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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Economic Development and Religious Freedom by Fouad Makhzoumi

29 Aug, 2015

 Fouad Makhzoumi is a leading industrialist, philanthropist and statesman. In 1997, Mr. Makhzoumi founded the Makhzoumi Foundation, a private Lebanese non-profit organization that contributes through its vocational training, health care and micro-credit programs to Lebanese civil society development.

The following are Mr. Makhzoumi’s prepared comments for a 21st August 2015 address to the Rimini Meeting, a gathering attracting up to 800,000 people from across Italy and the world each summer.

This is part of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s new Leaders Speak series of talks and articles where business, religious and civic leaders speak out on countering violent extremism and increasing interfaith understanding and peace. For more on the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s own work on countering radicalization, see the Empowerment+ Initiative.  

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Religious freedom is a fundamental pillar of democracy, and we cannot talk about democracy in its absence. However, the process leading to religious freedom has been difficult and, could be characterized by discriminations, persecutions and religious wars.

Christians began as a persecuted group but then Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and later, for the Catholic powers of medieval Europe. The Catholics moved from being persecuted to intolerance as Inquisition and forced conversion in Central and Latin America have shown.

Europe has been ravaged by religious wars between Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century. Only after roughly 150 years of conflict the relationship between State and Church has been settled in Europe. Also in America dissenting religious groups were outlawed. A significant change came only with the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, which affirmed not just “toleration” of dissenters, but the “free exercise of religion.”

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, does not explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in the current conflicts in the Middle East, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions.

Early theological differences between Sunnis and Shias on the legitimate successor of the Prophet are still played today for political purpose.

Shias, like Catholics, believe that God always provides a guide, first the Imams and then Ayatollahs, or experienced Shia scholars who have wide interpretative authority and are sought as a source of emulation. Shi’ites believe that the 12th Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi is kind of the messiah figure, which Christians hold in Jesus (except non-divine). They think he did not ever die, but basically went into an extended mystical ‘hiding’ period which he is still in today. And that he will come again at the end of days, just before the return of Jesus and together they will usher in the apocalyptic era which will bring peace and true justice to the world before the resurrection and final judgment.

For Sunnis, like Protestants, authority is based on the texts, the Quran and the traditions of Mohammed. Sunni religious scholars are constrained by legal precedents. Sunni groups have no central authority they all report to. Even Osama Bin Laden at his height had multiple partners who were killed (like Abdullah Azzam) or sidelined (Ayman Al Zawahiri), not to mention that multiple branches of Al-Qaeda refused his direct orders like Zarqawi in Iraq (which later became ISIS).

Sunni militants like Muslim Brotherhood and now ISIS do not follow one particular school, only their perception of the Koran and the life examples of Muhammad and his companions; which they may interpret in their own way. This is why it is more difficult to tame Sunni radical groups.

Alongside the proxy battle is the renewed fervor of armed militants, motivated by the goals of cleansing the faith or preparing the way for the return of the messiah. Today there are tens of thousands of organized sectarian militants throughout the region capable of triggering a broader conflict.

Two points should be clear notwithstanding all the news you hear and watch:

(1) Muslims have not found yet, as the Christians did after 150 years of war, a reasonable compromise between State and Church; still today for many Muslims it is quite difficult to accept the concept of Nation State. This fact can help in understanding why the appeal of the Islamic State and for the rebirth of the Caliphate is so strong among certain Muslims and why there is still so much resentment in the Muslim world for the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924. This latter decision, even if executed by the Young Turks was unanimously attributed to a nefarious Western cultural influence.

(2) The overwhelming majority of the victims of Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism are Muslims and mainly Sunnis. Therefore, while I fully agree with the wise words of the of the Italian Republic President Mattarella in his message to this Meeting about the planting of the seeds of a Third World War by fundamentalism, I would also like to highlight that this war is mainly fought in the Middle East and its casualties are almost entirely Muslims.

rimini-stageToday, the majority of Muslim leaders have, of course, gone on record favoring religious freedom and tolerance, and with the sea of change happening now in the Muslim world, there has never been a better chance to apply the freedom principle. Moderate Muslims should insist upon religious freedom as an essential part of any new democratic order as it prevents instrumentalization and misinterpretation of religion and its political misuse.

Unfortunately, even nowadays, we are assisting in religious discrimination in many countries such as Switzerland against Muslims; China against Christians and Buddhists; and Iraq’s abuses of Christian, Yazidi and Kurdish minorities by IS militants.

We all know that economic development is driven by the freedom to develop new ideas, to test them and the related risk taking. A disproportionate share of the innovations and entrepreneurship that raises living standards occurs in cities because urban environments offer particularly great opportunities for expressing new ideas freely, challenging established ways of doing things, and experimenting. By the same logic, restrictions on producing, sharing, or executing ideas can limit economic development. Religious restrictions can hold back economic development by constraining to a larger extent what can be discussed, by narrowing the social spaces in which new ideas can be shared, by limiting communication among social groups, and by ruling out certain ideas merely because of their religious associations.

