Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation
High-Level Dialogue of the General Assembly on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace Informal Interactive Hearing with Civil Society
4-5 October 2007
Speaker: Ms. Mitra Deliri, Bahá'í International Community
I live in Tanzania, a country whose large Christian and Muslim populations live side by side, intermarry and celebrate each other’s religious festivals. It is a living example of a religious pluralism. This coexistence did not come about by accident but, rather, as a result of the vision and deliberate action of Tanzanian leaders, dating back to the country’s first President, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. He succeeded in planting the seeds of harmony and instilling in citizens the sense of a common humanity; the use of Kiswahili as the national language further helped to cement a national unity. Overall, the educational reforms, policies promoting equity, the banning of political campaigning along religious lines and establishment of a unified judiciary have laid the foundation for a peaceful coexistence of diverse religious believers.
Freedom of religion
The protection of the right to freedom of conscience, religion or belief is central to the success of efforts to build understanding among religious groups. The freedom to hold beliefs of one’s choosing and to change them is a fundamental attribute of the human conscience. This right is not only contingent on the state’s protection but also on the exposure to new ideas as well as a climate in which information and beliefs are openly shared. Such a climate must be free from incitements to violence or hostility in the name of religion. Where contentious opinions about religions are expressed, it is the responsibility of the state to provide for right of reply. As a minimum standard, both sides must be afforded the right to respond in a peaceful manner so as to allow the public to arrive at their own conclusion. It is in this climate that understanding and cooperation can take root.
I would like to offer the following strategies for interfaith cooperation.
A universal, mandatory educational policy and curriculum on religion and education will be most instrumental to countering ignorance and fanaticism. Education about religions serves to promote cohesion, and builds moral values and moral reasoning into the curriculum. Such an education helps children to affirm their own identity, while leading them to an informed understanding of the religious identities of others; Consistent with international agreements, this approach should not promote any particular religion but engage religion as an important dimension of human life. South Africa’s national policy on religion and education is one example of such an initiative.
UN could use the media and its UN regional agencies to further extend the frontiers of global understanding. For examples UN could support local interfaith groups to launch inclusive interfaith radio and TV programs and empower young people to be proponents of peace and not war;
UN could prepare and disseminate case studies of activities that stimulate intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
The UN should undertake comprehensive research on:
underlying reasons for the suffering of marginalized group:
barriers inhibiting inter-religious cooperation; and
key indicators for social cohesion and active citizenship.
5. UN could develop a code of conduct for interreligious cooperation that is approved by religious authorities
6. UN could arrange for a meeting with Heads of State, presenting them with the findings of the above research and consult on strategies to address issues.
7. UN could foster social cohesion by encouraging interfaith prayer gatherings.
In conclusion, there is a need for more deliberate efforts to foster understanding between governments, the United Nations, and religious organizations at the decision-making level by familiarizing themselves with precepts of all religions.
What, after all, is the purpose of religion if not to enlighten and to unite? If religion, then, becomes a cause of division, dislike, and conflict, would it not be better to be without it? In a world so divided against itself, it is those voices and practices that help us to come together that need to be echoed and amplified, no matter their label, no matter their source.
I thank you for your attention.