Peaceful mediation of conflict through interfaith dialogues

Posted on February 11th, 2012

M. Din Syamsuddin, New York | Sat, 02/11/2012

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At a time when differences often lead to friction, and friction leads to conflict, the search for peaceful ways of resolving differences and conflicts has become imperative. In this regard, the significance of mediation as an instrument to resolve differences and find common ground cannot be overstated.

The importance of the peaceful resolution of differences becomes even more evident when we look at the reality of the world where we live in today. While poverty, illiteracy, disease and injustice still present the most difficult challenges to humanity, we are also presented with the fact that violent conflicts and even wars continue to be the most devastating source of human suffering.

History has shown us that violent conflict and war are the worst enemies of mankind. History also teaches us how violent conflict and war destroy not only communities and nations, but also civilizations.

It is indeed disheartening to see that conflict remains a defining characteristic of today’s world. War, which we thought to be obsolete, continues to serve as an instrument by which nations resolve their differences.

Thus, we should do our best to renounce the use of force and war as a means of conflict-resolution. Through war, human kind would accomplish nothing but misery. The use of force will never resolve differences. The use of violence will only breed more violence.

Differences, be they religious, ethnic, cultural or even civilizational, will continue to be a fact of life. But these differences should by no means become a reason why we cannot live in harmony and peace. In fact, Islam reminds us that God placed us in different nations and tribes so that we might come to enhance mutual understanding, mutual respect, and cooperation (The Koran, 49: 13). Therefore, perpetuating those differences in order to foment conflict is certainly against God’s Law of Nature.

Our main task is therefore to ensure that religion continues to serve as the basis of peace. We must continue to work to ensure that religion will not be used, misused and abused to justify acts of violence in any forms. The Holy Koran strongly reminds us that whoever killed a person without justified reason is he that has killed all mankind and humanity (The Koran 5: 32).

When conflicts do occur, it is our task to ensure that they are resolved peacefully, not through the use of violence. Here, we believe in the power of dialogue, and that interfaith dialogue could take the form of mediation between conflicting parties. It is true that sometimes conflicts have no religious motive, as religion is only used as a means of justification, yet religious approaches to conflict resolution are often fruitful.

It is my belief that more of these dialogues are needed. More exchanges of views and discussions among civilizations should be encouraged. Therefore, we should continue to make the dialogue among civilizations useful both at the elite and grassroots levels. We should ensure that various activities to bridge the gap among civilizations would contribute to the enhancement of mutual understanding and respect in a concrete way.

Mediation through interfaith dialogues would not be meaningful unless parties to such dialogues were able to articulate their point of view in a frank and candid manner. Dialogues would quickly turn into a political theater if we were unable to be honest with each other. Fruitful dialogues can only be achieved in an environment that promotes candidness and honesty within a spirit of togetherness and brotherhood.

Faith-based organizations, like Muhammadiyah, whenever possible can and should play a role in mediation efforts to resolve conflict. We have played, and will continue to play, that role at the community level. We have also played that role in order to bridge differences among communities at the national level.

The challenge we are now facing is how to continue emphasizing the value of mediation through interfaith dialogues and cooperation as an instrument to bridge civilizational divides and conflicts at the global level.

Various initiatives in this area remind us that religion and religious leaders do have a positive role to play in international relations.

Religion does serve as a source of values and norms that can provide guidance for healthy inter-state relations based on mutual understanding, mutual respect and equality. Those dialogues also serve as a venue for religious leaders to articulate their aspirations for a peaceful and just world.

At the grassroots level, interfaith dialogues and cooperation can provide the basis for peace among people of different faiths. Dialogues can remove mutual suspicions, which often result from ignorance, lack of knowledge about each other and an absence of mutual respect.

It is my hope that the 2012 World Interfaith Harmony Week will serve as an integral part of our effort to bridge divides among civilizations, among states, among nations and among communities. It is also the hope of all of us who are here today that our relentless efforts will in the end yield to a peaceful, just, prosperous and harmonious world.

The writer is chairman of Muhammadiyah. The article is an abridged version of his speech at the opening of the 2012 World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations, New York.

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