For decades, Turkey’s secular governments limited entrepreneurship outside of Istanbul and Ankara through policies that diminished the resources going to the businesses of devout Muslims. With the softening in the 1990s of these implicitly anti-Muslim policies, entrepreneurship received a massive boost and the country was transformed into an industrial country and one of the world’s top six tourist destinations. Releasing the resources, talents, and energies of devout Turks has played an important role in this rapid transformation.

Pakistan offers a sad example of a country that has harmed its economic development through cascading religious restrictions imposed in the name of religion. In stages since the 1940s, Pakistani Islamists have narrowed the definition of a good Muslim, stigmatized Muslims who interpret Islam differently, and declared certain strands of Islam heretical. They have limited the contributions that they and their followers could make to debates on economy.

Religious freedom does not automatically promote economic freedom, dynamism, development, and prosperity. The results depend partly on the unleashed political agendas. As essentially secular regimes allowed Islamists more political rights, some of the ideas that the latter promoted in the name of Islam did economic harm. As a case in point, in the 1970s Islamists in Egypt, Pakistan, and Libya, among other places, promoted the idea of “Islamic socialism,” which contributed to keeping Muslims wedded to economically inefficient state policies. During its year in power (2012-13), Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood resisted calls to reduce inefficient food and fuel subsidies, mainly on the ground that this would be unfair from an Islamic viewpoint.

Nevertheless, religious freedom generally promotes economic advancement by boosting other freedoms that are essential to economic development. Where religious freedoms are respected, people find it more natural to respect political, artistic, and social freedoms. This is a basic reason why international freedom rankings are highly correlated across contexts. Countries with high religious freedoms have high political freedoms, and vice versa. Religious freedom advances economic development by making people comfortable with diversity of opinion, the expression of new ideas, and challenges to vested interests.

But it is also important to remember the value religion provides for society as a whole. When we shift our attention to the benefits religion provides as a public good, then the case for protecting religious freedom becomes even stronger. Religious freedom is about respecting the rights of others to believe and worship according to their own consciences and then to live out those beliefs in their various walks of life.

Religious freedom thus energizes participation in civil society, which in turn supports democracy and economic development.

According to a study conducted in 2014 by researchers at Georgetown and Brigham Young Universities, religious freedom is one of the factors significantly associated with global economic growth. The research compared the GDP growth of 173 countries and found a positive relationship between religious freedom and 10 of the 12 pillars of global competitiveness. According to the study, among the effects of having religious freedom there are:

(1) Reduced corruption: Nine of the 10 most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty. This includes North Korea one of the most religiously restrictive countries.

(2) More peace: When religious freedoms are not respected, the result can be violence and conflict. Normal economic activities become vulnerable to disruption, with local and foreign investment driven away and sustainable development undermined.

(3) Less harmful regulation: Some religious restrictions can directly affect economic activity, creating legal barriers for import and export industries, using anti-blasphemy laws to attack business rivals, and others.

(4) Reduced liabilities: Stocks of Abercrombie & Fitch dropped when news broke that the clothing retailer had allegedly refused to hire a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, potentially a violation of American equal opportunity employment laws. By avoiding religious discrimination in the workplace, businesses can avoid such liabilities.

(5) More diversity and growth: Freedom of religion can contribute to a rich pluralism that is itself associated with economic growth. For instance, the world’s 12 most religiously diverse countries each outpaced the world’s economic growth between 2008 and 2012, according to recent research. A study led in part by Professor Ram Cnaan, of the University of Pennsylvania, finds that a wide diversity of religious congregations in a city contributes many millions of dollars to the economy through direct spending and activities ranging from educational and health services to a network of relationships that helps provide jobs and a safety net for those facing hard times.

Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Such has occurred in the ongoing cycle of religious regulations and hostilities in Egypt, which has adversely affected the tourism industry. A few current examples from the Muslim-majority countries, which are countries with particularly high levels of religious restriction, illustrate how the lack of religious freedom contributes to worse economic and business outcomes.

Religious restrictions in Muslim-majority countries take many forms. One direct religious restriction that affects economic freedom involves Islamic finance. For instance, businesses involved in creating, buying, or selling Islamic financial instruments can find themselves in the situation that one Islamic law board deems a particular instrument acceptable while another board does not, making the instrument’s acceptance on stock exchanges subject to differing interpretations of Islamic law. Other examples include the banning of Hollywood films in some Arab countries for religious reasons and the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to attack business rivals.

And it is not difficult in a Region, the MENA, where the young population constitutes more than 40% of the total adult population and registers the highest unemployment rate in the world, as for the IMF data.

On this regard, it is very interesting how the original and authentic concept of Jihad has been transformed by ISIS from a personal spiritual battle that every person is constantly requested to fight within his inner soul, and eventually, in rare cases, towards real enemies into a fight against not only the representatives of all the other religions and secular powers, but also against the moderate Muslims, perceived as a product of the Western culture.

One of the first actions to be taken in support of economic development and inclusive growth is, without any doubts, job creation and with jobs come dignity, stability, choice, and typically moderation. The estimated need for MENA region is of over 100 million new jobs in this decade.

Unfortunately, the current political and economic situation, characterized by wars and uncertainty, makes this task even harder. The solution could not be found in large governmental employment programs or welfare state policies; entrepreneurship must fuel the next generation of jobs.

