By Shreya C Shetty, B.A. LLB (Hons.)
SDM Law College
Table of Contents
Religion plays an important role since ancient times in many countries. It forms the basis of human existence in which the followers have to abide by moral rules. It refers to a way of life consisting of customs, traditions, and practices for the people to follow. Before the emergence of democracy, people were bound to obey religious laws and claim religious rights. Therefore, it is evident that religion played the role of law in primitive society and that gave rise to the formation of religious laws.
WHAT ARE RELIGIOUS LAWS?
Religious laws refer to ethical and moral codes of conduct preached by people from different religions. The rules came from the central deity and were enforced by the prophets. Some of the examples of religious laws are principles of the old testament called the biblical law followed by the Christians, Vedas and Dharmas preached by Hindu saints, the Islamic Sharia, Jewish Halakha, and so on. In fact, all religions teach to show respect towards society and other individuals. It is believed to unite people and bring harmony. But there arises a difference in how people interpret religion and it is their opinion which leads to conflicts. Hence, religion seems to divide people across the globe and causes violence.
Closely related to religion is religious crimes which unfortunately is an everyday fact most people are unaware of. Religious crimes are defined as any action which offends religious sensibilities and arouses serious negative emotions in people with strong belief. Instances of violence in the name of religion can take various forms such as wars, hate crimes, physical assault, blasphemy, persecution, etc. Thus, crimes in religion have been a global problem since mankind can recall.
Forms of religious crimes
Religious crimes can be of different types namely:
- Religious wars – This is an extreme form of religious crime. Religious differences have wreaked havoc in the form of wars in many countries. Some of them are – the French Wars of Religion, Muslim invasions, Spanish invasions, the Indo- Pakistan War of 1947-48, etc.
- Religious Persecutions – It refers to systematic ill-treatment of individuals or members of a particular religious group due to their religious affiliation.
- Desecration of sacred places – This is one of the most common forms of violence which involves the destruction of mosques, temples, etc. Such activities further incite violence among the weaker religious groups.
- Verbal violence- This involves spreading hatred through false propaganda and defaming other religious groups.
- Gender violence – In most religious crimes, women, and children are the victims. The women are subjected to slavery, rape, abduction, and other sufferings.
- Forced Conversions – Generally, people are forced to convert to other religions against their will, under the fear of penalty, fines, discrimination, etc.
- Some of the most violent forms of religious crimes include – suicide bombing like the 9/11 incident where 2000 people were killed by the hijackers who were following Osama Bin Laden’s teachings, the Godhra train incident, Daesh genocide against the religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, etc.
Causes of Religious crimes
Several factors contribute to religious crimes. Let us discuss some of them.
- Communal ideology – The first and foremost factor which leads to religious crimes is the conflicting ideologies. Different religions have different perspectives on the way of life and oppose one another.
- Political organization– The government and political parties promote hatred by propagating a particular religion. This creates insecurity in the mind of a minority religion in that country and hence they tend to commit crimes.
- Poor implementation of Secular laws – The concept of ‘Secularism’ is very popular in many democratic countries of the world. Our Indian constitution has clearly stated secularism as one of the objectives of the Preamble. Due to political interference, religious laws dominate over these secular laws and leads to violence.
- Ineffective handling of crimes – This is an indirect factor leading to religious crimes. Most of the religious crimes go unreported and no proper action is taken against the perpetrators of crime.
- Religious intolerance – In countries like India which is known for its diversity, it is presumed that the people of different religions are tolerant of each other. In reality, it is the lack of religious tolerance and varying views which creates tensions between them.
- Economic interests – There is a lot of disparity seen in the standard of living among different religious groups. Some governments also tend to make discriminatory policies that align with a particular religion. This causes civil unrest and hostilities among different religious groups.
RELIGIOUS CRIMES IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
It is often presumed that in developed countries the crimes related to religion are less likely to take place. In reality, just like the developing countries, they too experience the menace of religious crimes. In the United Kingdom, the prevalence of Islamophobia is a threat to minority Muslim communities. There is unfounded hostility towards the Muslims and various hate crimes like mosque invasions, threatening letters, and throwing pork-related products in the mosque takes place. The Muslim women in the name of religion, are targeted and subjected to brutality. One such example is a pregnant lady being beaten up to an extent, causing miscarriage. Another developed country namely the United States of America has also seen a rise in hate crimes. The statistics on Religious hate crimes reported that one out of every five hate crimes targeted someone because of their religion. Out of the total religious-based offenses, 60.3% were anti-Jewish and 13.3% were anti-Islamic. Most of the hate crimes even go unreported and statistics given by the FBI are unclear.
