Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi, UK
At the close of the last millennium, the popular magazine The Economist published its famous obituary of God. Seven years later, it published a correction conceding the important role of religion in public life.
This March, households in England and Wales will complete the Census, a decennial survey run by the Office for National Statistics that provides important information about modern society. One of the questions asked is ‘What is your religion?’ The 2011 census found that 67% of the population identified themselves with a major faith.
Religious tends around the world do appear to fluctuate. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, according to Pew Research, the importance of God had declined in many European countries, such as in Spain where this fell from 71% (1991) to 45% (2019). However, it also found globally that religion is ‘very or somewhat important’ to 62% of people, and 61% agreeing that the Creator is too.
There have been interesting contrasts in the UK as well. The British Social Attitudes Survey (2016) found that just less than half of adults regard themselves as belonging to a religion, while a more recent study by the Christian thinktank Theos found that almost two thirds of people in London identify as being religious, with one in four attending a religious service at least once a month.
Certainly, Covid-19 has significantly changed the landscape of personal belief. A virus that the naked eye cannot even see has rendered the mightiest nations on this earth powerless. Lockdowns and restrictions in every continent have literally brought the world to its knees. Online searches for ‘prayer’ surged to the highest level ever; 36% of Americans who do not belong to any religion have sought Divine help for an end to the virus, and a rising number of ‘Generation Z’ Brits now say they believe in God.
Several factors have been cited for these figures, including high levels of religiosity among immigrants, higher birth rates in faith communities, and religion being the majority culture in many cities including in the UK. But they do not give the full picture. Clearly, the pandemic has exposed the limits of science and materialism and driven more people to explore spirituality for the first time. Thanks to the internet and social media, information about religion is at our fingertips.
There is no question that in dark times especially, religion and faith leaders have much to offer. From helping to calm tensions in society to providing solace and space for grief and contemplation, they continue to play an invaluable role in their local – and now – virtual communities.
Evidently, the technological revolution has ushered in a new spiritual age. At a time when there is growing emphasis on improved physical health and mental well-being, people are turning to practices usually associated with faith for inner peace and a better quality of life. For instance, many have taken up intermittent fasting, and workplaces now host meditation sessions.
Humans have always been fascinated by the ultimate questions about our place and purpose in the world, and many faith-based ideas continue to have appeal among the non-religious too. A study ‘Understanding Unbelief’ (2019) carried out by four universities in six countries including the UK, USA, China, and Brazil found that significant proportions of atheists and agnostics believe in life after death, reincarnation, and supernatural beings.
There are now more ‘Sunday assemblies’, or so-called churches for the godless, to provide atheists a sense of community and belonging in a way religion has for centuries.
These reflect a shared natural yearning in all humans to find direction and meaning in life. For believers, this search is not a mere coping mechanism but rooted in a conviction in the need to connect with one’s Maker, and to strengthen ties with one’s neighbour. This has been seen through the many inspiring examples of the selfless work of faith communities to fight Covid-19 such as cathedrals being converted into vaccination centres, Muslims delivering PPE items across the UK, and Sikhs providing meals to stranded lorry drivers.
This is one of the many reasons why religious education in schools is so crucial and relevant. It is a subject that inspires young people to personally reflect on what it means to be human and the society in which they wish to live. It makes a rich contribution to their spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development, promotes mutual respect and tolerance, and encourages them to value and celebrate those of different faiths and beliefs. These are the attributes they need to flourish in an increasingly diverse and ever-changing world, and to contribute positively as global citizens. In RE, every day is World Religion Day.
Bodies like the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) work hard to secure high quality RE for all so that these noble objectives are achieved. ‘Even those who do not read the news can appreciate that religion is one of the most important factors shaping our world.’ writes NATRE member Alice Sarbicki. ‘Simply put, if one fails to understand the world’s beliefs and practices, then one fails to understand the world.’ 
Of course, not everyone sees religion in a positive light. Some would rather the world be rid of it, and have even dedicated their lives to this endeavour. Despite trying to kill God, scientist Richard Dawkins has lamented the ‘extreme tenacity’ of religion to survive and acknowledged that the ‘religious impulse seems very difficult to wipe out’ (BBC Horizon, ‘God on the Brain’). Fellow anti-theist Christopher Hitchens also expressed frustration at the ‘ineradicable’ nature of faith.
‘They desire to extinguish the light of Allah with the breath of their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, even if the disbelievers hate it.’ 
There is no denying the immense suffering caused by evil acts committed in God’s name, and these are actively condemned by religious communities that promote peace, kindness, and love as taught in their texts and traditions. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said powerfully in his book A Message of Peace:
‘A religion which does not inculcate universal compassion is no religion at all. Similarly, a human being without the faculty of compassion is no human at all.’ 
The new Census data will again make for interesting reading and analysis. Whatever the findings, faith will endure and continue to inform and influence the lives of billions around the world. Whether religion is a human construct as its critics consider it, or divinely revealed as its adherents see it, people will never stop turning to a higher being for comfort and contentment. God is not dead but Ever Living, and world religions are here to stay.
‘Surely, it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find peace.’ 
About the Author: Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi is Head of Religious Studies at a school in Birmingham, UK. He is also a subject consultant, author and tutor. He also serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions
- Sarbicki, Alice (February 2019). New Identity and National Entitlement, https://www.reonline.org.uk/2019/02/13/new-identity-and-national-entitlement-alice-sarbicki/
- The Holy Quran, chapter 61, verse 9.
- Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, A Message of Peace. https://www.alislam.org/book/message-of-peace/
- The Holy Quran, chapter 13, verse 29.