To encourage entrepreneurship, governments need to reform the regulatory framework reducing the time and the cost of setting up a business as well as the barriers to operate including severe laws on local ownership, bankruptcy, labor relations. The movement of goods and services must be relaxed and protectionist policies need to be stripped away.

In Dubai, for example, where my company is headquartered, business friendly policies have meant that thousands of new companies have incorporated in the last year alone. Dubai has solidified its position as the regional business capital. The supportive steps the UAE took include free zones to allow international investments within commonly recognized corporate structures, relatively fast and efficient incorporation practices, more transparent regulations, and lower barriers to the movement of global talent and capital.

A more comprehensive and inclusive growth could lead to better results both at the social and economic level. One of the elements that can foster this process is, without any doubts, religious freedom and tolerance that are the way to peace and stability, the pillars of economic development. Where stability exists, in fact, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in new and emerging markets as it has been proved by the 2014 study by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Religious freedom is a key ingredient to peace and stability, as measured by the absence of violent religious persecution and conflict. This is particularly important for business because where stability exists; there are more opportunities to invest and to conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.

Beyond promoting peace and stability, religious freedom can contribute to positive socioeconomic development in much the way that freedom in general does. Removing impediments to religious freedom facilitates freedom of other kinds. Religious freedom is highly correlated with the presence of other freedoms, such that it can be considered part of a bundled commodity of social goods that have significant correlations with a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women. Indeed, when religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries. This is not the case of the Arab world.


Religious freedom helps tackle “small-p” poverty through “self reliance” – Case Study

17 Aug, 2015

Poverty, some argue, can only be effectively tackled by governments enforcing top-down, big-P Poverty reduction policies and programs. But a host of religious groups haven’t gotten the memo. Innovative faith-based initiatives worldwide are tackling poverty using bottom-up, small-p poverty alleviation approaches that empower individuals to be resourceful, resilient and self-reliant.

Also see: Poverty: What is is and what we’re doing to end it, by Anna Kučírková

Indeed, a central aspect of religious freedom is that it gives faith groups license to innovate and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and nations. But where religious freedom is curtailed, so are such innovations. For instance, reform-minded Saudi princess Basmah bint Saud argues, religion “should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.”

In this new installment of an ongoing series on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development, Brian Grim describes these small-p initiatives and concludes with a case study of how one faith group – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – is directly targeting and reducing poverty in its congregations worldwide. Such faith-based activities are facilitated by religious freedom and directly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Religious Freedom & Sustainable DevelopmentPoverty: Big-P vs. small-p

The causes of poverty are complex. On the macro, big-P level, Poverty is sometimes associated with systematic inequality far beyond the direct control of individuals. These can be national or global in scope.

Big-P trends at the national level may include such things as caste (e.g., India’s Dalits or untouchables), gender (e.g., Saudi Arabia’s socio-economic isolation of women), ethnicity/nationality (e.g., poverty among Native Americans) or religion (e.g., economic discrimination against Baha’is in Iran).

National governments try to address such systematic causes in various ways, including the Indian governments “scheduled caste” affirmative action programs, Saudi Arabia’s Fund for the Support of Women’s Projects under Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, and the U.S. government’s Tribal Law and Order Act.

Big-P trends at the global level cited by many include such things as the huge debts owed by developing nations to developed nations, despite earlier forgiveness of billions of dollars of debt. The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral, bilateral and commercial creditors try to address globalized symptoms through multiple programs including the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). And the United Nations works through the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the proposed 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On the micro, small-p level, poverty is often explained as a result of individual circumstances and/or characteristics. These include education, skills, connections, experience, intelligence, health, handicaps, age, work orientation, cultural orientation, etc.

Know how to fishFrom Aid to small-p Enterprise: “They already know how to fish!”

Religious groups are known for their programs to address poverty and/or care for the poor. For instance, almsgiving, one of the five pillars of Islam, is widely practiced by Muslims worldwide according to a Pew Research survey of 38,000 Muslims. And Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and many other faiths have a wide variety of organizations to care for the poor. And earlier this year, global religious and faith-based leaders convened at the World Bank to issue a call and commitment to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Familiar to many is the work of global organizations like Caritas, which shares the mission of the Catholic Church to serve the poor and to promote charity and justice throughout the world. Caritas development initiatives range from investment and training in agriculture and business to building homes and schools. Among other well know initiatives is World Vision, a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

What many people do not know is that faith-based thinking on poverty has moved far beyond just delivering aid or “teaching a man to fish.” As Doug Seebeck, president of Partners Worldwide, says, “They know how to fish! The oft-quoted Chinese proverb tells us that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. People at the margins know how to fish, but they don’t have access to the pond. They aren’t able to engage and participate in the economic systems, markets, relationships, networks of support and collaboration and cooperation, tools, and models many of us take for granted.”

Such faith-based poverty alleviation programs are using a bottom-up, small-p approach. For instance, PovertyCure, a new faith-based network of some 300+ partner organizations working in 144 countries highlights how people have moved from poverty to prosperity, sharing what faith leaders have learned along the way.

