Raised as a conservative, Sunni Muslim girl in Canada, Yasmine Mohammed said she was taught to always be in fight mode.
“The first thing Islam teaches you is to not question, but follow,” she says. And what she had to follow was a “Muslim supremacy ideology” that called for violence against anyone who fell out of line and full armies prepared to join the fight when the caliphate was to rise.
Systematic suppression of critical thinking is what makes Muslims ripe to join groups like the Islamic State group or become suicide bombers without questioning the motives of their directives, she says.
As a radical sect of Buddhist nationalists persecute the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wages on and a film challenging the Orthodox Church spurs violent protests in Russia, it seems that asserting sovereignty is the only thing the world’s religions can agree on today.
In a recent Best Countries survey of more than 21,000 people from all regions of the world, the majority of respondents identified religion as the “primary source of most global conflict today.”
Spiritual beliefs create an inherent “us vs. them” scenario, experts say.
“When societies shatter, they generally shatter along tribal lines. People are seeing themselves as irretrievably different from their neighbors,” says Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher who has published books on Islam and the conflict between religion and science.
The divisions created by religion are deeper and potentially more harmful than those formed through other aspects of identity such as race, nationality or political affiliations because they confront individuals with differing opinions on the ultimate purpose of life, experts say. And more than 80 percent of those surveyed said that religious beliefs guide a person’s behavior.
“Religion often becomes the master variable,” Harris says. “It provides a unique reward structure. If you believe that the thoughts you harbor in this life and the doctrines you adhere to spell the difference between an eternity spent in fire or one spent on the right hand of God, that raises the stakes beyond any other reward structure on earth.”