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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Divided We Stand: Sectarianism

Every religion has evolved through two movements, namely revivalist, and progressive. A revivalist movement emerges in a backward and intellectually bankrupt society where political, social and economic problems appear to be unsolvable, and disillusionment and disappointment set in. In these circumstances, the slogan of revivalism is raised by a cleric or a policy maker to regain past glory.

Instead of creating a new system and producing new ideas and thoughts, a revivalist movement attempts to bring back the past model to solve problems of the present time. Revivalists believe that the past model of religious teaching is still relevant and would work miraculously to reform society.

On the other hand, progressive movements emerge in a society which is in a process of development and needs a new interpretation of religion. But such a movement requires intellectual creativity to readjust religion to the changing situation and justify its advancement in various social and cultural aspects. In this way, revivalists and progressives contradict each other.

One adheres to the past as an efficient model whereas the other creates a new system by re-interpreting religion. Religious movements do not convert the majority of society and appeal only to a minor section which consequently becomes a sect that strictly follows its teachings.

Every sect then tries to assert its identity and attempts to preserve it by not integrating with other sects and communities. Each sect views the other with suspicion, condemning the other group’s teachings as irreligious and misleading.

As a result of sectarian interpretation, religion no longer remains a monolithic faith. Divided into different units, it serves the interests of different groups. In fact, this keeps religion alive and workable.

However, each sect is threatened by the majority which condemns the formation of sects and adopts a policy either to reconvert them or crush them. When it becomes difficult to survive among the majority, they retire from the centre and take refuge in the periphery where they can follow their beliefs without interference.

In Muslim societies, the Druz are perhaps the best examples of those who chose to live in the mountainous area to live far away from central authority. In Christianity, the Amish sect living mostly in the United States follows their own teachings based on medieval times and a lifestyle that does not involve modern technology. In the US, the Amish have survived due to democracy and their own geographical location available to them. They enjoy rights as a community to observe their own teachings which does not conflict with the constitution.
When we study the history of religious sects we find that the majority regards a breakaway faction as a serious crime and makes attempts to bring it back to the mainstream fold.

This creates intolerance in society. Some sects prefer not to involve in politics and utilise their energies in trade and commerce and become a financial power.

Religious sects are a product of social, political and economic needs of a particular time. Many vanish after fulfilling their mission. This is how old sects disappear and new sects come into being as a demand of changing times.
By Mubarak Ali: http://www.dawn.com/2012/02/12/past-present-divided-we-stand.html