Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions Sets Example of Peaceful Coexistence, Says Brazilian Writer

Osvaldo Conde, the renowned Brazilian writer and a member of the Theosophical Society and the Haqqani Naqshbandi Order in Brazil, recently discussed the mission of religions worldwide and shared his ideas on strengthening interreligious cooperation in an interview for this story. 

Osvaldo Conde, the renowned Brazilian writer and a member of the Theosophical Society and the Haqqani Naqshbandi Order in Brazil.

Conde is the author of several books, including “The Traditional Matrix of the Matrix,” “Theosophy and Sufism of Helena Blavatsky,” “Emir Abdelkader, the life and work of an Algerian Humanist,” “Three Philosophical Pigs,” and “The Curious Wolf.” He studies mythology and comparative religions, and religious sciences at the University of Uniter in Curitiba, Paraná State, Brazil.

Below is the Q&A with Osvaldo Conde.

What is the role of world religions in the modern world?

The main purpose of religions has always been to improve human character, not to force or coerce people to change their beliefs.

In fact, the so-called “Golden Rule” is important, which has been mentioned since Chinese antiquity along with Confucius (Kung Fu Tzu). It says: “Do not do to others what you do not wish for yourself.” This rule remains valid for the modern world, since this law is universal. In today’s divided world, where wars are taking place across several continents, religion has a role to play in ensuring that the essence of the Golden Rule—compassion—prevails. In religions originating from the prophet Abraham, this Rule is clearly expressed:

In Christianity, for example, the Gospel of Matthew (7:12) attributes the following phrase to Jesus of Nazareth (A.S.) (Isa bin Maryam): “So in all things do to others as you want them to do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

In Judaism, it is stated: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the essence of the Torah. The rest is just commentary.”

In Islam, it is taught: “No one is a true believer unless he wishes his brother what he wants for himself.”

The same statement is found with slight variations in Eastern religions and beliefs such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, among others.

Using religion as a justification for the aggression of states or nations against each other is a crime against humanity. Of course, we do not ignore political differences, commercial and strategic interests. But when will we start thinking in a truly humanistic way? Using religions as an excuse or aggression contradicts the very essence of each faith. Nations must stop behaving like “disgusting children,” we see how states and nations of the same religion are involved in serious and dangerous conflicts, whether in Europe, Asia, or Africa, despite the fact that encroachment on human life is a very grave (religious) crime.

In an effort to justify aggression, there is usually a demonization of the “enemy,” facilitated by the notorious use of “fake news,” which is nothing more than a modernized form of lying. But lies are completely condemned by religions and, even worse, used to justify mass killings. Consider what the religions of the Middle East say about this:

(Talmudic Treatise), Sota (42a): Liars are counted among those who will not enjoy the Divine Presence in the World of the Future. This is based on Psalm 100:7: “He who spreads lies will not remain before My eyes.”

(Exodus 23): 1. “Do not spread false rumors; do not give your hand to the wicked to give false testimony. 2. Don’t follow the bad example of the crowd. Do not give evidence in court, taking the side of the majority in such a way as to pervert justice.”

(Quran 2.42): “And do not hide the truth with lies, and do not hide it when you know it.”

The great poet Yunus Emre said this about the true word in the poem:

“The word stops the war,

And the word heals wounds,

And there is a word that transforms poison into oil and honey.”

The words of Ahmed Yassawi, the great Kazakh Sufi teacher, speak eloquently about empathy: “Wherever you see a man with a broken heart, heal his wounds. If the oppressed are stuck in their path, be their comrade. Be near your temple on Judgment Day. Avoid arrogant and selfish people.”

The mission of world religions is the urgent need to proclaim and realize peace among people, regardless of their faith. The role of religion, as an ethical moral force, is to call the Ummah—the global human community—to compassion for each other: urgently!

Please tell us about the development of interreligious relations in Latin American countries, particularly in Brazil.

