Religions for Peace and the Standing Commission on Interreligious Education are proud to launch our latest publication, Faithful Peace: Why the Journey to Build Resilience is Multi-Religious.
With Christian, Hindu, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh theologies, perspectives, and insights, this brilliant and enlightening piece of work explores the importance of multi-religious engagement and why this effort to bring people of all faiths and traditions together, can and does create a more peaceful world.
Prof. Azza Karam, Secretary General and Editor-in-Chief, as well as Programme Officer of Partnerships and Interreligious Education, Dr. Karen Leslie Hernandez and Editor of this publication, invite you to read, learn, think, and thrive in these multi-religious viewpoints from eight Interreligious Education Standing Commission members including – Dr. Pritpal Kaur Ahluwalia, Dr. Luigi De Salvia, Ms. Pascale Frémond, Dr. Johannes Läehnemann, Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Dr. Lilian J. Sison, Dr. Nayla Tabbara, and Rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky.
Foreword: To Serve, Together, is to Live,
Together, in Peace
Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they
melt the soul. – Saint Teresa of Avila
There was a time, when I blamed my companion if his religion did
not resemble mine. Now, however, my heart accepts every form….Love
alone is my religion. – Ibn Arabi
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The belief of Religions for Peace – if one must define such for a secular entity serving multi-religious collaboration – is simple, yet profound. It is best encapsulated in three points:
- Global consciousness is necessary, for without it, we continue to see, to live, and to serve, in silos, which benefit some, but not all. And yet it is but one planet we live on, and whether we like it or not, we are dependent on one another, and on this planet, to survive, let alone to thrive.
- Global consciousness is not, and will not be, served by individual religious institutions, or religious leaders, or faith communities, working independently, even when and where they serve diverse peoples. Global consciousness is raised, and served, when all faiths work together to serve all peoples.
- Raising global consciousness for collective actions is not a luxury. Rather, it is an imperative in a world where hunger, thirst, multiple wars, diseases (and pandemics), horrendous inequalities, coexist, despite the most advanced financial, political, technological and industrial progress humanity has ever known. We have nuclear weapons which can decimate all life, and we have people dying of poverty and preventable illnesses every minute of every day. All this happening in spite of laws, conventions and regulations, and in spite of institutions, and in spite of good will. Something is very wrong in the way we have worked, and served, to date.
The Background: Faith-based Organisations and Sustainable Development
In September 2015, as 193 government leaders were meeting to adopt a new global development agenda (the Sustainable Development Goals/SDGs), UNAIDS and UNFPA cohosted 40 international faith-based development and humanitarian, non governmental organisations (FBOs). The objective of the meeting was to raise the voice of these critical development and humanitarian leaders, to speak to all governmental and faith leaders, urging them to ensure that interdependent, interlinked and indivisible human rights were front and centre of global consciousness. The reason this was perhaps one of the most noteworthy gatherings of FBOs is due to the fact that these organisations, together, represent a significant number of global humanitarian relief and social development services to hundreds of millions of people in every corner of the world.
Inspired by diverse faith traditions, and experts in handling the challenges of actually serving the needs of people (as opposed to speaking about the need and value added), these FBOs spelled out their common position against all forms of violence, especially those leveraged against women and children, urging the governments of the world, to uphold the dignity of each and every human being.
While some of those gathered were faith leaders, the majority were executives and programme coordinators in charge of actually getting services to people in need, in different corners of the world. This was a moment for those delivering actual care in all its diverse forms, inspired by their faith, to speak out against the harm done in the name of their faith. The Statement issued, composed by all the FBOs, repeated one seminal phrase over and over: “Not in Our Name”. The powerful resonance of their combined voice was based on a very simple idea and intent: a refusal to accept, or abide by, any act of violence or injustice, being justified in the name of faith.
And yet these and many other seminal efforts, and raised voices, and multiple statements, in spite of being hosted and coordinated under the aegis of the world’s premier and largest multilateral entity (the United Nations), remain but drops in an ocean. Nevertheless, the point here is to note a trend in international affairs, where faith actors themselves are both designing and serving, together, a global public consciousness which is determined to realise peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.
Interfaith dialogue, in the sense of gatherings where each faith representative speaks to their respective wisdom, and to compare and evolve common ground in terms of beliefs, is one of the oldest forms of human endeavours. But interfaith, or multi-faith actions, remain a path less traversed. And while each of the FBOs serve hundreds of millions of people, assessing their joint cooperation remains a challenge. Not because they do not collaborate to serve – for the story of Religions for Peace proves they do – but because it remains a relatively less known, or noticed, global phenomena. And since perception is reality, then we need a significant reality check.
The field of multi-religious, or interfaith, is increasingly populated by new organisations and initiatives, on an almost daily basis. The amount of literature documenting what each faith tradition says about itself, and about social development, social injustice, foreign policies, civil society, etc., today provides reams of substance not only for academia in all corners of the world, but indeed even for profit-making businesses in international consultancies and development sectors.
