South Africa’s ambassador to the United States H.E. Ebraim Rasool opened the second annual InterFaith conference this past Sunday as part of the United Nations’ World Harmony Week.
The conference, organized by the College of William and Mary’s Interfaith club and the Diversity Initiative of the Student Assembly, celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week.
College President Taylor Reveley opened the day’s events, speaking about the importance of religion in contemporary society.
“I do believe that religion has been one of the prime motivators, if not the motivator, of human behavior today,” Reveley said.
The keynote speaker, Rasool, was a prominent figure in the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid. He explained that during apartheid, racism became a science and even religion was not immune to the radicalization of society. Even churches were separated by race. Eventually, Rasool said that religious cooperation helped to create harmony in the country.
“I think that one important lesson that we’ve learned is to not fall for the formal divisions between people,” Rasool said.
Rasool explained the importance of religion as a prominent force in modern society, despite the conflicts and divisions it can cause.
“Religion is not the problem,” Rasool said. “What needs defeat in the world is nihilism and extremism in violence. … [The proponents of nihilism and violent extremism] fight because they cannot embrace. They are the ones who need to die for their cause because it is so hard to live for their cause.”
“I think that there is a value in starting this dialogue of cooperation and collaboration in faith,” audience member Hannah Kohn ’15 said. “It is very relevant in terms of conflict in the world today.”
The College has 37 on-campus religious organizations run by students. However, scholars say that the current generation of college students is more secular than its predecessors.
“[Rasool] said that young people are straying more and more from religion,” Teymour Moinzedah ’14 said. “It’s not weird or wrong to have faith even though young people don’t identify with faith as much today.”