those of their tribes, political parties and geographical regions, then the spirituality of peace is at work. When Malawians put at heart the promotion of justice to all bearing in mind that without justice there can never be peace, then religion with the spirituality of peace is being centralised.
The spirituality of peace calls for justice and truth; and “truth calls for the elimination of every trace of racial discrimination, and the consequent recognition of the inviolable principle that all States are by nature equal in dignity” (Pacem in Terris). The spirituality of peace makes me realise that I am a liar if I love God and hate my brother; “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jn 4:20).
The spirituality of peace reminds me that I cannot be an authentic believer if I do not promote peace. “O you who believe! Enter absolutely into peace. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you” (Holy Quran: 2,208). Religion with a strong spirituality of peace in practise “intrinsically calls for peace and fosters a life in absolute sincerity and honesty before God.”
In conclusion, Malawi has reached a point where we need to highlight the fact that “no one can be by nature superior to his fellows, since all men are equally noble in natural dignity. And consequently there are no differences at all between political (religious) communities from the point of view of natural dignity” (Pacem in Terris # 89). In the eyes of God, nobody, no tribe, no race and no religion is superior to the other. We are all created in the same image of God, hence equal.
*Fr Kamwaza writes in his personal capacity