Religions working together for Positive Peace
In alignment with one of our partners and contributors to the work of Religions for Peace, the Institute for Economics and Peace, we understand Positive Peace as societal attitudes that foster peace, as well as sustainable investments in economic development and institutions. Positive Peace can be used to gauge the resilience of a society, or its ability to absorb shocks without falling, or relapsing, into conflict. Positive Peace processes identify and deliberately avoid structures, and means, which advocate for, or indeed, cause, any form of violence (spoken/written and or practised).
For over 50 years, Religions for Peace has sought to support local and national efforts to evolve precisely those structures that convene believers in peace: Interreligious Platforms. While other organisations also bring such believers together in diverse formats, Religions for Peace specifically seeks faith leaders and representatives of religious institutions. In December 2019, 250 faith leaders, representing every faith tradition, from each corner of the world, came together to evolve a common strategic vision, and chart paths of collective action, to ensure that their work together, counts as part of the realisation of sustainable human development.
This came to be the Strategic Plan developed by and for the Religions for Peace global movement. As many of the faith leaders, each heading major religious institutions and communities of the faithful – far more deeply rooted and representative of societies than any multilateral entity could ever aspire to be – maintained, the global goals are what religious actors have already served, for centuries. The original social service sectors of our world, after all, are religious institutions. And to this today, in most corners of the world, FBOs continue to serve basic primary health care, education, humanitarian, and public advocacy. Religions for Peace has served for over 50 years to convene the platforms which bring faith leaders together across their diverse spectrums, on a level playing field, to serve the common good, together. Many of the faith leaders involved, have honed their skills of not just advocacy or preaching togetherness, but indeed, refining the means of joint collaboration and service delivery. These leaders are as special as each and every faith leader, but they have an additional set of skills, which can only be learned with the trials and errors of shared collaboration.
Indeed, there are many experts on religion(s) and its/their relevant realities. And they have existed since time immemorial. In fact, ancient libraries have been set up, burned and reconstructed with a bulk of just such literature and knowledge. But again, there are few experts on what it is within each faith tradition that makes it imperative to serve as religions working together for peace, in a comparative, global, normative and yet operational, manner. And this is what this volume begins to explore.
Bird’s Eye View of this Volume
It is wise to be reminded that this is but volume one, dealing with some faith traditions, and not all. The overarching values which emerge from the rich learning shared here point to how generosity, working together towards future progress, equality, compassion, and addressing skepticism, are among the most shared. In fact, sharing itself, and the reciprocity thereof, are at the core of what each faith advocates – hence the imperative to serve together. Most authors explicitly acknowledge the fact that there are sacred texts from all traditions which stress, if not encourage, interreligious endeavours and interactions. All authors identify the limitations of working exclusively within each faith tradition, while pointing how each provides powerful incentives, and plentiful examples, to work collaboratively.
Professor Sison and Dr. De Salvia, both Catholic, draw on Nostra Aetate, with De Salvia explaining its role in his personal faith transformation, that he moved from a state of being agnostic, toward connecting with greater spirituality, and thereby also to an added appreciation for interfaith relationships. While he acknowledges that there are components of faith traditions which are reluctant to engage in dialogue and cooperation with those who believe in other traditions, he argues that those components are contained within the more insular perimeters. Modernity, he maintains, lends itself to tolerance and new cultural approaches, as well as demands for sensitivities to other faiths amongst which we must coexist for positive peace to be realised.
Professors Tabbara and Sison, as well as Dr. Kaur, specifically focus on the role of interfaith work in developing and serving the common good. Spiritual traditions, they argue, are as much about compelling goodness upon others, as much as oneself.
Ms. Pascale Frémond like Dr. De Salvia, highlights the 1986 Assisi meeting as the door opener to Indigenous voices within the interreligious efforts of the Catholic church. Dr. Pritpal Kaur and Professor Anant Rambachan speak to the oneness of humanity, and the necessary reality of equity, which interreligious efforts are built on. Professor Rambachan specifies that modern religious diversity creates novel conditions in which interfaith work emerges as uniquely plausible, and possible. Ms. Kaur outlines the mandate for interreligious efforts within the Sikh tradition, citing the very beginning of Sikh faith as precisely a call to this as a practice of faith.
Professor Rambachan also addresses the limitations of individual theologies, while noting that Gandhi modelled an inclusive and religiously diverse community, finding a centring force around cooperation for the benefit of the poor and oppressed. He notes how religious traditions have a tendency to, at best, tolerate those who follow other traditions because there is no sensed need for them to enrich their tradition with the theology of another. In turn, he notes that rather than providing reasons to celebrate the presence of other traditions, other traditions become of instrumental value to demonstrate, at best, peaceful coexistence. The place to start, he argues, is a recognition of the shared divinity which no one human can grasp, regardless of the tradition. We all have a limited relationship with God, he notes, which justifies our need for each other. Indeed, our theologies call for us to learn from one another.
Professor Johannes Lähnemann also speaks to a limitation – arguing that Christian tradition can use the Gospel and Jesus’s singularity as God’s only son, often resulting in a sense of exclusivity which may undermine other traditions. But, he argues that Jesus’s own life and actions illustrate how to move beyond these apparent theological limitations. The way to do so in everyday life, he argues, is to reexamine the foundations of our own faith, as well as evaluate the history of how communities coexisted related to faith. Lähnemann emphasises religious education as a means to find the words to explain faith and beliefs to those who might be skeptical, or different.