This new wave focuses on “self-reliance” or “self-empowerment” rather than the delivery of aid, or as Alejandro A. Chafuen writing in Forbes puts it, From Aid To Enterprise: How To Intelligently Cure Poverty. Chafuen is a senior fellow with the Acton Institute, which is one of the lead sponsors of PovertyCure. The Acton Institute seeks to propel this approach within faith-based communities by integrating Judeo-Christian teachings with free market principles. While the Acton Institute is not a Catholic organization, it is led by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is influencing the thinking of many U.S. Catholics. (See an Acton critique of the recent Papal encyclical on the environment.)

The Economic Principles of Self-reliance

More than moneyIs poverty and the lack of empowerment it brings inevitable? No, says author Paul Godfrey, Professor of Strategy and Associate Academic Director of the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management. In his recent book, More than Money (Stanford University Press, 2013), he shows how organizations can win the fight against poverty and create prosperity for people at the base of the pyramid in the developing and developed world.

Godfrey argues that small-p poverty alleviation can have a big impact. More than Money provides an excellent survey of how five types of interrelated capital — institutional, human, social, organizational, and physical — enable development and sustainable growth. “Little p poverty gives way to individual and family flourishing when self-reliance leads individuals to acquire, employ, leverage, and preserve all five types of capital,” says Godfrey.

Godfrey’s work builds on three key lessons he has learned about the process and promise of eliminating poverty: First, we don’t eliminate poverty; individuals and families work themselves out of poverty and into prosperity. Second, eliminating poverty requires more than money, which alone often ends up in alleviating the symptoms of poverty but usually fails to create lasting solutions. Third, work, when it is most effective, requires organization. An effective organization has the capability to look past the thick branches of poverty and attack the roots. The following short videos by Paul Godfrey outline self-reliance economic principles.



Case Study: LDS Self-Reliance Global Initiative

Perhaps the most widespread and well developed new model of this enterprise-based, bottoms-up approach to tackling poverty is one carried out by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Religious freedom is a critical element to the LDS Church’s ability to deliver this innovative initiative to their members in countries worldwide, including some of the world’s poorest. Where religious freedom is limited, the LDS Church has greater difficulty in carrying out the initiative, if it can do so at all.

Doctrinal Basis

Theological reasoning is a common element of many faith-based programs to alleviate poverty. For Muslims, it is one of the faith’s five pillars. For Catholics, it is often expressed as a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable based on the basic moral test contained in the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46).

As a Catholic myself, I’ve been particularly struck by the innovative approach to poverty alleviation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons or Latter-Day Saints (LDS). For members of the LDS Church, attending to the needs of the poor is not only counted as service to God, but seen as essential to retaining a remission of one’s sins and walking guiltless before God (see Attitudes Toward Poverty by David J. Cherrington in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

To help fulfill this mission to the poor and needy, the LDS Church established an extensive Welfare Services program in 1935. Among the many faith-based approaches to poverty alleviation, this program is also animated by the church’s teaching on what Mormons refer to as “self-reliance.” The purpose of LDS welfare program is to “promote self-reliance and to care for and serve the poor and needy.”

Indeed, work is a guiding principle in the LDS Church’s welfare program, which directly involves promoting self-reliance as a way of life. President Thomas S. Monson, considered by Mormons to be a living prophet, has taught that self-reliance — “the ability, commitment, and effort to provide the necessities of life for self and family” — is an essential element of human temporal and spiritual well-being. For Mormons, “temporal welfare” is a term that deals with people’s condition on earth, and is intrinsically tied to a person’s spiritual condition.

The Global Initiative

The LDS Church now reports that it has more members outside the United States (8.9 million) as it has in the U.S. (6.5 million). Much of this growth has occurred recently, particularly in Mexico, South and Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region.

LDS Church leaders found that many of its members in these new growth areas struggled with temporal welfare issues, i.e., poverty, jobs, education and business skills. To address this, in just a few years years the LDS Church has rolled out a global self-reliance initiative, one that many Mormons in the U.S. don’t know about because it has not yet been rolled out in the U.S. The initiative began in sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin and South America, and is only now being rolled out in Europe. The U.S. will be the last region for the initiative.

The reason the initiative was able to be rolled out globally with relatively modest costs is that it is not an independent program, but a voluntary service provided through each congregation. Instead of creating a new infrastructure to offer the self-reliance services, they are provided as a regular program of the congregations, somewhat similar to how Sunday School classes are a standard feature of any congregation. The main difference is that instead of being based in a single LDS congregation (called a ward), a group of LDS congregations (called a stake, usually made up of five to twelve wards) go together to have one ward be designated to host a Self-Reliance Center, where members of any of the congregations in the stake can come for assistance.

What Are Self-Reliance Centers?

Self-reliance centers provide Internet access, mentoring, and other helpful resources to job seekers, the self-employed, and prospective students. Stakes establish self-reliance centers in Church buildings; they are staffed by missionaries and volunteers. A self-reliance center may share a location with existing family history centers, which are also spread worldwide.

Services Offered

Self-reliance centers are places where returning missionaries, unemployed or underemployed LDS Church members, and others struggling with self-reliance can receive assistance. In the centers, members receive guidance that will help them learn practical steps to become self-reliant as well as the doctrines of self-reliance.

