His Majesty King Abdullah poses for a group photo with participants in the King Abdullah II World Interfaith Harmony Week awards ceremony in Amman on Sunday (Photo courtesy of Royal Court)
AMMAN — His Majesty King Abdullah on Sunday acted as patron at the King Abdullah II World Interfaith Harmony Week award ceremony.
During the ceremony, which took place at Husseiniya Palace, His Majesty presented the awards to four winners.
Royal family members and senior officials attended the event.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week was initiated by the King, who put it forward to the 56th session of the UN General Assembly, which unanimously adopted it.
The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought established this award in recognition of three activities or publications that best contribute to the promotion of World Interfaith Harmony Week, adopted by the UN (PV/65/a.34) resolution. The week is annually marked in the first week of February.
First prize was awarded to the UN Interfaith Harmony Partners in the Philippines, in recognition of the work they have done, for the third year running, in celebrating harmony week in the city of Zamboanga.
The recipients of second prize was the Centre for Peace and Human Rights in India, in recognition of the initiative they undertook called “An Ordinary Step for Ensuring Extraordinary Peace” in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Third prize was shared between the Gamal Farghaly Sultan Secondary School in Assiut, Egypt, in recognition of their event “Peace, without Prejudice” and Faiths Together, and Uganda for an event at their Goma Health Centre III, in Goma village.
The interfaith week, which began after the UN unanimously adopted the initiative of His Majesty in October 2010, is an annual platform to raise awareness and understanding between followers of the different faiths and promote dialogue and goodwill, through conducting activities and events that spread this message.
The idea behind interfaith week comes from the pioneering work of the Common Word initiative that was launched in 2007 which called for Muslim and Christian scholars to engage in constructive dialogue based on shared values: the love of God and love of neighbour without religious prejudice, to strengthen the shared ideological religious ground, as these two messages are at the heart of all three major religions.
Head of the award jury, HRH Princess Areej Ghazi, said during her speech: “I am honoured, on behalf of myself and my fellow esteemed award panel members, to congratulate the efforts made by the participants in this noble project, which we consider a call for a new Fadoul Alliance [between tribes before Islam].”
She added: “The Messenger of Allah, PBUH, commended Al Fadoul Alliance in the pre-Islamic era, saying that if he was invited after Islam to join it, he would do that.”
“Echoing a similar call, Your Majesty, you have called the entire world and followers of all religions and beliefs to celebrate a world week based on the love of God and love of righteousness, which is a divine quality, and love of neighbour. The world has responded to the call and adopted the idea unanimously.”
She stressed that “the week has been officiated by the UN since 2011, and this year, Your Majesty, you accepted that the award by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought be named after you, so that the rest of the world be encouraged to take care of this week and the noble principles it was built on”.
She also said: “This is not new to you, Your Majesty, as your blessed reign is full of initiatives that serve Jordan, serve Muslims, serve people in general and serve peace, and that is in spite of the sparse resources in our country, which is nonetheless rich in its spirit, people and history.”
She added: “The King’s initiatives in this regard are numerous, with a notable example being the historic global consensus on the three points of the Amman Message, which included the first global Islamic scholarly consensus on the definition of a Muslim, and outlined who can declare someone kafir [apostate] and under what conditions, and who can issue fatwas and under what conditions.”
She pointed out that the King’s initiatives include the exegesis project, which is the biggest electronic [Koranic] interpretation site in the world, and whose website last year had 15 million visitors. It provides over a hundred Koranic interpretations for users all around the world.
She also drew attention to the “Common Word” initiative by His Majesty, which has been described by many top Western intellectuals as “the most successful initiative between Muslims and Christians in history”.
She said: “This award, God willing, will mark the celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week, and thus will contribute to the easing of religious tensions around the world, God willing, and through God’s grace they can become like our beloved Jordan, the model of religious harmony in the world, through God’s grace and through our beloved King’s wisdom and the blessing of the wise and fair people of this nation.”
The general director of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Dr Minwer Al Mheid, said that four years after the launch of World Interfaith Harmony Week, it has become a reality where partners, from different religious beliefs and intellectual, cultural and political affiliations are attracted by its message of peace, harmony and goodwill.
He added that those who work towards the realisation of this initiative are joined by their common interest in realising noble humanitarian principles, consolidating harmony between all people, making world peace and promoting mutual respect among the followers of the different religious beliefs.
He stressed that countries, organisations and communities, as well as individuals, took the initiative to establish events and activities on World Interfaith Harmony Week on a voluntary basis, and held seminars, lectures and lessons in schools and educational institutes, with articles being written and research carried out to further this cause, this humanitarian message has reached people around the world, and “we hope that in the coming few years to double the number of participants and increase the events and reach our desired outcome, God willing, which is to spread harmony amongst all of mankind by removing hostility, hatred and resentment”.
The number of functions staged as part of the International Interfaith Harmony Week was 213 in 2011, 290 in 2012, 363 in 2013 and 406 this year.
His eminence, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, chief adviser at Aal al-Bayt Institute said in his remarks: “We start this meeting, which pleases God and pleases people with, peace and God’s mercy and blessings be upon you. As-salam is the word that represents peace is also one of God’s names and a name for heavens, too. It stands for harmony, security and faith. The interfaith week you have proposed, Your Majesty, is a reflection and implementation of the meaning of this blessed word.”
He added: “The peace we seek to translate in the World Interfaith Harmony Week is achieved through the concept of sharing, when man shares with brotherly human beings coexistence, work, principles and interests, so that we can build the world. God has ordered us to do so [in the Holy Koran] saying: “It is He Who hath produced you from the earth and settled you therein.”