Children, he argues, are central to a process whereby the principles of each faith can become a means of learning to dialogue while living together, eventually developing to a learned habitus where even topics where individuals are unfamiliar or might disagree, can be matters of engagement through dialogue, rather than the boundaries of otherness and silencing of difference.
Professor Nayla Tabbara argues inspiration for interreligious connections can be found within the text of the Qur’an. She notes that most religious leaders engage people of good will by offering up a call to collaborate and join together as God’s brothers and sisters. This is a clear statement towards a great future; other Islamic scholars have echoed this in order to continue to inspire good deeds, she notes. Dr. Tabbara goes a step further, however, as she illustrates how the Lebanese based Adyan Foundation (Religions for Peace’s Arab regional affiliate), has actually championed Religious Social Responsibility, as a term and a practice, which removes the experience of serving or observing one’s faith from the private or strictly similar religious community, to the means of serving positive peace in the broad public sphere.
Dr. Kaur notes that equality and oneness of creation, are significant themes throughout the Guru Granth Sahib (sacred Sikh text). Every human being must be treated equally because God is present within them. Guru Nanak Dev Ji, she relates, founded the tradition of Langar, free vegetarian food that is available at all Gurudwaras (Sikh houses of worship). The Langar is a key illustration of multi-religious engagement and social justice work which breaks down barriers of identity and status divisions. All Gurudwaras have an open-door policy, welcoming everyone to the space of equality. The practice of compassion, Kaur emphasises, urges Sikhs to work multi-religiously, indeed, she notes that Sikhs pray constantly for the welfare of all humanity. She gives the example of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ), a Sikh faith-based organisation, which has continuously committed itself to a stance of multi-faith engagement and collaboration, even in the face of criticism.
Professor Lilian Sison emphasises how “Nostra Aetate,” the declaration by Pope Paul VI in 1965, is concerned with dialogue between religions and the universal brotherhood and respect that should be cultivated amongst all people. Three reasons are put forth as to why dialogue is essential: how we all belong to one human family, are all gifted with a sense of spirituality, and have “a shared responsibility for the common good”. Professor Sison notes how the 1986 meeting in Assisi (also mentioned in Ms. Frémond’s paper) became a symbol for the promotion of peace through dialogue and interreligious collaboration. This commitment to interfaith dialogue was continued in the 2019 Abu Dhabi meeting and signing of a Document on Human Fraternity, between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb (both represented on Religions for Peace World Council). This Document was followed by Pope Francis’ 2020 letter, “Fratelli Tutti,” which promotes universal fraternity. Sison argues that peacebuilding and social action (positive peace) are a manifestation of faith in action for religious actors.
Ms. Pascale Frémond talks about transformation within historically colonised Indigenous People from Christian influence, to more traditional beliefs and system of spirituality. She notes that many Indigenous spiritual traditions were, historically, changed and impacted by the influence of Christianity. She describes how many Indigenous communities are today returning to, or continuing, their traditional practices of spirituality, in which a focus on self-sufficiency, and the contribution of every being to the maintenance of the world, and ways of life, is deeply significant. This can mean, Frémond argues, that groups have developed mutual aid practices and an overall commitment to generosity, and cultivated a profound sense of community between peoples, nature, and “the world of spiritual powers.”
Frémond notes that Indigenous communities, although often left out of interfaith dialogues, are nevertheless open to listening and understanding others of different faiths. The idea of the “circle of life” is significant as it exemplifies the Amerindian vision of the world and is the foundation for the engagement of First Peoples’ in interreligious, interspiritual and intercultural cooperation. “Self-history” refers to the idea that only Amerindians can validate their history and values. This, she points out, is a conscious push back on the centuries of colonisation and appropriation that Native peoples have faced.
Rabbi Burton Visotzky, also a veteran of interfaith work for decades, narrates how the rabbis from the 3rd to the 5th century, were contending with the differing creation stories in Genesis, and offering insight into the development of humanity (including differing religions). Human interaction is mediated by the relationship with God, he explains, “We often need to be reminded that we are better than no person, and no person is better than us in the eyes of our Creator regardless of religion, nation, etc.” Ancient rabbis taught that because humanity was created by one person, divisions cannot be drawn in a supremacy of ancestry. As with Rambachan, Visotzky argues that we must recognise the divine in ourselves and in others.
He explains that while “be holy” was stated to mean “be separate” in early commentary, it held a deeper meaning: as God is merciful and compassionate, we too must act with mercy and compassion. There are consistent mentions in Rabbinic texts of loving the other as yourself, even if we fail to see how alike to others we are. Visotzky argues that Judaism commands the care for all other humans. This, he explains, can practically mean wealth distribution, humanitarian aid and work, or efforts for multireligious collaboration and peace building. As illustrated, Visotzky points to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and other Jewish organisations’ relief and development work, as part of their “Jewish obligation to interreligious engagement”.
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