In 2003, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev introduced his initiative for dialogue of religious leaders. In 2008, the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called for the need to have dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews.
These two calls came at a time when peace initiatives stalled and the tension in the whole world escalated. Both initiatives are inspired by Islamic principles and reflect the desire of Muslims to live in peaceful coexistence and positive interaction with the followers of other religions and different cultures. These calls are based on the support of senior clerics and imams in Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan, which represent an indispensable support in Muslim societies that believe that the decisions of their rulers are based on Islamic principles. Those principles state that all heavenly messages came down to guide people to worship God in the manner enacted by the Almighty and to remove the scourge of poverty, injustice and racial discrimination as it called to uphold human values that promote social justice.
These initiatives for a dialogue of cultures and religions are based on key principles:
A. Rejection of apartheid and abandoning the idea that there is one race superior to another. All people are equal and enjoy the same degree of humanity; that is, they do not claim to be superior to each other by race, colour or sex.
B. The diversity and differences in ethnic and human communities are normal and should result in an understanding and cooperation among them.
C. The variation and diversity of human communities according to their origin or religion is allowed by the Almighty and it is therefore necessary for the owners of wisdom and reason, in spite of their differences, to strive to find a common ground through which they can achieve mutual respect and happiness for mankind.
D. The need to face common social challenges in a world deluged in material life that suffers from the disintegration of family relationships and the breakup of ethical values and call for cooperation to alleviate those problems by sharing experiences that may contribute to finding effective solutions.
The initiatives for a dialogue of cultures and religions have been met with desirability and welcomed by all world leaders. In the speech delivered by President Barack Obama in Cairo, the U.S. president said, “Faith should bring us together and this is why we have established service projects in America to bring together Christians, Jews and Muslims and for that we welcome the efforts of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to establish a dialogue between religions.”
A statement of Rabbi David Rosen, Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee who previously served as chief rabbi of Ireland, affirmed the importance of dialogue between religions.“Religion is mostly the problem, so it should be the key to the solution, or at least part of it, and I think that the reason for the failure of many initiatives to find a political peace is that they ignored the religious dimension,” he said.
It has been 12 years since President Nazarbayev introduced his initiative for dialogue of religious leaders and eight years since the late king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia started another needed initiative for dialogue to overcome extremism in the world. Still, waves of extremism continue to plague our world, as shown in the atrocities recently committed by IS extremists against Saudis. Yet, the only solution we see is to continue fighting back extremism with dialogue .In this regard, I highly praise the courageous step by Kazakhstan for deciding to include political leaders in the fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, a decision to expand rather than decrease the level of dialogue.
Further and in light of the Islamic ideals of peace, justice and realism, we can suggest a set of means that help the international community to pass through this crisis and other problems that face humanity. These means are:
1. To give religious organisations the proper place and increase cooperation between international organisations and religious organisations and encourage more tolerance, participation and consultation to contain the attempts of some elements that are trying to blow up the global struggle.
2. To continue the dialogue and follow the example of the Prophet (PBUH), the four caliphs and those who follow the way of Islamic history like Nour Elddin and Saladin, who defeated the Crusader racism with mind, tolerance and compassion, not with spear and sword.
3. We should acknowledge that violations of international law, human rights and infringements on the rights of peoples and its holy values and incompliance with UN resolutions create an environment that encourages terrorism. The result is more serious, as these international delinquent behaviours are used as an excuse by groups of extremism and violence to justify their actions. We must recognise that in our time, the influence of each country on the others has increased and grown and that the behaviours of a country affects directly and indirectly on the internal situation in many other countries. The world has actually reached the stage of the global village, where some of its parts are affected by what is happening in any other part.
4. Violence and extremism phenomenon has become a cross-border global dilemma and not specific to some people or race or religion and this entails that all states should come together to siege and fight it according with the Islamic principle (help one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwâ [virtue, righteousness and piety], but do not help one another in sin and transgression [Al-Mâ’idah]). The more justice, fairness, tolerance and dialogue are expanded in the states, institutions and individuals’ behaviours, the more extremism is narrowed.
The efforts of Islamic institutions in Saudi Arabia against extremist ideas have become a well-known experience, as the initiatives and the support of the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz have the greatest impact on the success achieved in the country against terrorism and extremism and to spread the values of tolerance, dialogue and peace. The Council of Senior Religious Scholars in the Kingdom has issued many statements that condemn violence and terrorism and urge solving international problems in the light of the principles of peace and justice ordered by Islam. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Dawa and Guidance also exert huge efforts to combat extremism and promote moderation and to clarify the true image of Islam as a religion of love, peace and justice.
Our world today is divided into two worlds, one for the extremists both in Muslim and non-Muslim societies who want to destroy the pluralistic nature of our beautiful world and one for the moderates who want to live and let live. Fortunately, the world of moderates still has enlightened, wise and courageous leaders such as those of Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan who are interested in spreading peace, development and solving all international problems through dialogue and cooperation.
The author is a Supervisor of the Knowledge Exchange Programme and Consultant to the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Dawa and Guidance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.