The centers have curriculum and offer services on topics such as: How to start or grow your business; How to find employment; How to gain a good education; Personal mentoring; and Networking opportunities.

education-for-better-work-eng   my-job-search-eng   starting-and-growing-eng   my-foundation-eng   my-path-pef-self-reliance-eng

The LDS Church has documented the initiative’s success among their members in a series of videos, several of which are included below.

Self-Reliance Initiative Impact

Dorothy: Groundnut Paste – A self-employment group member discusses how the program taught her to expand her product offering to better meet the needs of the customer. (3:27 min.)

Bishop Diaz – A bishop discusses the economic challenges his members face and how the self-reliance program has helped them. (1:59)

Rafael: Job in 6 days! – A job search group member discusses his successful six-day job search following a period of seven months of unemployment. (2:20)

Daniel & Christiana: General Store – A self-employment group member discusses how the program taught him marketing and better customer relations. He also discusses the role of prayer and faith in his business. (3:04)

Education for a Better Life – Elder Joseph W. Sitati discusses how he overcame hurdles to get a good education in Kenya. Pursuing an education allowed him to find his wife, a secure job and the gospel of Jesus Christ. (4:55)

More resources on overcoming small-p poverty

Paul Godfrey: radio interview

Jason Musyoka, South Africa’s New Middle Class and its Entanglement with Big ‘P’ and Little ‘P’ Poverty

Christiaensen, Luc, Lionel Demery, and Stefano Paternostro, “Macro and micro perspectives of growth and poverty in Africa,”. The World Bank Economic Review, Vol. 17, no. 3 (September 2003), pp. 317-347.

More on India and Saudi Arabia

BBC News, “India’s Dalits still fighting untouchability,” BBC, 27 June 2012.

Fadaak, Talha Female Poverty in Saudi Arabia: A study of poor female headed households, social policies and programmes in Jeddah City, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2012.

Mosse, David, “A Relational Approach to Durable Poverty, Inequality and Power,”The Journal of Development Studies  Volume 46, Issue 7, 2010.

Nelson, Soraya Sarhaddi, “Poverty Hides Amid Saudi Arabia’s Oil Wealth,” NPR, May 19, 2011.

Shah, Ghanshyam, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar, Untouchability in Rural India, Sage Publications, 2006.

Kevin Sullivan, “Saudi Arabia’s riches conceal a growing problem of poverty,” The Guardian, January 1, 2013.

Brazil: Historic meeting, with 207 Deputies, 12 Senators supporting religious freedom

13 Aug, 2015

Brazil-parliament-meetingPRESS RELEASE: Aug. 11, Brasilia – Eduardo Cunha, President of the Brazil’s House of Representatives, joined the first Parliamentary Committee for Religious Freedom, chaired by Congressman Moroni Torgan

With the slogan: “Don’t just believe. We must respect!” The Parliamentary Front for Religious Freedom announced the signed participation of 207 Deputies and 12 Senators in the common goal of guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.

Government officials, religious leaders, non-governmental organizations and the business sector united to support this right, highlighting the need for greater tolerance as a way to peace.

Brazil Congress President CunhaThe matter is of such importance that the event was attended by Eduardo Cunha (pictured at center), the President of the House of Representative. Cunha highlighted that “the State is secular but parliamentarians might have a religious faith – religious freedom guarantees everyone the right to express their beliefs, including parliamentarians.”

For Congressman Moroni Torgan (pictured right of center), “the Parliamentary Committee for Religious Freedom is an instrument for the institutions of the most varied religions and denominations, for believers and even for atheists, to ensure everyone has the right to believe or not.” He added, “respecting the diversity of beliefs is as important as the very right to believe or not to believe; then we can also learn from each other.”

Business & Interfaith Peace AwardsThe event was cosponsored by the Brazilian affiliate of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (ALRN), which recently signed a partnership agreement with the United Nations Global Compact for the Global Business & Interfaith Understanding Awards to be presented in the host city of each summer and winter Olympics, beginning with Rio in 2016.

“Brazil today is one of the most populous countries with the lowest level of government restrictions on religious freedom, according to a Pew Research investigation,” stated Dr. Ricardo Cerqueira Leite (pictured at far right), President of ALRN, during the first Parliamentary Committee for Religious Freedom meeting at the National Congress in Brasilia.

“But,”Cerqueira Leite asked, “if we are in the leading place among countries in terms of freedom of religion, why do we need establish a Parliamentary Committee for Religious Freedom?” He explained that “Brazil should exercise a global leadership role in the protection of religious freedom.”

TorgonDr. Damaris Kuo, from OAB (the Brazilian BAR Association) and expert in the matter, also emphasized that vigilance is key: “Brazil will only be a country with real religious freedom when the constitutional rules protecting this right get fully applied.”

The importance of being a secular state was the focus of Congressman Eros Biondini comments, stressing that “we must know how to interpret the meaning of the secular state, for indeed it is a great support of religious freedom that not only guarantees us the right to belief but, to choose different faiths.”

In the list of greetings and presentations were representatives from different organizations and religions, including Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals of different denominations, different streams of African religions, among many others. Mr. Moroni Torgan stressed that “what unites the Congressional group is the right to use  free will to choose to believe or not. And this can be done with great respect and peace.”

