By Ramesh Jaura
ASTANA (IDN) – At a critical point in time when religious tolerance is being consigned to oblivion, an international conference has appealed “to all people of faith and goodwill” to unite, and called for “ensuring peace and harmony on our planet”.
The appeal emerged from the two-day Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, the Kazakh city founded on the principle of “unity in diversity”. The Congress concluded with a ‘peace concert’ in which 500 choir singers from five continents of the world took part. (P15) ARABIC | INDONESIAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | SPANISH | TURKISH
A children’s choir consisting of little singers kicked off the concert with the songs by Sergey Rakhmaninov, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Altynbek Korazbayev and many others. The concert gathered choir singers from India, Indonesia, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Republic of Korea, China, Bulgaria, and Australia. It was organized by the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The conference was attended by 82 delegations from 46 countries representing all world and traditional religions as well as political leaders and representatives of international organizations, including the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), OSCE, UNESCO, and the League of Arab States among others.
This was the sixth Congress since 2003 when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the first such gathering in the Central Asian Republic – a multicultural society made up of 18 million people, representing more than 100 ethnic groups, 18 religious denominations, and 3,715 religious associations.
The Congress helped initiate a global dialogue between religions and civilizations and played a major role in promoting mutual understanding and respect in societies and countries. Its valuable contribution to promoting dialogue and understanding was recognized in 2004 by UN Resolution A/RES/59/23.
Acting upon a recommendation by the Congress, the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly declared 2010 the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.
In the three years since the last Congress, Astana has hosted several important global events whose decisions, as President Nazarbayev said in his opening remarks to the Congress on October 10, “had a wide international resonance, since they were instilled with the idea of peacekeeping, partnership, tolerance, creation.”
This is especially important since the world has entered a turbulent state. “All of us, including politicians, and religious leaders, cannot but be concerned by the use of sanctions, inter-religious and intra-religious conflicts, trade wars, environmental pollution,” noted the Kazakh President.
The Congress Declaration of October 11 stresses “the importance of cooperation between leaders of world and traditional religions with state and public institutions seeking to promote peaceful coexistence of peoples and states through dialogue and propaganda of positive human values”.
The Declaration notes “the special role of governments, as well as of governmental and non-governmental, national and international organizations, and the mass media in promoting the ideals of peace and mutual understanding between States, societies and peoples”.
The Declaration condemns in the strongest possible terms the continuation of grave, systematic and massive abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law “by international terrorist organizations, as well as the support and/or sponsorship of terrorism that undermine mutual trust and cooperation between followers of different religions and among followers of the same faith”.
The Declaration rejects all forms of manipulation of religion in political conflicts, expression of selfishness and intolerance, aggressive nationalism and claims of exclusivity. It regards the problem of foreign terrorist fighters returning home or moving elsewhere “a new global challenge for all states in the fight against international terrorism and religious extremism”.
Commenting the Declaration, Dmitry Safonov, the executive secretary of the Interfaith Council of Russia said: “Religion will play the peacebuilding role.”
“We should not confuse Islam with terrorism. It is the mistake of many media. Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. It doesn’t promote extremism. Security and safety is a human right. That is what Islam believes,” said Mufti of Tajikistan Saidmukarram Abduqodirzoda.
Recalling the congresses since 2003 – in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015 – Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashikbayev said: “This is the gradual process. The first congresses disagreed on many issues. Now they have more understanding. It is a big success that they are talking about peace and cooperation. Earlier it was hard to even imagine how all of them can sit together. Now it is easy.”
Ashikbayev and other Kazakh officials also stressed the importance of taking concrete actions. One of the first steps forward could be the opening of a Centre for the Development of Inter-Confessional and Inter-Civilizational Dialogue that will serve as the hub for reconciliation and building peace. The Centre was proposed by President Nazarbayev in his opening address to the Congress.
Another key measure Deputy Foreign Minister Ashikbayev mentioned is the need to educate youth, which is also included in the Declaration. It specifies that education should be about religions, tolerance and respect for family values.
The Declaration calls on governments “to revitalize the work with the youth to prevent their radicalization”.
It also stresses the need to promote in every way possible the involvement of the leaders of world and traditional religions in making greater efforts to achieve long-term stability and to prevent violent incidents caused by hatred and intolerance.
The Declaration further call for strengthening cooperation of religious leaders with international institutions, governments and public institutions being a key message for the successful implementation of vital recommendations and programs aimed at comprehensive security in the world.
Further, it stresses the need to render every possible assistance to all societies and peoples, irrespective of race, religion, belief, language and gender, in ensuring an inalienable right to a peaceful life, and to respect equal rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of racial, language, religious, national, ethnic or social background, property, birth or other status, and act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.
The VII Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will be convened in 2021 – again in Astana. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 October 2018]
Photo: Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri | IDN-INPS Multimedia Director
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