He said that the harmony week gives humans back their humanity, goodness and willingness to build the world, through joint efforts, where all bets are placed on youth from all faiths, to take part in such efforts and help break the barriers of differences between people.
Addressing the King, he said: “Your Majesty, you are the descendant of the noble family of the Prophet. It is people’s religious duty to love you. All causes blood relations and connections will be void on the Judgement Day, except the blood line of Prophet Mohammad, to whom you belong.”
For his part, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem said that each year, “commitment to the goals and ideals of this week has increased around the world and has contributed to the transformation of the life of local communities, especially communities under pressure”.
He said the 2010 UN resolution “crowned over a decade of commitment by the General Assembly to focus the attention of the world in the creation of a culture of peace-building, non-violence and mutual understanding among the faithful of different religious traditions, and it also highlighted the commitment of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to this crucial endeavour”.
The Orthodox patriarch said that such values are the great gift of both the Resolution of the General Assembly and of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, which established the award programme, adding: “This annual prize-giving ceremony not only awards those who have done outstanding work in this arena, it also highlights the many ventures around the world — a growing number each year — which seek to promote those values and virtues that are vital to the common human future that we must build together.”
Theophilos III congratulated the winners, saying: “We congratulate this year’s prize winners, and we encourage all those others who have shared with us the work that you are doing around the world. We bring to all of you the spiritual blessings of Jerusalem, the city that is holy and dear to us all.”
Bishop Munib A.Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of the Lutheran World Federation, started his remarks with conveying greetings from the people of Jerusalem to His Majesty and their prayers for peace and justice, expressing their appreciation and gratitude for the Hashemite custodianship of the holy shrines and for everything the Monarch does for Jerusalem.
Younan said that thanks to the King’s efforts and consecutive initiatives, Jordan has become the centre of world interfaith harmony and the launching pad for spreading these values among peoples and countries.
He said: “In a time of globalised extremism, where the mass media are giving negative portrayals of religion and especially which is quite often informed by Islamophobia, we are pleased to find that there is a yeast fermenting in many societies, a yeast that is quietly transforming religious extremism into religious moderation.”
The bishop added that these dynamic forces would strengthen and empower those people who are promoting moderation, and courageously standing for the Common Word initiative, which came from Jordan, stressing that “true religion is a religion that not only loves God, but our neighbour as ourselves”.
Younan said the prize laureates “are the champions who will change our world for the better. These champions are essential to our social progress when we find ourselves in times of separation and prejudice against the other”.
He added the role of religious leaders to strengthen and empower every initiative that hopes to transform extremism to moderation and denial to acceptance of the other.
“Today, it is our role to pull down walls of separation, hatred, prejudice and fear. Now is the acceptable time for humanity to seek mutual acceptance. We as Christians in Jordan are committed for this peace work and education, because with your guidance, King Abdullah II, we have a role model par excellence…. We promise, Your Majesty, that Arab Christians will continue to be the voice of Arab Muslims that we know and are our good neighbours wherever we are. It is the call of God to everyone of us to be the voice of harmony.”
Jordan last year hosted a conference on the challenges facing Christian Arabs and ways to address them, with a view to preserve the role played by Arab Christians and protect their existence, especially in Jerusalem, and their contribution to Arab Islamic culture.
Speaking on behalf of the winners, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra said: “We are honoured to be here for this event not only to receive, but also to express our gratitude to Your Majesty and those who are helping you in the promotion of the World Interfaith Harmony Week.”
He added that the Silsilah Dialogue Movement he represented started with Muslims and Christians in the Philippines, following the outbreak of a conflict that had resulted in a lot of victims. The Silsilah Dialogue Movement, D’Ambra noted, was formed with the hope to build peace starting from a spiritual aspect of dialogue based on love.
He stressed that his movement welcomed the new initiative with great joy “because we believe in this approach and since the beginning we have emphasised a dialogue and peace approach based on love of God, love of neighbour”.
In 2012, the group engaged many people in the city of Zamboanga to celebrate this special week together. “We encouraged the National Ulama Council of the Philippines to take the lead” and entrench the values of the interfaith week.
The interfaith activist added that the winners of the award are striving equally hard to promote peace in their respective countries, and it is a great encouragement to meet them, exchange ideas and experiences, and to participate in this global solidarity of love of God and love of the neighbour.
Member of the award jury Father Nabil Haddad told the Jordan News Agency, Petra, that in its second edition, the award is characterised by holding the name of King Abdullah, who took the initiative and presented it to the world. He noted that the idea of the award is to pick the most suitable activities that stand for the concept behind World Interfaith Harmony Week and help spread a culture of harmony among the followers of different faiths, based on the values of love of God and love of neighbour, and for non-monotheistic religions, love of good and love of neighbour.
He said the jury panel had received several nominations from the world, adding that focus is not only on interfaith, but also on humanisation of this dialogue and making sure it reaches youth and society.
World interfaith harmony, Father Haddad added, is an idea that sprang from Amman and was presented to the entire world. “Every day, we present from Amman a model for the entire world, reflecting the achievements our society witnesses based on the vision of the Hashemite leadership, based on love of God and love of neighbour. This is what we find in every Jordanian household and we are proud of it. We give that to the world and ask people to come and see what we have.”
The ceremony was attended by HRH Prince Ghazi, King’s chief adviser for religious and cultural affairs and personal envoy, Royal Court Chief Fayez Tarawneh, King’s Office Director Imad Fakhoury, Kingdom’s Grand Mufti Abdul Karim Khasawneh, senior officials and guests.