In South America, as well as in the Middle East and Asia, colonization by European powers such as France, Germany, England, and Portugal led to the dominance of their respective religions. Typically, these religions were often imposed and presented by the colonialists as superior to the religions and beliefs of the indigenous peoples. In Brazil, due to Portuguese colonization, the Roman Catholic religion became predominant, which prevailed in Europe during the Great Navigation. Later, the Protestant aspects of Christianity were introduced, which arose with the reform of Martin Luther. African religions came to Brazil through an enslaved population and in some cases merged with the spiritualistic doctrines of Allan Kardek, giving rise to Umbanda, a religion that can be said to be mixed between Christian precepts, spiritualism, and religions of African origin. It was among the African slaves, specifically the Male ethnic group, that Islam first appeared in Brazil. This group’s quest for freedom led to an attempted uprising in Bahia, which ultimately failed, resulting in arrests and exile. 

Islam became more widely present in Brazil only with the arrival of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants much later.

With Japanese immigration to Brazil, we gained access to new currents of religious philosophy, including Buddhism and some ecumenical sects, such as the Mahikari, Seicho No Ie, etc. The European colonization of Asia led to several attempts to understand Asian thought, even if it was an attempt to impose Christianity. In any case, this has generated a huge number of religious texts translated into modern languages, such as English, French, German, Spanish, etc. Gradually, these texts were presented or translated into Portuguese. Since Brazil is a very large country geographically, and we accept many immigrants, more from Europe and Africa than from the East, due to the geographical location, these elements prevail. But today, after the “Hippie” and “New Age” movements that originated in California, almost all global religions are practiced in Brazil.

Since Brazilians are generally very friendly and curious about foreigners, it is not difficult to detect attempts at religious syncretism in our country. Thus, the Federal Government encourages respect for various religious beliefs by adopting special laws against religious discrimination or attacks on religious symbols or temples. Movements such as the Baha’i Faith, the Theosophical Society, and interfaith or ecumenical movements (Catholics and/or Protestants) are common in Brazil. Since Brazilians are mystics by nature, often a person professes more than one religion for reasons of convenience. When asked what their religion is, they usually respond: “Catholicism!” Throughout the year, numerous meetings take place with representatives of various religious and philosophical communities, whether at universities or in premises belonging to one of these groups. In addition, online meetings are held to facilitate debates between religious denominations. The overall goal is to combat religious discrimination.

What are your    ideas,    vision,    recommendations,    and    position    on strengthening interreligious cooperation?

The relationship of the Roman Mediterranean world, Islamic conquests, and the bridging of East and West through great voyages contributed to the creation of vast European empires and colonies. This historical diversification and acceleration of human contact across different cultures, religions, and ways of thinking—facilitated by contemporary globalization—have produced some peculiarities. This led to the need for discussions to better understand each other. Lack of knowledge leads to misunderstanding, distrust, and fear, which is one step away from violence. It is necessary to empathize with others and their outlook on life, and perceive them as people in themselves, with the same needs. This approach encourages cooperation rather than argument. This is what fascinated thinkers like Al Biruni (973-1050), who is considered the father of comparative religious studies.

The importance of initiatives such as the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which takes place in Kazakhstan every two years, is growing, because mutual understanding is a necessity, not a luxury.

It is interesting that a country with a Muslim majority has taken up this brilliant initiative, since perhaps the first mini-congress of this type was organized by the Muslim King of India Akbar, who lived between 1542-1605. Emperor Akbar organized intense debates in his palaces with various religious leaders, including Portuguese Christians, Shiite Muslims, Sunnis, Hindus, Buddhists, among others. At a later time, in 1893, there was a Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which was dominated by a clear Christian presence, as it was organized in this country. However, this was the first time that Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim monks came together to communicate their ideas in the West. Of course, this was not on the same scale as what Kazakhstan holds today, nor with the significance that, fortunately, this event has now acquired. My suggestion is that the minutes of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions should be available to everyone. Either the debate should be recorded, translated and published, or each edition of the event should be documented, if it hasn’t been done already. When religious leaders, whose followers insist on fighting, see their leaders engaging in meaningful dialogue, this simple action can help change the mindset. And a person, as we know, usually acts as he thinks.

In any case, I believe that the prominence of this event in South America can be greatly improved. It is quite possible that this event is much more well-known in Central Asia, including due to geographical reasons. Eventually, the event should extend beyond the academic circles of religious scholars and reach the general public, which is vital.

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