Badea Abu Al-naja
Arab News
July 18, 2008 - 3:26pm§ion=0&article=111919&d=18&m=7&y=2008

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid as a symbol of unity among different faiths, adding that he hopes it will contribute to healing divisions and building a more secure and stable world.

In a message to the three-day conference, the UN chief thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah “for this welcome and timely initiative.”

King Abdullah arrived in Casablanca yesterday from Madrid, where he opened the conference on Wednesday.

“There have been few periods in history when the need for dialogue among world religions has been greater. At a time of increasing divisions along cultural and confessional lines, faith communities have a crucial role to play in fostering mutual understanding and in promoting a consensus on common values and aspirations,” Ban said in his message.

He added that the origin of many conflicts lies beyond the confines of faith. “This unique gathering of religious leaders can help debunk the dangerous myth that religion, even when properly understood, inspires violence,” he said, adding that political rivalries, territorial ambitions or competition for natural resources play a major role in triggering violence.

About 300 delegates from across the world — representing Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths — are attending the conference, which has been organized by the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL). Participants include World Jewish Congress Secretary-General Michael Schneider and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of dialogue between the Vatican and Muslims.

“This event is itself a potent symbol of unity among different traditions. Our challenge is to see this expression of solidarity turned into a genuine force for good,” Ban said.

He highlighted three points that could make it a dialogue that delivers. “We should reach out to young people who are vulnerable to extremist ideologies, activate the role of religious leaders as peace-builders and create platforms for engagement with religious leaders,” he said. Ban said the UN would continue to support such initiatives through its longstanding work to promote tolerance, speak out against bigotry, counter extremism and uphold the freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bawa Jain, secretary-general of Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious Foundations, chaired the first session, which focused on dialogue in different religions.

Hussain Hamid Hassan, legal adviser at Dubai Islamic Bank, said Islamic teachings encouraged Muslims to coexist peacefully with others.

Najeeb Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said: “The essence of religions is love, good manners and rejection of injustice.”

The third speaker was Rabbi Arthur Schneier, founder and chairman of the Conscience Foundation Call, USA, who said the texts of the Jewish scripture called people to have dialogue with others and deal with them kindly. He also rejected the idea of a clash of civilizations.

M.M. Verma, director of the Interfaith Foundation in India, hoped dialogue would contribute to preventing hatred among faiths.

Saleh Ben-Humaid, chairman of the Saudi Shoura Council, chaired the second session entitled “Dialogue and its Significance in Human Society.”

In his paper, Nichiko Niwano, president of the Japan Committee of the World Parliament for Religion and Peace, said dialogue should be based on respecting the views of others.

Common Human Values in Areas of Dialogue was the theme of the third session, which was chaired by William F. Vendley, secretary-general of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, presented a paper on ethical reality in contemporary human society.

Other speakers in the session included Sheikh Muhammad Ali Taskheeri, secretary-general of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Iran, who presented a paper on the significance of religion and values in combating crime, drugs and corruption; Shankaracharya Onkar Anand Saraswati of India, who presented a paper on the role of religion and family in social stability; and Miguel Angel Guixot of the Vatican, who presented a paper on the protection of the environment as a common human duty.

Rabbi Caudio Epelman, secretary-general of the Jewish Congress, chaired the fourth session, which focused on the evaluation and promotion of dialogue.

Speakers in this session included Izeddin Mustafa of the UAE; Xue Cheng, vice chairman of the Buddhist Association of China; Econos Nabbel Haddad, executive director of the Jordanian Center for Religious Coexistence; and Federico Mayor Zaragoza, president of the Cultural Foundation of Peace in Spain.


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