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World Interfaith Harmony Week
1 - 7 February 2013

World Interfaith Harmony Week

Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad (Jordan)

I have the honour to introduce on behalf of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the 27 other sponsors — Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Liberia, Mauritius, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Yemen — draft resolution A/65/L.5, entitled “World Interfaith Harmony Week”.

Allow me to explain in brief the reasoning behind this draft resolution, which was launched by his Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein before the General Assembly on 23 September 2010 (see A/65/PV.12 PDF document).

As this Assembly is well aware, our world is rife with religious tension and, sadly, mistrust, dislike and hatred. These religious tensions can easily erupt into communal violence. They also facilitate the demonizing of the other, which in turn predisposes public opinion to support war against peoples of other religions. Thus, for example, according to the results of a 2008 Gallup poll, one of the largest international surveys on religion in history, 53 per cent of Westerners have unfavourable or very unfavourable opinions of Muslims and 30 per cent of Muslims polled worldwide hold negative views of Christians.

The misuse or abuse of religions can thus be a cause of world strife, whereas religions should be a great foundation for facilitating world peace. The remedy for this problem can come only from the world’s religions themselves. Religions must be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Much good work has already been done towards this, starting really with the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, by hundreds of intra-faith and interfaith groups all over the world and of all religions.

Yet the forces inciting interreligious tensions, notable among them being religious fundamentalisms of various kinds, are better organized, more experienced, better coordinated, more motivated and more ruthless. They have more stratagems, more institutes, more money and more power and garner more publicity, such that they by far outweigh all the positive work done by the various interfaith initiatives. The sad proof of this is that religious tensions are on the rise, not on the decline.

The draft resolution before us seeks to turn the tide against this negative movement, first, by coordinating and uniting the efforts of all the interfaith groups doing positive work with one focused theme at one specific time annually, thereby increasing their collective momentum and eliminating redundancy.

Secondly, the draft resolution seeks to harness and utilize the collective might of the world’s secondlargest infrastructure, that of places of worship — the largest being that of education — specifically for peace and harmony in the world, inserting, as it were, the right “software” into the world’s religious “hardware”.

Thirdly, the draft resolution seeks to permanently and regularly encourage the silent majority of preachers to declare themselves for peace and harmony and to provide a ready-made vehicle for them to do so. Moreover, if preachers and teachers commit themselves on the record once a year to peace and harmony, this means that when the next interreligious crisis or provocation occurs, they cannot then relapse into parochial fear and mistrust, and will be more likely to resist the winds of popular demagoguery.

Turning to the text itself, allow me to explain some of its most essential terminology and concepts.

First, in the very title of the draft resolution and in the second operative paragraph and elsewhere, the word “harmony” is used in the Chinese sense of the term. We add it to the term “tolerance”, which we have also used, because tolerance can suggest that the other is so negative that it has to be tolerated. We cannot use “acceptance” because it implies that religions accept each other’s doctrines, rather than their right to those doctrines, and this is not the case. We cannot use the term “peace” alone because it suggests merely the absence of war and not necessarily the absence of hatred. Only the Confucian concept of harmony can rescue us here because it suggests not merely peace, but also beautiful and dynamic interaction between different elements within a whole.

Secondly, in paragraph 3 there is a mention of “love of God and love of one’s neighbour or love of the good and love of one’s neighbour”. Why is this religious reference necessary in a United Nations resolution? In answer to this question, it will be noted first that the draft resolution is unique because it is specifically about peace among religions and not about anything else; therefore, some religious references in this particular case are only natural. To rigidly maintain the contrary would be to disregard the feelings of 85 per cent of the world’s population that belongs to one or another faith.

Thirdly, and more importantly perhaps, we include these references because, while we all agree that it is clearly not the business of the United Nations to engage in theology, it is nevertheless the primary goal of the United Nations to make and safeguard peace, and without the specific mention of God and of the two commandments of love, many — if not most — devout Muslims, Christians and Jews will consider a secular call for an interfaith harmony week to be a feckless platitude that they cannot fully or sincerely support. For in the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ said, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Matthew 4:4) and “hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). Similar meanings are to be found in the Holy Koran, wherein it is stated that no act is rewarded save for seeking “the Countenance of the Lord, the Most High” (XCII:20) and that verily “the remembrance of God is of all things the greatest” (XXIX:45).

In other words, for many Muslims, Christians and Jews — who together make up perhaps 55 per cent of the world’s population and, I regret to say, are involved in most of the world’s conflicts — it is necessary to mention the substance of their faiths. Otherwise, hoping to foster peace between religions by foisting upon them an external and purely secular and bureaucratic language is simply a house divided against itself that shall not stand.

Fourthly, it will be noted that this language excludes no one of any religion or of no faith at all. Every person of goodwill, with or without faith, can and should commit to love of the neighbour and love of God or love of the neighbour and love of the good. Loving one’s neighbour and the good is, after all, the essence of goodwill, and referring to the good obviously does not necessarily imply belief in God or in a particular religion, even though for many believers the good is God precisely. Jesus Christ said, “No one is good but God Alone” (The Holy Bible, Mark 10:18) and “the good” — “Al-Barr” — is one of God’s names in the Holy Koran. Thus, speaking of the good is a theologically correct but inclusive formula — insofar as it goes — that unites all humankind and leaves out no one.

Fifthly, there is another reason why it is specifically necessary to mention love of the neighbour. It sets an invaluable, practical standard based upon which people can ask themselves and each other if their actions stem from caritas — love — towards their neighbour or not. Indeed, as the Prophet Muhammad said, “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself”.

Also in paragraph 3, the phrase “on a voluntary basis” is used because the entire proposal must be purely voluntary. No place of worship should be forced to observe the World Interfaith Harmony Week for, while we hope to encourage interfaith harmony, the last thing we want is for anyone at all to feel that anything is being imposed on his or her faith, beliefs or convictions. Nevertheless, one can conceive of positive incentives to encourage and help support and monitor the implementation of the draft resolution.

Finally, and also in paragraph 3, the phrase “each according to their own religious traditions or convictions” is vital because the different religions do not necessarily interpret love of God and one’s neighbour in exactly the same way and do not want it said that they do. This phrase thus avoids the dangers of syncretism or reductionism and allows for religious differences within the same goal of working towards interreligious peace and harmony.

In summary then, I very humbly ask the Member States of the General Assembly to adopt draft resolution A/65/L.5 on the World Interfaith Harmony Week, noting that it excludes no individual, compromises no one, commits no one, forces no one, harms no one and costs nothing, and, on the contrary, includes everyone, celebrates everyone, benefits everyone, unites everyone and has the potential to bring much-needed peace and harmony to the entire world.