World Interfaith Harmony Week was concluded at the United Nations General Assembly on February 7, 2012 at an event titled “Common Ground for Common Good.” Subthemes discussed by speakers included: the search for common ground, conflict resolution, disaster prevention and response, renewal of the United Nations, and sustainable development.
“We recognize and celebrate the values that are shared across religious traditions,” said Mr. Al-Nasser, President of the 66th General Assembly. “These common principles form a common ground that unites us in our rich diversity.” The General Assembly President went on to note that the United Nations was itself established in pursuit of universal values such as peace, freedom, human rights, dignity, and the oneness of humanity, which are also espoused by many of the world’s religions.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro urged the interfaith community to speak out against extremism, advance tolerance, and stand firm for social justice, dignity, and mutual understanding. “Although faith is the glue that often bonds communities and cultures around the world, it is too often used as an excuse to emphasize differences and deepen divisions,” she said. “Only by finding common cause in mutual respect for shared spiritual and moral values can we hope for harmony among nations and peoples.”
The list of speakers included religious, political and interfaith leaders:
- H.E. Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations
- Monica Willard, President, Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations
- Philippe Kridelka, Director, UNESCO New York Office
- Dr. Marc Scheuer, Director, Secretariat of the UN Alliance of Civilizations
- Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General, Religions for Peace
- Acharya Sri Shrivatsa Goswami, Director, Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana
- Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ)
- H.E. Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the United Nations
- Dr. Prof. M. Din Syamsuddin, Chairman, Muhammadiyah and Indonesia Ulama Council
- Rabbi David Rosen, Director, American Jewish Committee Department for Interreligious Affairs
- Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Founder, Cordoba Initiative
- Bill Canny, Catholic Relief Services
- Yuka Saionji, Byakko Shinko Kai and the Goi Peace Foundation
- Katherine Marshall, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University
- Dr. Azza Karam, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
- Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee, President, Won Buddhism International
- Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, Agape International Spiritual Center and Association for Global New Thought
- H.E. Amb. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations
- Tajeldin Hamad, Secretary General of Universal Peace Federation
- Rev. Deborah Moldow, The World Peace Prayer Society
- Dr. Hanifa Mezoui, Office of the President of the 66th General Assembly
In addition to speakers, performers representing diverse cultural traditions performed music and theater. Then the program was ended with a ceremony in which a tree was watered by representatives of the following faiths: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Indigenous, Sikhism, Judaism, Baha’i, Jainism, Shintoism, and Zoroastrianism.
The United Nations, founded by the Great Powers at the end of World War II, has largely been an international security organization designed to prevent further world wars. But the nature of the political structure of the United Nations has been conservative in that it represents the interests of state regimes rather than the peoples who inhabit the world. These interests have been promoted by NGOs and religious leaders, who seek an increased voice at the UN.
The difficult problem of Interfaith Harmony is one in which general principles that apply to all humanity can be accepted by the various religions, while established regimes can provide religious freedom for the expression of particular faiths that promote different ways of life. “The common principles form a common ground that unites us in our rich diversity,” said Mr. Al-Nasser, noting that the UN was itself established in pursuit of universal values such as peace, freedom, human rights, dignity, and the oneness of humanity. He announced that on March 22, he will convene a one-day seminar in the Assembly on “fostering cross-cultural understanding for building peaceful and inclusive societies” that will continue last year’s 4th Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations in Doha, Qatar.