What role can religion play in building peace? This paper analyses 27 Christian, Muslim and multi-faith organizations that are working on peace-building in conflict situations. By studying how they operate as peace-builders, the paper aims to shed more light on the peace-building potential of faith-based organizations. It particularly aims to advise donors on how they can deal with faith-based peace-building in policy.
- Faith-based peace-builders have a number of strengths and weaknesses. Possible strengths include: strong faith-based motivation for peace-building (local and international actors); long-term history/involvement in the societies they serve. A number of international faith-based peace-builders have—often through development assistance and relief aid—worked for decades in countries before getting involved in peace-building (international actors); ability to engage in long-term peace-building work before, during and after conflict (local actors); moral and spiritual authority, providing faith-based actors with a certain leverage to mitigate religious tensions in religious conflict or to act as platforms for common understanding in non-religious conflicts (local and international actors); niche to mobilize (religious) communities for peace. Faith-based actors tend to have the networks, contacts and trust—both locally and internationally—to mobilize large numbers of people (local and international).
- Likely weaknesses of faith-based actors comprise: risk (and often accusation) of proselytization, especially if they do not properly separate their religious mission work from their religious peace-building work; lack of focus on results, because some faith-based peace-building actors are inclined to concentrate on long-term peace-building efforts, with the possible disadvantage that they pay more attention to establishing long-term relationships than to shorter-term peace-building deliverables; lack of professionalism compared to other peace-building organizations, because some faith-based actors seem to engage in peace-building because their religious mandate urges them to do so, and not because their specific skills and experiences necessarily enable them to do so.
Recommendation to donors:
- Take into account the potential of faith-based peace-building actors to contribute positively to peace-building. Donors should cooperate more with faith-based actors on peace-building and examine the role of faith-based peace-building actors in the context of the political actor analysis carried out within the framework of Stability Assessment Frameworks (SAF), which is a tool that (Netherlands) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) uses to help practitioners and decision-makers develop an integrated strategy for stabilizing a country and provide a basis for sustainable development.
- Pay attention to ‘religious moderates’ and ‘religious conservatives’- donors should not only regard ‘religious moderates’ as possible drivers of change, but also ‘religious conservatives’. Further exploration should be made of the possibilities for establishing true dialogue with conservative, politicised and religious groups in order to engage them in peace-building.
- Undertake extra efforts in identifying Muslim peace-building actors. Muslim peace-building actors are often not organized in the form of NGOs or other institutions, and often consist of individuals in the community, as such, they are relatively invisible. Donors should also develop a tailor-made approach for strengthening Muslim actors’ peace- building capacities.