ASTANA – Religious leaders came together in Astana on Oct. 11 for the 21st session of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to highlight the role of dialogue in an effort to address escalating conflicts.
Opening the session, Maulen Ashimbayev, chairperson of the Senate, an upper chamber of the Kazakh Parliament and chairman of the secretariat of the congress, highlighted the 20th anniversary of the congress. Since 2003, seven congresses have been held in Astana, besides hundreds of meetings. More than 30 agreements on cooperation were signed with international structures.
“But more important are the qualitative results achieved through our work together. First, over the 20 years, our congress has become a unique dialogue platform uniting the first leaders and the most authoritative high representatives of all world and traditional religions,” said Ashimbayev.
Among other achievements, he outlined the congress’s role in establishing global interreligious dialogue and international relations and its contribution to the harmonious development of a multiconfessional society in Kazakhstan.
According to Ashimbayev, it has become essential to raise awareness of political instruments that can peacefully address escalating global geopolitical tensions.
“We are concerned by the actions of provocateurs, who are trying to manipulate the religious beliefs for self-serving purposes. Burning sacred scriptures and insulting religious symbols is vandalism that incites hostility between peoples and religions. Such inadmissible and barbaric actions, as the head of state [Kassym-Jomart Tokayev] noted, have nothing to do with freedom of speech. These values can provide peace and a solid foundation for a new world order. The role of leaders of world and traditional religions in this process is very important,” said Ashimbayev.
Nazir Mohamed Mohamed Elnazir Ayad, secretary general of Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, has offered blessings and support for the congress’s work.
“We see conflicts, wars, use of weapons and this shows us that in this era our world needs a voice of wisdom and a call for peace. Through this, we could go back to our true path. We, as religious leaders, shall spread these ideas and we need to be unbiased in this question,” said Ayad.
“Islam urges its followers to coexist with others and to interact with others on the principles of righteousness. We understand that principles of coexistence should take into account the differences of people and culture,” he added.
He also stressed that it is time to move from the theoretical dimension into the practical.
According to Pu Zheng, deputy secretary general of the Buddhist Association of China, such organizations as the Congress of Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions play a crucial role in helping the world promote peace and dialogue.
“Over the past two decades, the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions has gradually become an important platform for interreligious dialogue, playing a unique role in strengthening interreligious exchanges and cooperation, promoting and ensuring the peaceful and harmonious development of all countries,” said Pu.
Mutual understanding is the foundation of peace and security among civilizations, according to him.
“It is necessary to adhere to exchanges and mutual understanding, to make civilizational exchanges and mutual understanding the driving force to the progress of human society and the link to maintaining world peace,” he said.
He called on the participants to “actively promote greater understanding of differences between civilizations, promote exchanges and dialogues, so that the garden of world civilization will bloom.”
“We need to adhere to principles of openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and appreciation,” said Pu.
Master Li Xinjun, chief administrator of Beijing Baiyunguan Monastery of the Chinese Taoist Association, discussed the ethical duty of faith leaders to address global conflict.
“Humanity is facing all kinds of confusion and misunderstanding and in this regard, we as religious leaders, must use our religious wisdom to help resolve prejudices and conflicts between people, countries and civilizations. And we have to make a positive contribution to promoting the harmonious coexistence of different civilizations,” he said.
Turning to human values at heart may be the only way to find solutions to conflict, according to him.
“First of all, it is necessary to establish a protective line of peace and tranquility in the world with the value of life,” Li said.
“Human life is the most valuable of all! Only by establishing self-awareness of life, we can establish the desire for peace and tranquility in the world among people as well as vigilance against extremism,” he added.
According to Li, it is difficult to avert the global conflict unless people have a change of heart. “The root cause of conflict is not in the external world but in the hearts of people,” he said.
“For people who are prone to extremism, we must focus on improving their lives. For example, the lives of the elderly or women exposed to evil cults, youth exposed to extremist ideas such as religious extremism and violent terrorism, the marginalized groups living in difficult life conditions and the groups who have experienced severe mental shocks. We must invest more in carrying material assistance for them so that they could restore their faith in life and minimize the opportunities for survival of extremism,” said Li.
Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary general of the Anglican Communion and Bishop, said political conflicts affect everyone.
“When we are shaken, we do not take sides – we are all violated. Whatever our faith, our race, our homeland, we are all diminished,” she said.
Wells also urged religious authorities to involve religious communities more in their work, for example, with crisis preparedness.
“This congress and secretariat underlines the extraordinary opportunity we have, as religious leaders, to lead, to break the cycle that descends to a vortex of rage and revenge. Instead, to jumpstart the virtuous circle that lifts us all with it, to lead in building trust. If we did this, then political leaders would truly pause because they would see another way. Otherwise, the inevitability is that we destroy ourselves and our planet,” said Wells.
Delivering her message, Wells also highlighted the role of expanding women’s representation and involvement of women in leadership positions.
“Expanding female representation is not only good for women, but good for dialogue, diplomacy and mediation. Because, if I may dare to generalize, at moments of challenge and risk, the female half of the human race leads in the reflex to reach out for relationship rather than the reactivity of rockets,” she said.