World Interfaith Harmony Week 2015
On October 20, 2010, World Interfaith Harmony Week was unanimously adopted by the United Nations as the first week of February, set aside each year for interreligious observances, the study of sacred texts, prayer breakfasts, interfaith celebrations of poetry, music and art, meditation groups, and afternoons of community service.
Foundations of World Interfaith Harmony Week
The foundation to World Interfaith Harmony Week lies in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This declaration enjoins on all nations to follow freedom of religion and belief and the practice of that belief, in whatever form or rituals that expresses a belief-system.
The United Nations went one step further in forming the Alliance of Civilisations. The AOC welcomes efforts to promote greater understanding and respect among people from different civilizations, cultures and religions, with emphasis on how interreligious and intercultural dialogue can make to an improved awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humankind.
The common values of humanity often include universal principles such as truthfulness, honesty, fairness, justice, right conduct, non-violence and peace. These principles are often essential for our personal and social survival. Human Values are those universal concepts, drivers of action which are found in all cultures, all societies, all times and in all places where human live, work, play and seek fulfilment. The five human values which can be found in all most cultures and religions are Truth, Right Conduct, Love, Peace and Non-Violence. These values are eternal; they are eternal essences, which elevate human life to its highest expression, its highest capacity.
Theme of World Interfaith Harmony Week
The theme of World Interfaith Harmony Week is Love of God and Love of Neighbour, or, Love of the Good and Love of Neighbour (for those cultures which do not utter the name of the Divine in public or private discourse). This theme recognises and builds on interreligious and intercultural dialogue which makes significant contributions to mutual understanding, tolerance and respect, as well as to the promotion of a culture of peace and an improvement of overall relations among people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and among nations.
Common Ground among the World’s Religions
Religions for Peace is the world’s largest multi-religious organization, working in over 90 countries. My task is to speak about “commonalities,” areas shared by the world’s diverse religious communities.
I must begin by saying a word on their differences: The world’s religions are different. These differences are profoundly defining. The fact of difference translates into a very simple practical precept: turn to Buddhists for an expression of what Buddhism means, turn to Muslims for an understanding of Islam, turn to Hindus for Hindu interpretations, and so forth for each faith.
If there is no fully adequate way of speaking about religious commonalities, we all, perhaps, spontaneously make rough approximations of them: that there is a Transcendent Mystery; that It is imminent in human hearts; that It is supreme beauty, truth, righteousness, goodness; that It is love, mercy, compassion; that the way to this Transcendent Mystery is honesty, humility, repentance, self-denial, prayer, meditation; that the way to It is love of one’s neighbours, even of one’s enemies; that the way is love of the Transcendent Mystery, so that bliss is conceived as knowledge of this Mystery, union with It, or dissolution into It.
However weak this kind of description necessarily is, we can all ponder the fact that well-developed religious personalities around the world “recognize” each other across traditions. The eye of Mercy – if you will – sees Mercy, and sees it wherever it is to be found and across differences.
We are here to celebrate harmony. So what should we actually do in common?
To go forward, religious believers must, first of all, acknowledge that their religious traditions have at times been abused by extremists. Then, standing together across all religious differences, they must reject this abuse.
Second, diverse religious communities and governments must work together on common problems. We need to put those problems squarely before us.
We know too well the blood of war, how it kills, maims, and destroys the lives of the innocent. We know too well the crushing weight of poverty, how it stunts, humiliates, and plunders. We know too well the children lost or held back by preventable diseases and denied education. These and the abuses to our environment are genuine threats to peace. They are common problems. They call us to cooperative action.
Act we must, but on what grounds shall we act together? The fact is that, despite real religious and theological differences, the moral sensibilities of diverse religious communities converge in a shared conviction that honouring the Divine is directly linked to honouring and protecting the inviolable dignity of every person. This is the basis for multi-religious cooperation.
So, cooperative action among religious communities and states for peace must express our common commitments to honour and protect the inviolable dignity of each person.
Three decisive steps are needed:
- Our commonly shared conviction on personal morality that can be expressed as “do to others as you wish done to you” needs to be translated into a new political paradigm. We need to forge a notion of shared security. Today, my security depends on yours. Yes, we can and do respect the need for state security. Yes, we are grateful for the expanded notion of human security. But, these are not enough. Today, no walls can be built high enough to protect ourselves from the needs of others. Their security has to be our concern. We are no safer than the most vulnerable among us.
- We applaud the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations as a fitting space for UN religious engagement. We applaud that UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, and others are engaged in concrete projects with religious communities. Nevertheless, we can do more. Governments can and should better equip themselves for partnerships with religious and multi-religious bodies. How many foreign ministries have portfolios dealing with religious cooperation? Each government’s main agencies, those dealing with domestic and those dealing with international affairs, need to become equipped to enter into principled partnerships with religious and multi-religious bodies in the service of the common good. In short, states need to build strategies and equip themselves for partnerships with religious communities.
- Religious communities should unite to build the simple and honest mechanism that can serve principled multi-religious cooperation for peace on every level: local, national, regional, and global. This is what the religious leaders in Religions for Peace and other multi-religious bodies have been labouring to do for many years. Already we have dramatic examples of how governmental/multi-religious partnerships can yield real fruit in conflict resolution, the fight against disease and poverty, and concern for our earth. But, but more governmental partnerships are needed.
Two conclusions: first, religious communities differ in their beliefs, but share profound moral concerns. Second, religious bodies on the one hand and intergovernmental and governmental bodies on the other have different and quite distinct identities, mandates, and capacities. Cooperation between them should respect these differences, even as it helps us all to build the peace for which our hearts hunger.
Dr. William F. Vendley
Secretary General, Religions for Peace, address to UN General Assembly, 7 February 2013
World Interfaith Harmony Week In Australia:
World Interfaith Harmony Week has been celebrated in Australia since its inception. The first celebration took place at Government House in Melbourne on 5 February 2010, when the Governor of Victoria gave an address to the assembled religious leaders. Since then, the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne has conducted a celebration each year at Government House. In 2012, the event organisers invited over 100 religious, spiritual and community leaders to a morning reception in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House, Melbourne, Australia, to celebrate the second World Interfaith Harmony Week. We celebrate by gathering together, strengthening our ties, sharing news of our interfaith activities and our future plans, through meeting new friends and creating new partnerships. The Faith Communities Council of Victoria, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne, Religions for Peace Australia and the Australian Multicultural Foundation are partners in this special event.
In 2015, World Interfaith Harmony Week will be observed for the first time in Parliament House, Canberra.