The Hindustan Times
All over the world there is a struggle taking place within and about religion. Sometimes it results merely in prejudicial words. Too often it erupts in violence and acts of shocking extremism. The essence of the struggle is this: are people of religious faith prepared to regard those of a different faith with respect and dignity and love? Or do they rather regard them as enemies simply because they don’t share the same faith or religion as them? In each of the main religions such a struggle is being waged everywhere. The outcome of such a struggle has immense implications for all of us.
Some people naturally want to say that the answer to this lies in the realm of politics. And politics does have a crucial role to play. But since the dimensions of this struggle are inevitably affected by religion itself, people of faith have to step forward and take responsibility. What is more, because those who are passionate about their faith don’t want to act in contradiction to it, the argument in favour of the ‘open’ approach has to go wider and deeper than simply asking people to behave nicely to one another. It has to address full-on, the spiritual and scriptural basis for mutual respect towards those who follow a different religious or spiritual path.
On October 20, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution declaring the first week of February of every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week. The resolution was first proposed a month earlier by King Abdullah II of Jordan. It is unique because it promotes harmonious interfaith relations in a way that specifically draws attention to the scriptural and theological basis for such relations.
Obviously resolutions, no matter how well meaning, do not by themselves alter the world. But this resolution does encourage people who do believe in inter-religious harmony and mutual acceptance to stand up and to challenge those whose narrow view of other religions leads to discord and division. It acknowledges the reality that religious discourse on social behaviour is central to the way the 21st century develops.
The resolution’s mention of ‘love of God and love of one’s neighbour’ is also important because without it devout Christians, Muslims and Jews are not likely to sincerely get behind the resolution — and Christians and Muslims alone make up some 55% of the world’s population — since Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God… (Luke 4:4 and Matthew 4:4, see also Deuteronomy 8:2-3)… Verily the remembrance of God is of all things the greatest… [the Koran, 29:45]…
Equally, the mention of ‘love of the good and love of one’s neighbour’ is important because while the Good is God for believers, love of the good and the neighbour is the very essence of goodwill for all people. Thus the resolution includes everyone in the world of all religions, faiths and beliefs, and those of no religion at all.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week has an unprecedented potential to globally turn the tide against religious tensions by a) coordinating and uniting the efforts of all the interfaith groups doing positive work with one focused theme at one specific time annually, b) harnessing and utilising the collective might of the world’s second-largest infrastructure (places of worship) specifically for harmony in the world, and c) regularly encouraging the silent majority of preachers to declare themselves for peace and harmony and creating a public record of this.
What can you do? If you are a religious figure, a preacher or a teacher, all you have to do is take up the theme of inter-religious harmony during the first week of February every year in your instruction. If you would like to register your event or sermon so that others can be apprised of it, please do so at www.worldinterfaithharmonyweek.com.
As a layperson, there are many things you can do. These may include organising a ‘Harmony Breakfast’ for neighbours of various faiths; doing joint community work; watching a film together; merely talking to your own families about the need for tolerance and harmony; or even just going out of your way to greet someone or smile at someone who is of a different faith. Meaningful events are already taking place around the world.
The real work of loving one’s neighbour starts with the neighbour and, therefore, in local communities. A good deed for interfaith harmony is not like a vote for a candidate that loses: it still counts. It counts first for the soul that did it, and is that much the better for it. And it counts by creating a ripple effect of goodness that has unforeseen positive consequences in the future in an ever-widening circle of goodness. So in the first week of February remember God and the neighbour, or the Good and the neighbour. And remember the World Interfaith Harmony Week.
Tony Blair is a former prime minister of Britain and Ghazi bin Muhammad is a Jordanian prince. The views expressed by the authors are personal.