Congress in Astana focuses on religion as means to address global challenges

The world is experiencing major challenges. From the long-running conflicts in the Middle East, and instability and mistrust between many nations, it’s hard to deny that the world is going through a turbulent period.

Multiple reasons have been put forward for the difficulties we are facing, ranging from economic hardships of some countries and regions, geopolitical rivalries and mistrust among the public in the current political system. Yet few thorough and credible suggestions have been put forward about how to resolve the issues that trouble humankind today. Perhaps one answer is to look to spiritual values and promote aspects of religion that have been a positive force in the world for millennia.

Some may consider this suggestion outdated. Others may even argue that religion has a negative impact on our world. This is understandable given that some evil extremist groups have been attempting to hijack religion in order to spread hatred and division. However, it should be remembered that more than 60 percent of the world’s population follows a particular religion and the vast majority do so with purely peaceful intent. Precisely for this reason is it crucial that religious leaders ensure that faith is not used as a vehicle for hate and disorder, but, in fact, contributes to kindness and the peaceful coexistence of humanity.  

This has been one of the main aims of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. This week, leaders of different faiths, as well as government officials and heads of international organisations, will once again gather in Astana for the sixth time to discuss how religion can contribute to the resolution of the many challenges the world faces and ensure that faith is a force for good.

Founded on the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the congress, which takes place every three years, has grown in influence and authority. The number of participating delegations in congress’s sessions has increased from 17 in 2003, when the congress was established, to 82 this year.  

Religious leaders undoubtedly have a role to play in contributing to the resolution of some existing issues and crises. For instance, civilians have suffered greatly in the conflicts in Myanmar and Yemen. Furthermore, we have recently witnessed how the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region has further divided the two populations on religious grounds. Religious leaders have the authority and influence to contribute to the prevention of violence and conflict in these countries. Undoubtedly, this cannot be achieved without the participation of political leaders. It is for this reason that 82 delegations from 46 countries are all participating in the sixth congress in Astana this week.

Religion can also play a role in healing the divisions that currently exist in some countries and regions along political, national and ethnic lines. After all, faiths of all denominations have taught us the values that promote unity across humankind – including kindness, respect and compassion. This may sound like wishful thinking in the current climate of distrust and disagreements, but only such values can cure the troubles that our world is experiencing.

The objective of religious and political leaders should be to spread this message globally. This is why it is so important for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to continue its work and to welcome delegations from all over the world to Astana to discuss how this can be achieved.

Of course, nobody is under the impression that the congress can solve existing crises overnight. But it can play a vital role in contributing to the solutions. This should be the aim of the congress this week and the purpose of its work for years to come.