In the 21st century era of globalisation that is full of threats and dangers, where things that happen at one end of the globe have a direct impact on the life of a country at the other end of the world, any threat to human life ceased to be a problem for only one particular nation.
Therefore, since gaining its independence, Kazakhstan has not confined itself to resolving only its own external and internal problems, and has not been a passive onlooker to injustices happening in the world, but has actively participated in solving world problems.
From the very beginning, our republic has been a natural border between the major world religions of Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.
For many centuries, the representatives of various nations and ethnic groups have lived and worked together in Kazakhstan. Strong cultural and economic ties that promote mutual enrichment and prosperity have been built here. This is a colossal wealth that the people of the country are hoping to preserve and pass on to their descendants.
In 2004, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, understanding the growing role of religion in society, as well as the real threat posed by terrorist organisations put forward the idea of an interreligious forum of religious leaders in the capital of Kazakhstan – Astana.
Nazarbayev’s initiative has been positively accepted by religious authorities. As an example, I shall mention several facts.
Since 2003, the President has met with the General Secretary of the Muslim World League Sheikh Al-Turki, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II, Pope John Paul II, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger and others. Each of them supported and commended the idea to hold the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
Through the support of the heads of states and leaders of world and traditional religions, the First Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held on Sept. 23–24, 2003 in Kazakhstan.
The significance of the first congress was in its conceptual idea – dialogue of religions is an effective tool for settling disputes and opposing violence and terror.
The aims of the first congress were to find common guidelines in the world and traditional forms of religions to create a permanent international, interdenominational institute for ensuring religious dialogue and making coordinated decisions.
The forum concluded with the adoption of a declaration, where spiritual leaders made statements about joint actions on ensuring peace and progress for mankind and guaranteeing stability in societies as the basis of a harmonious world in the future.
The success of the event was consolidated by the decision of the first congress to hold the interreligious forum on a regular basis – once every three years. By this decision, Kazakhstan was granted the honour of organising and preparing in 2006 the Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana.
During the period between congresses, main bodies have been established, including the Secretariat of the Congress and Congress Working Group, which consist of representatives of different religions.
Working bodies of the congresses carry out on a regular basis activities aimed at the objective and detailed preparation of themes and concepts for forthcoming meetings of religious leaders, and the development and drafting of the outcomes of the congresses.
The Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held in Astana on Sept. 12-13, 2006 in a new building constructed specifically for the event – the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.
On the first day of the forum, the document named “Principles of Interreligious Dialogue” was adopted, which contained the basic components that guided participants in their work.
The congress also adopted a joint declaration calling on representatives of all religions and ethnic groups to preventing conflicts on the ground of cultural and religious differences. This document reflects in full the global need to replace “opposition ideology” with a “culture of peace.”
The Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held in July 2009 in Astana under the theme, “The Role of Religious Leaders in Building a World of Tolerance, Mutual Respect and Cooperation.”
During the congress, issues were discussed related to the moral and spiritual values of the modern world in the context of the challenges and threats of the 21st century and the need for solidarity and religious tolerance in the modern global community.
The outcome of the congress was an appeal by the participants to religious and political leaders, public figures, scientists, mass media and the world community.
A proposal was made to create a Council of Religious Leaders to ensure dialogue and cooperation with other forums and international organisations, whose work would be aimed at a dialogue of cultures and economic cooperation.
“The concept of the Council of Religious Leaders” was adopted during the 10th session of the congress’ Secretariat, which was held in June 2011 in Astana.
The Fourth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held in May 2012 in Astana under the name “Peace and Harmony as the Choice of Mankind.”
The important role of religious leaders in strengthening the security of humankind, improving dialogue and mutual understanding was emphasised during that congress.
The participants stressed the responsibility of pastors for the moral development of societies, the education of younger generations and the efforts of religious leaders aimed at solving economic and social problems on national and international levels.
One of the most important initiatives of the fourth congress was the creation of an Internet resource as part of the common electronic portal G-Global, dedicated to the formation and strengthening of global tolerance and trust.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions has become a candid and legitimate reality of modern history and human life.
The format and spirit of the Astana congresses have created favourable conditions for dialogue where inevitably rich conversation are held, as well as meaningful discussions on the spiritual rapprochement between communities and nations, the adoption of the joint declaration and the address of religious leaders to people, countries and nations took place.
During the congresses, ties between representatives of different religions and confessions were established and strengthened, which have contributed to the growth of mutual trust and respect between religious communities. Those are the main components of peaceful coexistence and harmony in our common home, the Earth.
The contribution of the first congress to the institutionalisation of the global dialogue platform is unique. It has literally encouraged spiritual leaders to give a helping hand to each other. It is not a secret that the congresses bring together people who often share not only different religious beliefs and cultural aspects, but also years of confrontation between the states where they live.
The uniqueness and unprecedented sensitivity of the congresses are that representatives of different views hold a dialogue, exchange ideas, listen and hear each other.
Through initiatives and suggestions made at the congresses, today, we have a Council of Religious Leaders, the governing body of the congress, which is empowered to deal with appeals to the world, to raise acute issues and look for constructive solutions and act for the benefit of justice and peace.
Throughout the period in between two congresses, constant and hard work is being done by the Secretariat of the Congress and its Working Group, the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the International Centre of Cultures and Religions, as well as the parliament, the government and the presidential administration, aimed at implementing the initiatives of participants of the congresses, serving as a basis for the further promotion of the principles of religious tolerance dialogue and understanding in the human community.
As Kazakhstan has encouraged the international community to do good work, it has won the hearts, respect and favour of people around the world.
The author is Director of the International Centre of Cultures and Religions in Astana.