The multi-party Parliamentary Committee for Religious Freedom was created in February this year by Congressman Moroni Torgan (DEM-CE), who is also head of the important Parliamentary Public Security Committee and the author of the proposal to install a CPI for  Drug Trafficking (1991).

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Dr Brian Grim joins St Mary’s as Visiting Professor

13 Aug, 2015

Grim-joins-st-marysDr Brian Grim has joined St Mary’s University, Twickenham as a Visiting Professor within the School of Management and Social Sciences. Dr Grim will work closely within the School to consider religious freedom within the context of business, human rights and community cohesion. In particular the School will work with Dr Grim on his empowerment initiative to counter radicalisation.

Dr Brian Grim is President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and a leading expert on international religious demography and the socio-economic impact of restrictions on religious freedom. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s council on the role of faith and an advisor for the religion and geopolitics project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. He is an associate scholar at the Religious Liberty Project at Georgetown University and an affiliated scholar at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.

St Mary’s Vice-Chancellor Francis Campbell said, “We are very pleased Brian has decided to join us. He will play a key role at St Mary’s as the School of Management and Social Sciences considers the intersection between religious freedom and business.”

Dr Brian Grim said, “I am excited to join St Mary’s at an exciting time for the University. Its open approach and outward facing stance will be vital for the growth of this historic institution. I look forward to playing my part in its future.”

Dr Brian Grim is the latest in a series of high-profile appointments as former Secretary of State for Education Ruth Kelly is to join St Mary’s in a new role as Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, while former Irish President Mary McAleese was made Distinguished Professor in Irish Studies. This year St Mary’s celebrates its165th anniversary. The milestone is being marked by a number of high-profile events, including the installation of Cardinal Vincent Nichols as Chancellor in a service at Westminster Cathedral in May this year.


Seven Ways Religious Freedom Contributes to Sustainable Development

10 Aug, 2015

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is publishing a new series of analysis and data on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) as follows: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

An oft used definition for Sustainable Development is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, 1987).

7 ways Religious Freedom helps Sustainable DevelopmentSo, what might be the connection between these seemingly very different concepts?

Of course, social dynamics are complex and causal mechanism are multifaceted, and religious freedom is not a silver bullet or secret solution to the world’s ills. Nevertheless, the role of religious freedom – and its manifestations in interfaith and intercultural understanding and cooperation – are often overlooked contributors to positive socio-economic outcomes and sustainable development.

There is no doubt that strong markets and strong societies go hand in hand, and good business is about good relationships. But even the most principled and socially responsible companies are challenged to thrive in communities marked by instability and conflict, to find skilled labour where adequate education is lacking and where discrimination is present, or to withstand natural disasters and changing climates.

The following research summary indicates that religious freedom contributes to sustainable development – and its underlying socio-economic foundations – in a number of ways, including (1) fostering respect for differing faiths and beliefs, including people with no particular faith; (2) helping to reduce corruption by allowing faith-based ethics to be voiced; (3) engendering peace by defusing religious tensions thereby reducing religion-related violence and conflict; (4) encouraging broader freedoms; (5) developing the economy as religious groups play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries; (6) overcoming the over-regulation associated with such things as coercive blasphemy laws; and (7) multiplying trust among employees whose faith and beliefs are respected.

First, religious freedom fosters respect by protecting something that more than eight-in-ten people worldwide, 84 percent according to a recent Pew Research study, identify with a religious faith – and this figure is growing. Indeed, according to a 2015 global study published in Demographic Research, social scientists were wrong to predict the demise of religion. The study and its related Pew Research Center report show that people who are religiously unaffiliated (including self-identifying atheists, agnostics and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular”) will drop to 13% of the world’s population in 2050, down from 16% in 2010. These are both significantly lower than the peak in the 1970s under communism when nearly one-in-five people were religiously unaffiliated

Given that so many people are attached to a faith, to violate the free practice of religion runs the risk of alienating the mass of humanity, something that certainly would not be ideal for morale and socio-economic progress. Indeed, forcing the 16 percent of people with no specific religious attachment to have a religion would likewise be alienating. Religious freedom ensures that people, regardless of their belief or nonbelief, are accorded equal rights and equal opportunity to have a voice in society.

Second, religious freedom reduces corruption, one of the key ingredients of sustainable economic development. For instance, research finds that laws and practices burdening religion are related to higher levels of corruption. This is borne out by simple comparison between the Pew Research Center’s 2011 Government Restrictions on Religion Index with the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Eight of the ten most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty. Religious freedom also implies that business people can draw on religious values and moral teachings in their businesses. The attempt to force businesses to act as secular, neutral, value-free organizations may be one contributing factor to the corruption, greed and short-sighted decisions that lead to the global economic collapse of 2008 that still affects many people and nations today. Allowing religion to inform business ethnics certainly is an underused activity implied by religious freedom.

For a series of data charts and analysis on the contribution to religious freedom to lowering corruption, see the Weekly Number.

Third, research clearly demonstrates that religious freedom engenders peace by reducing religion-related violence and conflict. Conversely, when religious freedom is not respected and protected, the result is often violence and conflicts that disrupt normal economic activities. Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Such has occurred in the ongoing cycle of religious regulations and hostilities in Egypt, which has adversely impacted the tourism industry. More generally, religious freedom is a key ingredient to peace and stability, which is particularly important for business because, where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets. This is the topic of the 2011 Cambridge University Press book, The Price of Freedom Denied.

