On 2nd February 2021tThe Universal Peace Federation (UPF) International and the Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations (CFBOs) with the cooperation and support of several partners including International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace, LIOS-SOIL Organization and several universities in Pakistan organized a virtual Interfaith Harmony Conference. Dr. Afsar Rathor, who was the main organizer, noted that the goal of this conference was education and changing mindsets. The webinar was in two parts and highlighted the immense contribution which Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) can make to deal with challenges of or time. Individuals of various faiths each stressed the need to listen and learn from each other.
Session One Interfaith Cooperation for Securing Peace in the 21st Century
Initiator and Moderator: Dr. Afsar Rathor, Austria introduced the webinar with a focus on the true meaning of dialogue to enhance interfaith harmony hoping to provide an enduring platform. He named the cooperating universities and partners in Pakistan and Africa, with a special focus on the technical university providing the infrastructure.
In the Introduction, Mr. Peter Haider, Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Austria explained the vision of Rev Dr Sun Myung Moon to establish an interreligious council within the United Nations (UN). Members would need to demonstrate an ability to speak for the entire world and humanity at large, to supplement the insights of the world’s political leaders.
The first speaker, Prof. Dr. Mohammad Nizamuddin, former Chairman PHEC & Pro Rector Superior University, Lahore, Pakistan proclaimed himself to be a newcomer to this group. With his 25 years UN experience he is a cynical defender of UN Conferences. He stressed the need for intra-faith dialogue saying that in Pakistan intra-faith groups are killing each other. His recommendation is to respond to real issues in interfaith and intra-faith. He proposed documenting the worldwide faith issues, record violations, focus on a particular big issue due to faith and to focus on activism.
Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, President Bishop Church of Pakistan & Bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan proclaimed that even Mother Nature is crying for peace. As a Christian Pakistani, he described the situation in the border area to Afghanistan. He reported on the cooperation that developed into an interfaith group in Pakistan in 2004, when Hindus, Sikhs and other faith friends started celebrating each other’s religious festivals together. The major breakthrough was in 2013 celebrating Divali, the festival of Hindu lights. Interfaith youth camps led to peaceful coexistence at grassroots level. Our inner peace is key to outreach. Let us become a source of blessing to each other.
Ms. Prof. Dr. Basmah Ahmed Mohammed Jastaniah, Umm Al Qura University, Makkah, Saudia Arabia opened with a statement by Dr Hans Küng: there is no peace in the world unless there is peace among religions. She claimed difference to be a factor for strengthening relations, not a trigger for conflict. She cited four organizations and then a number of individuals, illustrating that religions have never been the initiators of war: Religions for Peace (RFP); King Abdullah International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) in Vienna; United Religions Initiative (URI), and the Common Word initiative. She stressed the importance of dialogue to agree on areas of cooperation.
Ms. Prof. Dr. Musferah Mehfooz, Dept. Islamic Studies, COMSATS University Lahore, Pakistan quoted Dalai Lama: No peace among the nations without peace among the religions, no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions. She stressed the need for contextual understanding of Quran also quoting “Let us come to a common statement between us and you”. She said the Moslem world is facing false accusation of violence and extremism due to misinterpretation of the Islamic narrative. “Are we not all children of the same father?” (Malachi). She quoted a number of the prophets and pointed out tolerance as a central theme.
Rev. Prof. Dr. Zaka Ahuche Peter, Acting Head, Dept of Public Theology, Nigeria stated that religious leaders should be held responsible for the errors of their followers. What you believe in should be reflected in social interaction. He reminded that the Golden rule has its expression in Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hebraism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism and African religions, e.g. Zulu. Everyone is responsible for his own choice. Religious leaders have an important role to play. Our differences do not have to divide us. Dialogue is important.
Ms. Prof. Dr. Konul Bunyadzade, Dept Head of Islamic Philosophy, National Academy of Sciences Azerbaijan claimed Azerbaijan as a guarantor of peace in the region. Faith is the internal connection. Geographic location affects way of thinking. Azerbaijan is a democratic republic that respects Islamic values. It is located at the crossroads of conflicting values. It is multi-confessional and multi-cultural, tolerant to solve its own and regional problems. She referred to a troubled history but claimed that Azerbaijan’s soft force of culture and tolerance was climaxed by its national music rising to universal harmony in the International World of Mugham Festival annually.
