The topic of migration and refugees is one of the most hotly debated issues in the world today. This is in part due to the influx of refugees to Europe and other parts of the world due to sporadic conflicts and civil wars in different regions of the world. People migrate to other places for various reasons. These range from escaping war, poverty, looking for better living conditions, or in search of better social amenities (Kim, 2012). The main themes that feature in discussions about migration include the legal, religious, and social ramifications of refugees. In other words, how do governments and other authorities ought to respond to migration and its challenges? Different scholars have voiced different opinions on the matter, and there have been numerous scholarly studies and reports giving direction on how to deal with some of the pertinent issues (Kim, 2012). A theological approach seems to be one of the most vocal approaches when it comes to migration. This is because of the place and role of migration in theology.
Historically, most of the leading religions in the world have been spread through migration. In the Judeo-Christian religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, migration forms the core of their faith or religious beliefs. Firstly, there is the story of Abraham, the Patriarch of faith in Judeo-Christian beliefs, who was instructed by God to move from his abode to Canaan, the Promised Land. The story of Lot in the Old Testament and the Quran also features Lot moving with his family from Sodom to run away from the iniquities that had become prevalent in Sodom and Gomorra. Similarly, the narrative of the Israelites, who moved from Egypt to Canaan under the leadership of Moses to be emancipated from slavery, is one of the central points in the Judeo-Christian religions.
In the Christian faith, Jesus moved from one place to the other, performing miracles and spreading his message throughout Jerusalem and into Galilee. He moved together with his disciples and his followers to new places teaching to different multitudes of people (Canaan & Phan, 2013). Migration also becomes clear when the Apostles follow the command of Jesus to take His message to all corners of the world (Groody, & Campese, 2008). This is most notably exemplified by the apostolic journeys and missions that Paul undertook to spread the Gospel in modern Europe and parts of Asia. Early converts to Christianity followed suit and reached out to other continents in the 18th and 19th centuries during the period of colonization in African and South America (Kim, 2012).
Thus, the topic of migration is a significant aspect of religion. The challenges that refugees and migrants face today are reminiscent of the challenges the previous generations encountered. For instance, hostility, diseases, and in some cases death can be cited as the major challenges the refugees face (Groody, & Campese, 2008). Therefore, the problems arising from migration today can be tackled by invoking religious beliefs to try to understand why people move from one place to the other to be able to determine the best approaches to helping them.
For example, from the illustrations of the migrations of Abraham, Lot, and Israelites, one theme seems to feature as the motivation for migration. This the search for better living conditions with the faith and belief that the destination provides better prospects of life (Kim, 2012). Therefore, when people move from their homes, they usually seek a better environment where they can have peace and tranquility and be in an environment where they can maximize their potential (Groody, & Campese, 2008). Like all humans, refugees deserve to be in a place where they are free of poverty, diseases, war, crimes, and poor living conditions.
Conversely, the concept of migration in the New Testament can be seen in terms of cultural exchanges. As Jesus moved with his disciples, he sought to teach people new ways of living and relating with God. He was a champion of transformation of the traditional ways of life into a more accommodative and inclusive culture. Similarly, his disciples and apostles that carried on his message after his death and subsequent resurrection. Hence, it is clear that when new people come to a place, the cultural exchanges can be helpful in transforming and improving the quality of life (Groody, & Campese, 2008). There is always something that residents can learn from refugees as well as teaching the refugees certain aspects of the local culture. This cultural exchange can form a foundation of promoting peace and harmonious coexistence in the world. Besides, the essence of globalization rests on the fact that people are free to move and interact with others around the world regardless of the geographical boundaries separating them (Kim, 2012).
In Islam, the movement or migration of Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) from Mecca to Medina is a significant point in the religion of Islam. This formed the basis of the Islamic Hajj, which is a religious pilgrim to the Holy Land, and one of the five pillars of Islam. Therefore, by moving from different parts of the world to congregate in Mecca, the Islamic religion symbolizes peace and unity of migration (Cruz, 2010). Migration should be a uniting factor between people from different cultural backgrounds. Hence, the need to accept and accommodate refugees is very clear from a theological perspective in most of the leading religious faiths in the world today.
Therefore, it is very crucial that refugees are accepted in their new places and given the best conditions to have a better life. The refugees are humans and deserve to be treated like so (Groody, & Campese, 2008). Religion offers a message of hope for those afflicted in different ways. Migrate, in one way of the other, have been inflicted some pain that they are trying to overcome by seeking a better place to start over again. Therefore, the least they deserve is care and concern for their wellbeing (Ahn, 2010). They do not care about the legal frameworks in place at their destinations, but rather seeking love and friendship to overcome the tribulations from the nasty experiences they may have gone through.
As a reflection on the problem of migration and the challenges the refugees or migrants go through, it is necessary to put oneself into the shoes of the migrants. This is the only way that one can understand the gravity of the challenges the refugees go through. Religion teaches a message of compassion, hope, love, and empathy (Ahn, 2010). Therefore, it is on this basis that religious organizations are out to promote acceptance of refugees. Significant religious leaders such as Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church have been unequivocal in their calls for creating a home for refugees and accepting them in their new places (Cruz, 2010). The theological background of migration is one of the few areas where different religious denominations and faiths are in congruence.
Migration theology has many different perspectives that are usually interpreted differently by various scholars and religious personalities. For example, there is the perspective of change or transformation, which implies that migration provides one with a new platform for personal change and a new start (Ahn, 2010). When one moves to a new place, it is incumbent upon them to accept their new status and figure out the best way to maximize their potential in their new environment. Thus, migration is necessary to facilitate change through the interactions that people have with migrants and refugees.
On the other hand, there is the aspect of spiritual transformation, which is usually linked to various spiritual symbols. According to most Christians, migration is meant for spiritual change as it meant for Abraham when he moved to (Canaan & Phan, 2013). Abraham formed a positive relationship with God through his faith as he adhered to Gods command to move to the new land (Cruz, 2010). He eventually became the father of many, as promised by God, through the growth and expansion of his lineage that became the nation of Israelites. Thus, migration should be viewed in terms of its spiritual aspect and the benefits it brings for strengthening ones faith in God for being saved from inhumane conditions like war (Cruz, 2010).
Ahn, J. J. (2010). Exile as forced migrations: A sociological, literary, and theological approach on the displacement and resettlement of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Cruz, G. T. (2010). An intercultural theology of migration: Pilgrims in the wilderness. Leiden: Brill.
Groody, D. G., & Campese, G. (2008). A promised land, a perilous journey: Theological perspectives on migration. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.
Kim, S. C. (2012). An immigration of theology: Theology of context as the theological method of Virgilio Elizondo and Gustavo Gutierrez. Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.
Padilla, E., & Phan, P. C. (2013). Contemporary issues of migration and theology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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