Fourth, religious freedom encourages broader freedoms that contribute to positive socio-economic development. Economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, for instance, argues that societal development requires the removal of sources of “unfreedom.” And restrictions on religious freedom are certainly a source of unfreedom. Removing impediments to religious freedom facilitates freedom of other kinds. And research finds empirical evidence or this relationship. Religious freedom is highly correlated with the presence of other freedoms and a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women. While correlations are not causation, the correlations suggest that a more robust future research agenda should focus on better understanding these connections because it appears the freedoms rise or fall together.

Fifth, religious freedom develops the economy. When religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries. For instance, sociologist Robert Woodberry finds that the presence of proselytizing Protestant faiths, i.e., faiths competing for adherents, was associated with economic development throughout the world in the previous century. Even before that, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized that such Protestant associations in the early U.S. of these sorts established seminaries, constructed inns, created churches, disseminated books, and founded hospitals, prisons and schools. And these contributions are not just a legacy from the past. Katherine Marshall, former director of the Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics at the World Bank and former director in the World Bank’s Africa and East Asia regions, also recognizes that faith communities not only provide education and health services but they also provide social safety nets for orphans, disabled people and people who fall behind.

Sixth, religious freedom overcomes over-regulation that accompanies certain types of religious restrictions that directly limit or harm economic activity. A few current examples from the Muslim-majority countries – a set of countries with particularly high religious restrictions – are illustrative of how the lack of religious freedom contributes to worse economic and business outcomes. Religious restrictions among Muslim-majority countries impacting businesses take many forms. One direct religious restriction impacting economic freedom involves Islamic finance. For instance, businesses involved in creating, buying or selling Islamic financial instruments can find the situation that one Islamic law (sharia) board deems a particular instrument acceptable while another board does not, making the instrument’s acceptance on stock exchanges subject to differing interpretations of sharia. Religious restrictions also include legal barriers for certain import and export industries, such as the halal food market and outright bans of certain blockbusters from the film industry. And, certain government laws and restrictions on religious freedom can stoke religion-related hostilities that disrupt markets throughout the region. Examples range from employment discrimination against women over such things as headscarves to the misuse of anti-blasphemy laws to attack business rivals. And perhaps most significantly for future economic growth, research shows that the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities can influence young entrepreneurs to take their talents elsewhere. (See Tarin & Uddin, Brookings)

And seventh, religious freedom multiplies trust. Religious freedom, when respected within a company, can also directly benefit a company’s bottom line. These include both lower costs and improved morale. An example of lower costs includes less liability for litigation. For instance, the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch fought and lost a religious discrimination case in 2013 related to firing a Muslim stock girl for wearing a scarf in violation of the company’s dress code. The case resulted not only in substantial legal costs but also negative national publicity. Respect for reasonable accommodation of religious freedom in the workplace can improve employee morale, increase retention of valued employees, and help with conflict resolution. Moreover, businesses may gain a competitive advantage by engaging stakeholder expectations that are increasingly demanding that companies play a positive role in addressing environmental, social and governance challenges. As recognized by business consulting group McKinsey & Company, the ethical stakeholder has clearly emerged and is on the rise. Important business stakeholders include business partners, investors and consumers, and a growing segment of ethically sensitive customers tend to prefer companies that are responsive to human rights. Indeed, consumer and government preferences given to human-rights-sensitive companies may give a company an advantage in competitive markets and enable it to charge premium prices and land choice contracts. And recognizing this human rights impact on branding, companies such as Gap have assumed shared responsibility for the conditions under which its goods are manufactured. (see Grim & Walsh)

Given that religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes – and especially sustainable development – advances in religious freedom are in the self-interest of businesses, governments and societies. While this observation does not suggest that religious freedom is the sole or even main anecdote to poor economic performance, it does suggest that religious freedom is related to economic success. Certainly, businesses would benefit from taking religious freedom considerations into account in their strategic planning, labor management and community interactions. For instance, when evaluating locations for future research and development operations, countries with good records on religious freedom may be a better environment to find societies open to innovation and experimentation.

Jason Smyth, 4-time Paralympian gold medalist, Goodwill Ambassador for Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards

3 Aug, 2015

PRESS RELEASE: We are pleased to announce that a new Goodwill Ambassador for the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards is Jason Smyth, a four-time Paralympian gold medalist – the world’s fastest Paralympic sprinter.

“I am honoured to be appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador and look forward to progressing the relationship between business and interfaith understanding. Just as sport creates a common bond between athletes, our shared faith, morals and ethics can create a similar bond when it comes to business.” – Jason Smyth

Jason is attempting to be the first visually impaired person to qualify for both the Olympics and Paralympics, hoping to take on Usain Bolt in Rio next summer.

The mission of a global Goodwill Ambassador is to increase interfaith understanding and peace worldwide by being a spokesman for the global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, which are being carried out in partnership with the United Nations Global Compact’s Business for Peace group.