Dr. Mohammad Ismath Ramzy, Senior Lecturer, University of Malaya (UM), Kuala Lumpur Malaysia spoke on perception of diversity and the role of faith communities to bring peace. The right perception is important to manage diversity. The core value of all world religions is diversity. Diversity becomes a challenge when it is mismanaged. Race, gender and colour differences are meaningless. Wrong perception is very serious among rulers. The proper management of diversity is impossible without perceiving diversity as potential.
Ms. Prof. Dr. Roida Rzayeva Oktay, Dept. Head, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Baku, Azerbaijan said interfaith understanding is crucial for development. Modern reality requires a new understanding of dialogue. Tolerance is grounded on the principle of equality. Interfaith understanding is crucial to peace and development.
Session Two Role of Faith-Based Organizations in Social Support and Combating Crimes
Dr Michael Platzer, Austria introduced CFBO, founded a year and a half ago connecting Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist religious leaders and recognized by UNODC.
Prof. Dr. Ridwan al-Makassary, Research Coordinator on Public Policy, Jayapura, Indonesia spoke about the role of Faith Based Organizations in Papua/Indonesia particularly the faith-based tolerance in Papua, a conflict-ridden area. History of interfaith dialogue in Indonesia goes back to conflicts between Muslims and Christians in 1965. The goal of this model is to understand the other. Religious leader’s forum is a model of harmony with local wisdom.
Ms. Zainab Moin, Lecturer, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan discussed the role of faith in social support and combating crimes. Her focus was a discussion on the basis of textual analysis. Peace is defined as freedom from disturbance or conflict. Reconciliation then takes an important role in response to crime in all religions and thus in society.
Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Ali, Chairman (Research Think Tank) MUSLIM Institute (Islamabad-London), Pakistan spoke on the role of faith in social sport and combatting crime. It is crucial to understand the multi-level of human capacity. He referred to the Nelson Mandella rules of 2015. Faith plays a major role in Human Rights, values, peace keeping. The basic tenets of faith entail truth, justice, benevolence, tolerance, respect, understanding and reconciliation in multicultural societies.
Allapitchay Mohamed Mihlar, Vice Principal Zahira College, Colombo, Sri Lanka said that moral values are gradually fading away. It’s our moral duty to prevent crime. Faith sublimates the soul and elevates humans.
Ms.Tabassum Parveen, Researcher, working on the Political Economy of Arab Gulf states, Qatar believes no one is born a criminal. Religion plays a central integrating role. There are more religious leaders than health workers. Religious leaders can promote good practice in challenging times e.g. in fighting pandemic.
Finaly Prof. Dr. Shahid Habib, KF University of Engineering & Information Technology, Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan stated that the Islamic concept of zakat to help the needy, results in proper circulation in society, one side supporting the needy, bringing prosperity to the society. He believes man is naturally greedy. Islam gives the solution to abolish crime in society and provide support for the poor. Pay to the needy to purify your wealth.
Dr. Suleman Tahir Director of the university providing the digital technical infrastructure for this conference referred to the Sufi poet foundation of the university. Let’s work in technology, social justice, economy to create interfaith harmony. We should think that we are humanity, fulfilling the SDGs, educating the people, accepting others. Let us join hands to help humanity.
Dr. Michael Platzer led the Q&A session which delved further into the core of the issues.
Dr. Thomas Walsh, Co-Chairman CFBOs & Chairman, UPF International, USA made closing remarks, indicating we need to realise the tremendous assets in the billions of people and the resurgence of religion worldwide.
Dr. Afsar Rathor mentioned that 33 countries participated directly in the seminar and thanked the universities which streamed live into their classrooms, pre-empting a further meeting in March to continue in the spirit of education in interfaith.
Dr. Afsar Rathor, President LIOS-SOIL Organization, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Peter Haider, President Universal Peace Federation Austria, email@example.com
Dr. Michael Platzer, Co-Chairman Coalition of Faith-Based Organizations, firstname.lastname@example.org
PARTNERS: KF University of Engineering & Information Technology; Rahim Yar Khan, Superior University Lahore; University of Jhang, PMAS Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi; University of Sailkot, Muslim Institute, Pakistan; Iqbal International Institute for Research & Dialogue; International Islamic University Islamabad; Dept of Islamic Learning, University of Karachi; King Letsitsa International University, South Africa; Bakholokoe Kingdom, Harrismith, South Africa; ADPULSE Integrated Media, Karachi, Greenwich University Karachi.