The promise of Second World Interfaith Harmony Week

Posted on February 2nd, 2012

By Hindustan Times – Blogs – Just Faith

The promise of Second World Interfaith Harmony Week

In the week beginning today, 106 events in as many cities will bind the world of faith, religion and spirituality together. Under the aegis of World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), people, organisations and cultures will join hands to convert differences of faith into harmonies. From Bangalore, Mallapuram and Aligarh in India to cities in Poland, Israel and Seychelles, WIHW will have people walk, talk, pray and serve together — they will hold workshops, offer community services and share meals.

This is the second such week, the first one was in the same time, last year. I learnt seven lessons from that week:

Lesson 1 from Indonesia: shun violence
Lesson 2 from South Africa: trust the leadership of children
Lesson 3 from India: engage, talk, create spaces for dialogue
Lesson 4 from Saudi Arabia: embrace diversity
Lesson 5 from Canada: Donate generously — your organs, that is
Lesson 6 from UK: Turn religious terrorism on its head (link missing)
Lesson 7 from Guyana: Walk, sing, dance for interfaith harmony

WIHW’s second year looks promising.
The Interfaith Cooperation Forum at Bangalore, an organisation that supports “regional religious partnerships in working together for the transformation of society”, is offering a 14-week “living/learning experience for 20-25 young people (between 20 and 30) in Asia coming from different faiths, ethnicities and political positions”. In Aligarh, The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought will take texts from the Vedas and the Quran and present them before the community.
Halfway across the world, Project Interfaith, an Omaha-based organisation in the US, that “grows understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures” has an interesting mission — a 5-week series called Children’s Storytime to educate children and families about some of the basic beliefs and holidays of five of the major world religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Italy may be quivering under a financial default but its Faculty of Law the Second University of Naples has organised interfaith discussions.

“The program will provide the opportunity for representatives of various religious communities, faith-based organisations, followers of wisdom traditions and indigenous peoples, to share their insights in relation to topics that concern all of us as member states,” the spokesperson of United Nations’ 66th president Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar said. “In particular, I encourage the speakers to speak to the ways in which spiritual and religious communities may support and augment the mission of the UN in several key areas of our work.”

Here, faith takes on a greater responsibility than merely looking at the relationship with god. As a result, the United Nations (UN) expects the WIHW to help engage in the mediation of conflict through “dialogue, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation”; work with disaster prevention using their “extensive grass roots level work”; help further the cause of environment — something all religions teach — and revitalise the relationships between the UN and religion.

In principle, I dislike religion, particularly the way it can be and has been captured by vested interests. By failing to evolve with changing times, with science, with new ways of political and societal order, with technology, religion has failed society. The redemption of religion, I believe, lies with spirituality. But until all of us are ready for the spiritual jump, religion will continue to dominate — the politics of the two largest democracies, India and the US, is littered with empty soda cans of religion. Could WIHW change that and turn the ugly underbelly of religion into green shoots of development, evolution, harmony?

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