(Remarks by His Excellency Brigadier David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, to the Prayer Breakfast for Interfaith Harmony Week)
‘World Interfaith Harmony Week’ is an occasion for nations and peoples to work, continuously, to establish a culture of social cohesion. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the belief that mutual understanding is an important element in the establishment of a cohesive state.
The observance of ‘World Interfaith Harmony Week’ has its origins in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65.5 – entitled World Interfaith Harmony Week –and adopted on 20th October 2010. The ‘Resolution’ encouraged all states to:
“…support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week…”
THE COSMOPOLITAN STATE
Guyana is a cosmopolitan state. The majority of our people adhere to one of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Guyana is a model of interfaith harmony. The religious diversity which we enjoy has never degenerated into violent conflict. This is not an accident. Policies were purposefully pursued to promote peaceful coexistence by fostering interfaith harmony.
Guyana is, under its supreme law – the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana – ‘a secular state.’ This has forestalled religious competition for political power. The separation of religion and State has contributed to respectful, religious co-existence.
The Constitution [at Article 145] respects and protects freedom of thought and religion:
Except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience and, for the purposes of this article, the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his or her religious belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
Safeguards against religious discrimination and vilification are also entrenched in the Constitution which [at Article 149 (3)] proscribes discrimination on the grounds of religion. The Constitution [at Article 38 F] states: “No person’s religion or religious belief shall be vilified.”
These protections have served to protect religious freedom, promote religious respect and preserve interfaith harmony and mutual trust.
THE COHESIVE STATE
Guyana aims at becoming a socially-cohesive state. Social cohesion is about combating exclusion and marginalisation, creating a sense of belonging and promoting upward mobility. It is: “…the belief held by citizens of a given nation-state that they share a moral community which enables them to trust each other.”
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines a cohesive society as one that:
“… works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility.”
A cohesive community is one in which:
“…the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and positively valued, those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities, and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds and circumstances in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods”.
I do believe that ‘World Interfaith Harmony Week’ helps to develop “positive relationships” in Guyana even as hostile relationships and religious conflicts continue to envelop regions, states and communities in other places.
A COOPERATIVE STATE
Guyana proudly declared itself to be a ‘Cooperative Republic.’ Interfaith harmony is a means to establish a culture of cooperation. Harmony is advanced through dialogue which, in turn, promotes understanding which, in turn, generates cooperation which will facilitate the dismantling of the barriers of domination and distrust – the sources of human conflict.
A culture of cooperation in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society can be sustained only by ensuring that there are guarantees of religious freedom, policies which protect against religious discrimination and programmes which promote social cohesion.
The State, since Independence, promoted mutual respect by recognising the most sacred festivals and holy days of the main religions. The State, more recently, established a Ministry of Social Cohesion aimed at breaking down walls of division and at building bridges of cooperation between ethnic, religious and social groups in society. Social cohesion and interfaith harmony cannot be left to chance.
Guyana proudly declared itself to be a ‘secular’ state. The protection of the right to religious freedom and expression, the recognition accorded to all religions and the promotion of social cohesion, have laid the foundation for mutual respect and interfaith harmony.
These efforts have been supported by a robust dialogue among our religious leaders, particularly through the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO). I wish to thank all the religious leaders who have been actively involved in cultivating religious cooperation.
Guyana has become, and must remain, a model of interfaith harmony. I urge that we continue to ‘…spread the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill’ as we seek to become a socially cohesive state.