Oftentimes religion and politics are seen as strange bedfellows. The usual sentiment is to keep the two separate. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” is the cry of those who see these two as separate and distinct with no room for collaboration.
I have always argued that there is room for both faith and politics to work together for the betterment of society. Faith brings that moral compass so greatly needed in politics and helps to provide the guidance in doing what is right by the people.
I know that both politicians and religious practitioners have over time abused both entities for their own personal gain but those examples must be seen as the exception rather than the rule.
Engaging faith-based organisations in Barbados in the political arena adds value to the discussion and keeps in check the tendency to go into behaviour that is abusive and insulting.
That engagement must be genuine and aimed at fully utilizing the unique skills and talents that faiths can contribute to national development.
A careful analysis of faith-based organizations will recognise the many positive actions that they carry out on their own or collectively. From encouraging moral behaviour to impacting the lives of the needy and vulnerable in society, faith-based groups play a pivotal role in a wide spectrum of activities that help uplift the country. Their economic contribution cannot be underestimated either.
Drawing upon this otherwise untapped resource to help Government in fulfilling its promise to have a better Barbados is a very welcomed exercise.
I, therefore, commend the Barbados Labour Party on its Manifesto’s plans to include faith-based organizations in many areas in the re-building of Barbados. This is certainly a welcomed initiative. Under the caption We are a People of Faith they have proposed the following:
“Barbados is a faith-based society. Our national anthem highlights that faith. The BLP will respect the diversity of religious traditions in our country, recognising the critical role of the Church and other faith-based organizations as important social institutions.
In that regard, in our effort to rebuild Barbados, the BLP will:
“Establish a Social Committee of the Social Partnership, on which faith-based organizations will be invited to serve and to join with Government in important social interventions and new community-based initiatives. Throughout the Manifesto, we have identified specific initiatives to ensure that the Church and faith-based organisations are central to our effort at social rebuilding.
Seek the support and partnership of the Church at the national level in our effort to rescue, restore and rebuild Barbados, to build strong communities and enable Barbadians to live better lives.
To give further weight to this approach, just as there has traditionally been a Chaplain to the Parliament, the BLP WILL NOW –
Appoint Chaplains to the Cabinet and the Judiciary, inclusive of judges and magistrates.”
Faith-based organizations have also to recognise the important role they play and can play and ensure that they involve themselves in the national life of the country.
From several platforms during this election campaign, I have heard criticism of faith groups not being the watchdogs for several actions that these politicians feel are wrong. Whether such criticism is justified or not is left to the listener to judge. What is noteworthy is that there is the recognition that there is a role for the faith-based groups in our democracy.
Respective governments over the years have also recognised and engaged the religious bodies on the island in various ways.
Under the Owen Arthur administration, I had the opportunity to sit as a representative of the Muslim community on the Religious Advisory Committee on National Affairs (RACNA). This committee was made up of representatives of the various religious groups represented on the island and was headed by the Bishop of Barbados. It came under the Prime Minister’s portfolio. It was a voluntary grouping given the opportunity to advise the government on policies from a faith-based perspective. It also provided the opportunity for the various faith groups to interact and understand each other. Such groups are vital in helping create harmony in any society. We learned from each other and grew to appreciate each other’s faith and perspective even more.
The expressed recognition and respect for the diversity of religious traditions in Barbados in the BLP’s Manifesto reflects the long-standing tradition of acceptance of the religious plurality found in Barbados.
As a religious minority in Barbados for the past 100 and more years, we have always been comfortable in the practice of our faith here. We have never felt that we are not welcomed. And so should it continue to be. And equally, Muslims must continue to contribute to the development of Barbados and be involved in all levels of the society giving the best they can. Our faith and diverse backgrounds can certainly bring new ideas and opportunities that can help build a better Barbados. These ideas can be tapped into and explored.
Lifting Barbados up requires all hands and if all persons in the society can work together, then we can together achieve success. And so the recognition of what many would consider as another religious minority, the Rastafarian faith, is also welcomed in the BLP Manifesto.
The faith-based groups are in the best position to get the communities in which they serve to uplift themselves and this must not only be seen in the spiritual sense but must be done in all aspects of life. The priests, imams, pundits, rabbis must go forth among the people and minister, console, listen, engage and help. Leave the pulpits from time to time and engage the flock so that a true appreciation can be obtained of the people that they serve. And in turn, they can report to the political leaders the needs and offerings of their respective congregations and by extension their communities.
I truly hope that the promises outlined in the Manifestos of the respective parties contending the upcoming elections are fulfilled by whoever is gifted the reign of Government by the electorate.
And I also hope that faith-based groups can continue to play an important role in the development of Barbados in all sectors.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)