Inspirational Message presented by
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury,
Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations
at the interfaith conference
at the United Nations ECOSOC Chamber, New York
on 15 June 2016
Greetings of peace and non-violence to all of you!
I appreciate the initiative taken for organizing this timely event at the United Nations on “The Role of Interfaith Education in Conflict Prevention and Sustainable Peace”. It is impressive that this international gathering aims to facilitate a working ground for educators and followers of different faiths to discuss ways to open paths for using interfaith education for the cause of peacebuilding and prevention of social conflict. Equally relevant is also its objective to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal #4 on Quality Education and Goal #16 on Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.
The Japanese Mission to the UN deserves our appreciation for co-sponsoring this event. My special thanks to the organizers: the Buddhist Council of New York, Peace Islands Institute, Nagasaki Interfaith Council and the Journalists and Writers Foundation. I also thank in particular Rev. Dr.TK Nakagaki, President of the Buddhist Council of New York, for his untiring efforts towards the planning of the conference.
All religions, all faiths, all beliefs teach us to be good human beings with compassion for each other. Their teachings, their messages are noble and universal – but on many occasions, those are, as we say, “lost in translation” failing to create true understanding and generate a spirituality that makes our planet a better place to live.
One of the most spiritual things we can do is embrace our humanity. Connect with those around us to show love, warmth, and appreciation for each other.
To paraphrase Mother Theresa who lamented saying that the greatest disease today is not cancer, it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. She said that we can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for despair and hopelessness, hatred and prejudice, violence and conflict is love and compassion. Drawing attention to a different kind of poverty – poverty of spirituality, she said: “there are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love”.
Spirituality raises each one of us to a much higher level of consciousness where we are truly empowered to share and receive love and compassion unconditionally.
Spirituality is a universal human experience – something that touches us all. It is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. Spirituality therefore is integrally linked with interfaith work which aims at religious pluralism taken as normative and ensures that religious differences do not cause conflict or even concern.
From Asia to Africa to America to Europe, the world seeks a remedy for prejudice, violence, and conflict – it is the need of the hour. The key to interfaith harmony and to reducing violence lies in education – a universal education that encourages pluralism.
On 12 and 13 June this week, I moderated a two-day conference near Los Angeles billed as “World Summit of Educators” jointly convened by students and faculty of the Soka University of America focusing on education for global citizenship which brought together 75 educators form 30 plus countries. The outcome of that conference also linked tolerance and respect for diversity to education. It emphasized very pertinently that “Education has the most vital role to play in empowering our societies to embrace the concept of global citizenship as essential to humanity’s quest for peace and progress. For that to occur, a fundamental shift in the philosophy and values that encompass education is needed.” This Summit’s forward-looking Declaration crafted on 13 June 2016 deserves wide attention and its call for such a fundamental shift on education needs to be followed up globally.
UN Secretary-General has highlighted global citizenship in his Global Education First Initiative launched in December 2012. When the world leaders gathered at the UN in September 2015 and adopted the 2013 Agenda for Sustainable Development popularly known as Sustainable Development Goals, the specific goal on education identified global citizenship, the culture of peace and non-violence among the essential elements needed for meaningful education which creates a reverence for diversity and a sense of belonging with the whole world, which raises human values above everything else and promotes the oneness of humanity.
Progressive times require the all-pervasive culture of peace which recognizes that peace not only is the absence of conflict but also requires a positive, dynamic participatory process where dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation. The UN Programme of Action on Culture of Peace, therefore, asserts that a key role in the promotion of the culture of peace belongs to all including religious bodies and groups.
Recognizing that the moral imperatives of all religions, convictions, and beliefs call for peace, tolerance, and mutual understanding, the UN reaffirmed that inter-religious dialogues constitute important dimensions of the culture peace and proclaimed in 2010 the first week of February of every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week between all religions, faiths, and beliefs.
UN Secretary-General has said, “World Interfaith Harmony Week celebrates the principles of tolerance and respect for the other that are deeply rooted in the world’s major religions. The observance is also a summons to solidarity in the face of those who spread misunderstanding and mistrust”.
Let me conclude by underscoring that interfaith education becomes meaningful “when children understand that human values exist in all the great traditions; when children glimpse the humanity of believers of other faiths; and when children know that truth is expressed outside their own religion; then narrow-mindedness, the root of violence and terrorism will not survive.”