In the News:
Kazakhstan Government Showcases Religious Harmony
Posted December 4, 2006
(Devotees who have been shocked and outraged by recent accounts that the Kazakhstan government destroyed 13 houses of Hare Krsna devotees in Almaty may note with irony that the Kazakhstan government considers itself a leader in the matter of world religious harmony. One can only wonder where it believes the followers of Lord Krsna and the Bhagavad-gita should fit into its lofty visions of interfaith harmony? The Kazakhstan government paid for a half-page advertisement in the New York Times (Mon, Nov 27, p. A9) entitled "Kazakhstan: Global Dialogue for Humanity." Readers should send any comments to the editor of the New York Times email@example.com OSCE firstname.lastname@example.org and the Kazakhstan Ministry of Culture and Information email@example.com as well as Chakra. )
Kazakhstan: Global Dialogue for Humanity
The Second Congress of World Religious Leaders, held in Astana in September 2006, has shown that world dialogue among different faiths is necessary and feasible - and can be successful. The timelines of the forum was determined by world interest in policies of interfaith dialogue on the part of global institutions. The congress has become a unique platform for dialogue. It has attracted aspirations and energy aimed at religious dialogue and strengthened the trend toward intercultural cooperation in the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations under United Nations support.
The second congress was of special importance for the post-Soviet region, which has been absorbed by militant atheism for many years. Forty-three delegations from more than 20 nations, representing all world and traditional religions and faiths - Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shito and many others - took part in the congres. Invited to the congress were outstanding politicians and public figures, such as Koichiro Matsuura, Unesco's director general; Sergei Ordzhonikidze, UN undersecretary general; Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian former prime minister; and many other envoys from lawmaking bodies and nongovernmental organizations. The meeting was held in Astana's Palace of Peace and Accord, built to play host to this global event.
Opening he meeting, Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev called upon world religious leaders to use three "principles of mutual understanding" in civil dialogue.
"The dialogue in the world," he said, "full of conflict, reminds me of a dialogue between the deaf and the mute. Principles addressing various areas could work in this sphere, too. I would call them principles of understanding. The first is the rejection of age-old mutually perceived stereotypes. My experiences show we need to learn to overcome our stereotypes."
He recalled that there were many examples of warfare in Kazakhstan's long history - during the 1930s, a third of Kazakhs lost their lives or their livelihoods, or left the country. "We remember this, but do not make it a reason for hatred and aggression," the state leader said.
The second principle is the conscious refusal to trespass on another's sacred sphere. Something sacred for one cannot be a subject of humor and irony for another, he said, adding that it is a simple rule, which unfortunately is broken not only by journalists and politicians, but also by spiritual leaders, who sometimes neglect other religions.
The third is the joint response by the world and traditional religions to new modern challenges and threats, such as terrorism, the proliferations of weapons of mass destruction and international crime. In the spiritual sphere, this represents a rupture of age-old traditions and the total rejection of spirituality, which is linked to the traditions of world religions. Misunderstanding of the challenge can undermine this basis of modern religious institutions. "The spiritual situation in the modern world is very dynamic," said President Nazarbayev, "and religious institutions need to take into account new risks and threats."
The dialogue between leaders, adepts and holy men of world religions, successfully achieved within the framework of the congress, was initiated by President Nazarbayev. The importance of interfaith understanding is reflected in all the speeches of the state leader, including his annual address. State policy leads the way in this direction, which is reflected by the 2006-08 Program for the Improvement of Kazakhstan model of interethnic and interfaith concord. The present republic's growth and development are based on the maintenance of interethnic and interfaith harmony. It is part of the targeted state policy.
Basic principles of religious relations were defined as principles of understanding. First, there is the legal and institutional freedom of religion and faith. Second is the creation of equal and favorable conditions for faiths to function freely. Liberalization of the religious sphere increased the number of religious institutes five-fold in the years since independence. Third is the stimulation of interfaith dialogue in the republic. Providing know-how in this respect is Kazakhstan's Peoples' Assembly - a unique institute of interethnic and interfaith dialogue.
"Religious leaders should take care that religions do not cause political conflicts and are not used by state structures and underground organizations to fulfil their tasks, far from spiritual principles," said the president. The theme of the congress, "Religion, Society and International Security," was debated in speeches, dialogues and discussions. Forum participants exchanged views on freedom of religion and the respect of other faiths and the roles of religious leaders in strengthening international security.
"All people, irrespective of nationality and religions, are brothers and sisters," said Dr. Mahmud Hamdi Zakzuk, Egypt's religious affairs minister, at the congress. "Human brotherhood is broader than blood brotherhood." According to the minister, mutual support and understanding are required for peaceful co-existence. Religions influence people's souls - that is why close cooperation and dialogue are required, he says. Any differences are not a reason for wars and discriminations, he says. Islam is open to full dialogue.
There is no place in the world for movements committing atrocities in the name of religion, said Bartholomeus I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, addressing the congress. The Orthodox Church is an active participant in international dialogue, aimed at peace. He came to Astana to share his views on the peaceful coexistence of all nations, irrespective of language, culture or religious beliefs.
The Constantinople Patriarch said that of late, religion had become a factor of misbalance in international security. "We ought to learn to settle problems by peaceful means," he added.
The Chair of the Chinese Buddhism association Tszyamuyan Losanszumei Tudantsuestszinima offered his help in developing interfaith dialogue.
Religions must not be used as a means for confrontation. The forum provided a great opportunity to draw on the wisdom of all religions. "World religious leaders are praying for peace," Kuni Kuniaki, high priest of the Japanese Association of Shinto temples, remarked at the congress. He went on to call for all religious leaders to join together to strengthen interfaith dialogue and harmonize religious relations.
Interreligious partnership and the retention of modern values were also among the topics discussed. Talks were held on the humanism of religious awareness, cultural heritage of religion, equality and respect of religious traditions, spiritual education, etc. At the end of the conference, a Declaration of Congress II was adopted. It supports the strengthening understanding between world cultures, religions and ethnic groups, and calls for all people to reject war, discord and hatred, and live in mutual understanding, sincerity and recognition of cultural and religious differences. Forum participants decided to integrate dialogue practice at all educational levels to help young people accept religious and cultural diversity without hatred and hostility. On the other hand, they drew the United Nations General Assembly's attention to the congress's conceptual and practical role in promoting dialogues between cultures and religions in establishing interreligious understanding and support of the congress's future activities. They called for the world community to defend individual rights to spirituality and beliefs, regardless of origin.
Experts and analysts, as well as politicians, should appreciate the initiative taken by Kazakhstan and its leader to hold a regular dialogue, focusing on points of agreement. According to Koichiro Matsuura, the congress is an important step toward the creation of a new world order, where all national live in peace and harmony. Although dialogue is not able to solve all the problems the modern world is facing, many conflicts are insoluble without such dialogues. Communication and interaction must function at all levels: among politicians, academics, young people and others. Only joint efforts can succeed in building a new world order, where all beliefs are accepted. People everywhere deserve to live in harmony. That is what we should strive for, he said. The dialogue of cultures and religions, hosted in Astana's Palace of Peace and Accord, will be a landmark in the Central Asian region as well as in the wider world.
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