by Andrew David Turner
On February 7, the 66th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations celebrated the second annual World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) with a full program of speakers and performances that underscored the significance of this year’s theme: “Common Ground for the Common Good.”
The President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, began the proceedings with a keynote address that highlighted the “social and moral significance” of religion in the global society and reminded the Assembly that the United Nations itself was founded on “the quest for the common values of peace, freedom, and the oneness of humanity.” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General H.E. Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro also expressed support and encouraged the Assembly to continue cooperating in a spirit of unity.
Various members of the U.N. community addressed the Assembly to highlight the work of religious communities in five specific areas: finding common ground, the mediation of conflict, disaster prevention/response, the revitalization of the U.N., and sustainable development. Representatives of several world religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism were also given the floor in order to expand on the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding within their respective traditions.
“The World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week.”
Of course interfaith harmony should not be restricted to a week, but can be practiced throughout the year. Ideas practice interfaith harmony could include (but not be limited to) praying with people of all faiths for peace in the Middle East and around the world, dialogues, work to “green sacred spaces,” shared breakfasts or other meals, or joint community projects. Explore the Interfaith Toolkit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for additional ideas and resources.
As the 209th General Assembly (1997) states, “At the same time, our expectation is that respectful presence with people of other faiths can lead Christians into a fuller understanding and experience of their own faith.”