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Why religious values are important in public service

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Added 6th February 2019 11:01 AM

Religion has been an important part of human civilization.

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Religion has been an important part of human civilization.


``A Critical Gap in Challenging Times’’

By Sheikh Muhammad Ali Waiswa

Religion has been an important part of human civilization. Anthropologists have theorised that after hunter gatherers settled down and began farming and forming communities the need to reduce tensions between people required some form of religion (Mann, 2011).

Another theory postulates that it was religion that led humankind to begin settling and farming in the first place.

This theory was developed by Cauvin (1997), who noted that social systems which have undergone significant changes have not done so because of farming.

He believed that people began to change in their views of themselves and their relations with the world, which led to a change in symbols and the ability to imagine a ‘’Supreme Being.’’ As a result of these shifting views of the self, a developed sense of the sacred eventually gave rise to civilization.

The theory is not far-fetched given archeological discoveries which may confirm that temples were built before there were settled communities.

Gobekli Tepe, in present day south Turkey, was built 11600 years ago and used for religious ceremonies. It was built by hunter-gatherers.

Agriculture developed around the temple to sustain the feasts held there (Dietrich, 2012; mann2011.)

To organise these feasts, it is likely that one of the world’s first bureaucracies was formed. There was no separation of religion and state: religion was the reason for the state-or in this case, the community.

Human civilisation has come a long way since those times and yet religion is still important in the lives of many people. Even in the most secular of societies religion plays a role in individual identity.

At its core, religion represents a set of values and these are still important, even in highly secular societies. Public administration has become the modern day science of government- and within it; values have become part of ethics.

There are many values that drive individuals to pursue a career in public service, regardless if they are elected or hired to the office. These values are associated with the common good, services to others, and social equity.

There are also deeper values like benevolence, which can be defined as love for others. Many of those who pursue these career see it as a calling in which they have a strong communitarian impulse.

These are all fundamental values found in religion (Lowery, 2010; Cunningham, 2005).

One of the key values that public administration and religion share is a belief in the importance of civil society.

The United States was founded on this idea. McConnell (2010) asserted that the founders saw religion as part of the formation of public character and opinion.

The first amendment, which outlines the non-establishment clause, was adopted to prevent the government from exercising control over religion.

The founders sought to create space for religion and thus the freedom of religion and to act on those religious beliefs became entrenched in the United States (McIntyre, 1993).

Religion can be a source of some of those lofty values that modern day secular regimes cherish without divulging into the church/Muslim –state divide discussion.

Ignoring the reality that public servants serve while being inspired by these values or that public policy is heavily influenced by these religious values does a disservice to the field.

It also forces a scientific, utilitarian rationalism on the human being that is rather alien to it. As pointed out by the example of Gobekli Tepe temple, humans are motivated through community values that are often embodied by religion.

The idea of the community being greater than the individual, and the individual fulfillment that is attained through that process, has been appreciated by social psychologists for some time.

Jesus addressed it in the Gospels. From Mark 10:42-45, according to New International Version: ‘Jesus called them together and said `you know that those who are regarded as rulers of Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.

Instead, whoever want to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even a son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’’ (pp.1065-1066)

In the above set of verses Jesus is distancing him and his community from those who do not believe i.e the Gentiles.

Those without faith rule over people and expect those they rule to serve them, those with faith do the opposite.

Their position of authority is not for gaining power and forcing their will up on others, but to serve others. How much better would our world be if those in power served their people instead of expecting opposite? Positions of power are not exploiting, but helping and facilitating the well-being of people.

In Islam, this tradition is represented by the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be up him, and his companions. It is known that even though he sat at the seat of what would become one of the greatest empires in the world, he lived in poverty until his death.

His condition even caused Umar ibn al-Khattab to lament, noting that the kings of Rome and Persia lived lavishly while God’s prophet slept on a cheap mat on a dirty floor. The prophet retorted that it is the next life that is better than this life.

He did not come to amass riches, but to serve God and people. Did not Jesus come to do the same thing? Did not many of the prophets pass on to the next world in a state of poverty?

Umar ibn Khattab would go on to become one of the greatest caliphs. There is a story in which, during a famine, he roamed the streets of medina at night.

He came upon a widow and her children, who were crying in their house. The woman was cooking, but explained to Umar that it was only water and stones so that her children would think it was food and fall asleep from their exhaustion.

Umar immediately felt guilty and responsible for the plight of this woman and her family and immediately fed them.

He then made it a point to ensure that he would ascertain the conditions of his people and not rely on them begging to know that they were needy, He exemplified public service that is directly linked with the meaning of the term Khalifa in Islam.

We live in a changing world and changing times. The prophets came with sound advice couched in essential values.

These have real meaning and utility that could be highly applicable today. Our societies are better off by appreciating and learning from these values.

The world’s faithful are better off by understanding each other and how these values are the same or similar across faiths.

Those that administer are better off by viewing themselves as responsible for the ills in their society and serving and upholding the will of the people. Communities are better off when they value the community and its maintenance.

Selfishness only hurts the community and ultimately the individual. These values are just as important today as they were in the past. It would be advantageous if people learned from them even if they did not embrace the religious connotations behind them.

The writer is the Second Deputy Mufti of Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, the Imam of Makerere University Business School and a national population champion and executive board member of the Interreligious Council of Uganda









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