Youth Engagement with Religion and Faith in the 21st Century

Youth Engagement with Religion and Faith in the 21st CenturyReligions for Peace has a long-standing and deeply rooted commitment to engagement of youth communities and leaders in its interreligious work. The summary report below reflects a project to seek youth inputs on critical global agenda issues, notably peace, environmental matters, and humanitarian action. The continuing partnership involved a call for papers on these topics, presented at a symposium in July 2021. This report draws on the symposium discussion and the background papers. The World Faiths Development Dialogue worked with Religions for Peace to highlight the vital insights that emerged from this dialogue process.

“We are asking you to involve us, engage us, consult with us, as we are all stakeholders of the present, living on this one planet, inspired by and committed to living the peace demanded by our respective faiths” [Member of the Interfaith Youth Network, October 2021, Lindau, Germany]

The above words capture succinctly why Religions for Peace and the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF), came together to sign a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), amid a global Covid-19 lockdown, in New York, in September 2020. As the oldest, largest, multi-religious, institutionally representative, and global platform, with over half a century of experience in convening and facilitating multi-religious collaboration and service to all, Religions for Peace is a unique type of multilateral space.

Religions for Peace’s Interfaith Youth Network brings together young faith leaders who are grounded in moral urgency and innovative ideas to our movement. They are equal partners in all our work. The Global Interfaith Youth Network harnesses the energy, commitment, and creativity of young religious leaders on all six of our strategic priorities. Comprised of 15 leaders representing the world’s faith traditions from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Latin America, and the Caribbean, these leaders were elected by their peers during the 10th World Assembly in 2019 and stand as a voice for young people within all Religions for Peace work and action.

The ICYF is an international, non-commercial, non-partisan organization uniting leading umbrella youth organizations from the Member-States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as international youth organizations. The Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum builds the capacity of Organization of Islamic Cooperation youth through strategies, policy frameworks, programs furthering civic engagement, holistic education, capacity-building and best practices addressing critical problems. These problems – of limited opportunities, extremism and social exclusion while building their capabilities of intellectual and leadership development, entrepreneurship, media and communication – are informed by a shared Islamic heritage, culture, and universal values. As such, a collaboration between the two organizations, brings together a legacy of intergovernmental and interreligious institutional support to the voices, experiences, and agency of the world’s diverse youth actors.

In October of 2020, Religions for Peace and the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum came together to acknowledge the overlapping priority areas of youth engagement and to establish a partnership that would allow for greater synergy between the two institutions. Religions for Peace and the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum signed a MoU on 23 October 2020, in which both parties agreed to support and facilitate the meaningful and safe engagement of multi-faith youth communities in Organization of Islamic Cooperation and non-Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries. It also stated that Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum and Religions for Peace will mutually consolidate, develop and structure their cooperation in areas of common concern around the spiritual empowerment of youth at global level, and work together to mobilize stronger rights-based and faith-sensitive engagement, advocacy and action.

Thus, on 28 & 29 July 2021, a Symposium on Youth and Faith in the 21st Century took place, featuring a historic convening by a unique constellation of partners with Co- Hosts, Religions for Peace and the Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum, and Co- Organizing Partners: Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC); The International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA); The Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA); Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University; Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University; Office of Religious Life, Princeton University; and the Pontifical and the Royal University of Santo Tomas. A call for authors was issued, to which over forty-five responses came in over an extremely short time. Given the range of partners, the diversity of insights, and the need for in-depth discussion, the organizers decided to accommodate twenty-three of those papers for the first round. Thus, rendering it viable for us to attempt a follow-up round of consultations sometime in 2022.

Authors include Martin Macondzo, Shameer Rishad, Melody Amal Khalil, Arshad Athman, Ghazi Abdullah Muttaqien, Husein Zaenal Muttaqien, Hira A. Siddiqui, Emina Frljak, John Kennedy Odhiambo, Eda Molla Chousein, Sheldiana Jano, Rr. Manda Andrian, Harald Bergmann, Krit Niramittham, Nahla Mohamed Fahmy, Jude Abhulimen, Md. Ridwan Ullah, Dr. Luciano Bizin, PK Sadique, Nishat Hussain, Riaz Ravat, Nur Atika Binti Hairi, Muhammat Sabar Prihatin, and Sakif Al Ehsan Khan. This incredible group of youth is from South Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America all presented their work in the forum, speaking not only from their cultural, theological, and political contexts but also from their personal experiences as young leaders in and of their communities.

We are thrilled to present this compilation of the presented papers. They contain new insights by, about, and for youth themselves, on the intersections with respective faith traditions, in our contemporary times. We hope that the readers will come to perceive, and to understand, the complex challenges facing youth today, through the varied lenses of this diversity and richness of experiences.

Their words reflect how many of them engage diverse challenges by living out their faith in caring and serving their communities. The reflections show not only how the stakeholders and leaders of tomorrow see the world today, but also how some of them own the issues and responsibilities of present-day realities.

The papers in this volume reflect that youth base their decisions and actions on their values and understanding our shared global problems, as well as how we could address these holistically, theologically, and responsibly. The wisdom of the young authors of these papers underlines how imperative it is for young voices to be heard – unadulterated and unfiltered – to inform the decision-making necessary to create a just and thriving socially cohesive present and future.

Youth crave connectivity. For many of them, this craving is one for meaning and purpose, not only in their individual lives but those of their respective communities – our shared planet. We feel privileged to lift and feature these voices and offer them a wider shared platform for visibility and resonance, in a world that we strongly believe needs their wisdom.

While we ensure a disclaimer that the opinions in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the organizing bodies, our respective Boards, or countries/territories, we do seek to recognize and honor the voices, experiences, and perspectives of the authors of these seminal papers, with this publication.

On behalf of all participants and partners, we thank you.

Professor Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary General, Religions for Peace International

H.E. Dr. Taha Ayhan, President, Islamic Cooperation Youth Forum (ICYF)

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Youth Engagement with Religion and Faith in the 21st Century


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