U.N. marks week seeking interfaith links

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By THE WASHINGTON TIMES Thursday, February 9, 2012

The role of religion in promoting links and dialogue across cultures and across continents moved into the spotlight earlier this month as the U.N. General Assembly marked the second annual World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Springing from a 2007 initiative seeking common ground between Muslims and Christians, the week is designed to provide a platform where groups from all faith traditions can highlight their diversity, build ties across religions and stress the “common principles” that promote interfaith cooperation.

Events this year were held around the globe, with more than 100 seminars, services and interfaith gatherings being organized in countries such from the Netherlands and Brazil to Jordan, Indonesia and Pakistan. In the United States, events marking World Interfaith Harmony Week were organized in Boston, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Omaha, Neb., among other cities.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the Qatari diplomat who currently serves as president of the U.N. General Assembly, announced Tuesday — the last day of the weeklong event — that the body will hold a one-day “thematic debate” next month on how political and religious leaders can “foster cross-cultural understanding for building peaceful and inclusive societies.”

“We recognize and celebrate the values that are shared across religious traditions,” Mr. Al-Nasser told General Assembly delegates, according to an account published by the United Nations News Service. “The common principles form a common ground that unites us in our rich diversity.”

Backers of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, who include Jordanian King Abdullah II, say interfaith dialogue, even between religions with a history of suspicion and rivalry, can be promoted on the basis of common fundamental commandments: love of God and love of neighbor.

While religion has been used at times to deepen divisions, it can also be “the glue that often bonds communities and cultures around the world,” according to U.N. Deputy-Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro.

“Only by finding common cause in mutual respect for shared spiritual and moral values can we hope for harmony among nations and peoples,” the Tanzanian diplomat told United Nations News Service.