‘Religious leaders should lead efforts in interfaith dialogue’

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by Areej Abuqudairi | Apr 25, 2013 | 23:43

Their Royal Highnesses Prince Ghazi and Princess Areej Ghazi with the winners of the World Interfaith Harmony Week awards during a ceremony at the Baptism Site on Thursday (Petra photo)

BAPTISM SITE — Religious leaders have a great responsibility in creating interfaith harmony and promoting peace worldwide, experts and scholars said on Thursday.

“This responsibility has become urgent and essential given the sectarian violence we are seeing worldwide,” noted Minwer Mheid, the director of Al al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.

“Religious leaders and civil societies have bigger roles to play than governments in promoting peace, as people tend to suspect the government’s intentions,” he told The Jordan Times during the World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize Ceremony.

“We can see extremism developing in all religions. Although Jordan is not challenged by any religious divisions, we have to be a part of this dialogue. There is an urgent need for all of us to help people in other nations by encouraging interfaith harmony,” Mheid added.

The institute organised the prize this year for the first time to recognise the best three events held during the World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place during the first week of February every year, Mheid said.

In October 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted the World Interfaith Harmony Week initiative, proposed by His Majesty King Abdullah.

First prize was awarded to the Interfaith Meditation Centre from Nigeria for organising a peaceful rally in Kaduna, with hundreds of Christian and Muslim participants.

“Nigeria is in the news, because it is divided by extremism,” Pastor James Wuy from the Interfaith Meditation Centre told the Jordan Times on the sidelines of the event.

“In order to break this, we realised that we need to bring religious leaders together, so we brought both Muslim and Christian religious leaders… as we marched, hundreds of people joined in,” he added.

“We also engaged the public through television. We spoke to them about this international week and the significance of interfaith harmony,” Wuy noted.

Second prize was awarded to the Philippine Centre for Islam and Democracy and Noor Salam Organisation for holding four major events in the Philippines aimed at engaging women in promoting interfaith harmony.

“We thought it would be more useful to include women in helping organise events, because women are known for being very good at peacemaking worldwide,” Amina Rasul, from the Philippine Centre for Islam and Democracy, told The Jordan Times.

“We organised simultaneous events. They were based on intimate discussions about the importance of harmony of faith. We brought Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders to join the discussion,” she added.

Third prize was awarded to the Department of National Unity and Integration in Malaysia for a national initiative based on “goodwill”, which included 10,000 individuals and officials from different religious backgrounds.

“In Malaysia, we have simmering tensions due to religious conflicts. Therefore, this was a unique opportunity for us, Muslims and non-Muslims, to sit together, plan activities for the country, and deliver our message to the nation,” Reverend Thomas Philips said.

About 363 events were held this year in 53 countries to mark the week, but only 60 were shortlisted for the award, according to the organisers.

The selection criteria was based on the ability to organise an event with “limited resources” and/or in conflict-affected countries, Aftab Ahmed, one of the judges for the prize, told The Jordan Times.

“Just to organise a peaceful rally in Nigeria with Muslims and Christians given the nature of the violence there… We think this is a great example of an effective event in that context,” he noted.

Their Royal Highnesses Prince Ghazi and Princess Areej Ghazi attended the ceremony, with the prince, who deputised for the King, distributing awards to the winners.