Jason was born and grew up in Ireland. He was diagnosed with an eye disease at 9 years old which has reduced his vision to under 10%. In spite of this, he has been blessed to have achieved some fantastic things in life thus far. He won gold medals in both the 100m and 200m In Beijing 2008 at the Paralympic Games whilst breaking both world records.

At the Paralympic Games in London 2012, he repeated these achievements and won gold in both the 100m and 200m, again setting new world records and becoming the fastest Paralympic athlete ever.

He narrowly missed out on making the 2012 Olympics by 0.04s. This was the first attempt in his quest to be the first visually impaired athlete to make both Games in the same Olympiad which I hope to achieve in Rio 2016.

Jason SmithJason is married and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, making him a religious minority in Catholic-majority Ireland. He looks forward to being part of an interfaith Paralympian team of global Goodwill Ambassadors for interfaith understanding and peace, which is in the works. More to come, so stay tuned.

As 800,000 from 70 countries gather, Religious Freedom & Business Takes the Stage

3 Aug, 2015

Updated, September 2, 2015 

As 800,000 people from 70 countries gathered for the annual Rimini Meeting in late August, Fouad Makhzoumi, a leading Arab billionaire industrialist, joined EU vice president Antonio Tajani, RFBF president Brian Grim and others to address how religious freedom fosters development and counters extremism.

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On 21st August, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation president Brian Grim spoke on how economic development – including the foundation’s Empowerment+ initiative – can help counter violent religious extremism at a major international conference in Rimini, Italy. Pictured with Grim at left are Fouad Makhzoumi, a leading Lebanese industrialist, philanthropist and statesman, and Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Parliament.

The Rimini Meeting attracts up to 800,000 people from across Italy and the world each summer. The session on economic development as a way to counter violent extremism was held in collaboration with the European Parliament Information Office in Italy and the European Commission Representation in Italy.

Also see the comments of Fouad Makhzoumi, a leading industrialist, philanthropist and statesman. In 1997, Mr. Makhzoumi founded the Makhzoumi Foundation, a private Lebanese non-profit organization that contributes through its vocational training, health care and micro-credit programs to Lebanese civil society development.

Other speakers included Lucio Battistotti, Director of the European Commission Representation in Italy; and Michele Valensise, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The panel was introduced by Roberto Fontolan, Director of the International Center of Communion and Liberation, a global movement in the Catholic Church which has the purpose of forming its members in Christianity in order to make them coworkers in the Church’s mission in all areas of society.

Grim, commenting on the meeting, observed, “Having top business and government leaders participate was a perfect demonstration of how the mission of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is being accomplished.” The RFBF mission is to educate the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business, and engage the business community in joining forces with government and non-government organizations in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

Grim focused his comments on the foundation’s Empowerment+ pilot program with St. Mary’s University in London to counter radicalization. He said, “Integration and empowerment can help those at risk of radicalisation to follow a different course. This pilot initiative will field interfaith teams that (1) reach out to and mentor at-risk individuals, imparting empowering skills and networks by using an an empowerment+ toolkit to be used in groups, plus (2) catalyze sustainable businesses that increase integration and resiliency of non-integrated communities where extremism can grows (see rationale). Because the initiative will be staffed by volunteers from groups in civil society, it will be low cost but have high impact because it has the potential to equip many of thousands of volunteers to build relationships with many more thousands of people at risk.

The Empowerment+ initiative recognizes that people from any religious background are susceptible to becoming radicalized. For instance, the killing of a British Army soldier, Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby, in London on the afternoon of 22 May 2013 was by two men named “Michael” who were former Pentecostal Christians that became self-styled violent Jihadists. Therefore, the initiative focuses on helping people from all religious backgrounds.

rimini-stageParticipant Bios

NEW! Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2015

2 Aug, 2015

Yearbook 2015The Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill) presents an annual snapshot of the state of religious statistics around the world.

The 2015 issue highlights both global and local realities in religious adherence, from the demographics of the world’s atheists to the emigration of Christians from the Middle East. Other case studies include inter-religious marriage patterns in Austria, Muslim immigration to Australia, and methodological challenges in counting Hasidic Jews.

Edited by Brian J. Grim (Georgetown and Boston University), Todd M. Johnson (Boston University & Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Vegard Skirbekk (Columbia University), Gina A. Zurlo, (Boston University).

twn3See The Weekly Number for Yearbook editor Gina Zurlo’s take on some of the significant findings.


The Weekly Number (Q): Reflecting on all that’s in this year’s volume, how would you rate the importance of interfaith understanding and freedom of religion or belief?

Gina Zurlo (A): Interfaith understanding and freedom of belief are simply critical in today’s world, and their importance cannot be understated. With Christians from the Middle East in diaspora all over the world; Muslim immigration to traditionally-Christian countries; and a continued rise of interreligious marriages, the world can’t afford to ignore religious realities.

Every year large amounts of data are collected through censuses, surveys, polls, religious communities, scholars, and a host of other sources. These data are collated and analyzed by research centers and scholars around the world. Large amounts of data appear in analyzed form in the World Religion Database (Brill), aiming at a researcher’s audience. The Yearbook presents data in sets of tables and scholarly articles spanning social science, demography, history, and geography. Each issue offers findings, sources, methods, and implications surrounding international religious demography. Each year an assessment is made of new data made available since the previous issue of the yearbook.