Another incident that raises concern over the issue of Islamophobia is the Christchurch terror attack that took place in Australia, killing 49 people in New Zealand mosques. This has created fear and tension in the mind of minority Muslims. According to the study conducted by the NSW Police Force, it reported that majority of hate crimes were religious-based targeting Muslims. They were in the form of verbal abuse, vandalism, assault, discrimination, and so on. In China too, there has been exploitation and forcible conversions of minority religions like the Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, etc. Such violence is also seen in other developed countries.
RELIGIOUS CRIMES IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
The first example that strikes us is our own Country India, which is known for its diversity. We come across instances of religious violence in the newspapers every day. Most notably, it involves the Hindu-Muslim fights like the famous Babri Masjid incident, the Godhra Train Incident which sparked tensions between the two groups. In addition to this, there were atrocities committed by the Islamic terrorist groups on the Kashmiri Pandits involving the destruction of the holy shrines, extermination, brutal torture, and other sufferings. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, there is a prevalence of Islam throughout the country. Restraints have been laid down on the Non-Muslims and they face discrimination in society. The government has prohibited public display of Non-Islamic religious articles and raided the church services that were being provided in the private homes.
In countries like Syria and Iraq, there have been mass killings, physical abuse, rape, sexual violence, and extortion against religious minorities. These atrocities are committed by Daesh- an Islamic militant group to eradicate the religious minorities. Religious crimes can occur in the form of simplest discrimination and denial of rights. In Pakistan, there is bias against the minority Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and they are falsely accused of derogatory remarks. There have been attacks on worshippers, churches, and Ahmadi mosques. The Christians feel the need for protection due to the increasing hate crimes that take place against them in Israel. The extremist groups, whether it is the Jews or the Muslims, preach hatred towards Christianity through education or political propaganda. Even the commission on Human Rights has heard several cases regarding religious discrimination and hate crimes in developing countries.
Many people have lost their lives, their loved ones, and even their shelters due to these religious crimes. Therefore, it is crucial to take some action against these crimes and not just look at them. The following are some of the suggestions to cope with this problem.
- Firstly, it is necessary to educate the children at a very young age to remove any kinds of religious bias or misconception on any religion. At a higher level, training can be provided to the police officers to effectively track these crimes and take strict actions.
- Secondly, secular laws must be implemented by all the countries. Secularism is a better concept as it treats all religions equally and ensures the basic rights of people irrespective of their religion. According to author Taslima Nasreen, an associate at the National Secular Society, India must adopt Uniform Civil Code which emphasizes the need to abolish religious personal laws and instead establish a system based on equality and justice.
- Thirdly, there is a need to update the existing legislation bypassing more stringent laws which punish these religious crimes. The laws should aim at ensuring basic human rights and promote diversity by allowing minority religious groups to take part in the functioning of the government and public bodies.
- Fourthly, the victims of these religious crimes must be able to participate in the criminal proceedings. This can enhance transparency and help in the process of reconciliation between the two groups. It can also help in neutralizing the ideological differences.
- Fifthly, the media and civil society organizations can play an important role in combating these religious crimes. They should try to align social media with crime legislation.
- Lastly, efforts should be made by the police officers to make sure that the victims of these hate crimes report the matters and action is taken against the perpetrators of the crime.
Religious crimes are an issue that affects too many people in both developed and developing countries. It will intensify and cause more harm to mankind if we act too late. It will not just impact the minority religious groups but also hinder the growth and economy of the countries. Therefore, it is crucial to strengthen the criminal justice system with better law enforcement agencies. Moreover, there should be a promotion of diversity and exchange of religious beliefs as that can instill tolerance and co-operation between the different religious groups. At the international level, these crimes can be reduced with stronger international organizations with better foreign policies. Hence, this topic needs to be thoroughly discussed and the countries should take proper steps to put an end to these crimes.
- Wikipedia (Religion) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion
- Religious Violence, Causes and Solutions https://www.hinduwebsite.com/ask/why-are-religions-destructive.asp
- Muslim Council of Britain (“Hate Crime and its violent Consequences: Written evidence submitted”), December 2016
- Expectant mother lost twins after ‘racially motivated’ car park attack, The Times, August 2016
- Statistics on Religious Hate Crimes https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/statistics-on-religious-hate-crimes
- The Babri Masjid Issue https://www.soundvision.com/article/what-is-the-babri-mosque-issue
- Saudi Arabia 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Riyadh (osac.gov) https://www.bing.com/search?q=https://www.osac.gov/Country/SaudiArabia/Content/Detail/Report/f6af335…&form=IPRV10
- The Atrocities of the Islamic State- Lausanne Movement https://lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-03/the-atrocities-of-the-islamic-state
- What is Secularism? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Secular_Society
- Crime in Religion (lawteacher.net) https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/criminal-law/crime-in-religion.
- Religious Legal Systems in Comparative Law: A Guide to Introductory Research – GlobaLex (nyulawglobal.org)