For billions of people around the world, faith is an essential foundation of life.
It provides strength in times of difficulty and an important sense of community. The vast majority of people of faith live in harmony with their neighbours, whatever their creed, but each religion also harbours a strident minority prepared to assert fundamentalist doctrines through bigotry and extreme violence.
These acts are an affront to the heritage and teachings of all major religions. They also contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of all to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is imperative that the moderate majority is empowered to stand firm against the forces of extremism. But, this can only be achieved through strong leadership.
Next month at its forum in Vienna, the Alliance of Civilizations will continue its efforts to unite faiths and cultures. Whether on the world stage or in their communities, religious and cultural leaders have a responsibility to speak the language of tolerance and respect. This is a central message of World Interfaith Harmony Week.
We must also reach out to young people with a message of hope. Too often marginalized, jobless and facing a future of uncertainty, youth can be easy prey for fanatics offering a sense of cause and community. We need to expose the invalidity of this lure and offer a compelling alternative.
This cannot be achieved by words alone. Young people need jobs and a meaningful stake in a future that they can believe in. The United Nations is currently engaged in defining a post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Our goal is to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime and promote equitable economic opportunity for all while protecting the environment. To do that, we need the engagement of all actors – including young people and communities of faith.
We live in times of turmoil and transformation – economic, environmental, demographic and political. These transitions bring both hope and uncertainty. Our job is to ensure that hope wins, and our task will be made easier if the followers of all faiths collaborate in common cause. Let us never forget that what divides us is minuscule compared with what unites us. Working together, we can achieve all our goals for peace, prosperity and physical and spiritual well-being.