*By Claus Grue
History is full of conflicts and wars, pursued and fought in the name of religion. In recent years, religious fundamentalism and political extremism have gained ground, not only in the Middle East, but also in the Western World.
Yet, religion in itself may not be the problem, but rather part of the solution on an enlightened path towards a peaceful world.
In a plenary discussion titled ”Light and Truth in Pluralistic Asia” held at the Asia Ecumenical Youth Assembly (AEYA) in Manado, Indonesia last Monday, religious leaders from different faiths shared perspectives. They agreed that continuous interfaith dialogue is key to better mutual understanding, tolerance and respect. And thus crucial for long term peace and stability.
”It is when people lose outlook and isolate themselves in their own religion that tension arises. If you don’t understand other religions, you don’t understand your own, said Dr Zhang Chongfu, professor at the Institute for Daoism and Religious Culture Studies at the Sichuan University in the People’s Republic of China.
Peacefulness is a common denominator of all major religions and ”no religion has terrorism and violence in its dictionary”, as the moderator of the debate, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, representing Christianity, pointed out. Chunakara is general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia.
Alluding to AEYA’s theme ”Lord, send your Light and Truth to lead us” he also underlined that no religion has monopoly on light and truth. He recalled an ancient Indian adage: ”I believe I have the truth, you believe you have the truth, I respect your truth, so please respect my truth”.
The Muslim in the panel, Dr Media Zainul Bahri, head of the department of religious studies at the State Islamic University of Jakarta, elaborated on the diversity of today’s societies where religions and traditions are different, and where conflicting interests among religious leaders from the same faith can cause internal tensions and polarizations. He also expressed concerns about social issues, such as poverty, intolerance and marginalization, as breeding grounds for terrorism.
”Religious leaders must communicate more around social issues, not only theological issues”, he concluded.
Mutual understanding among people of different faiths was also advocated by Buddhist monk Dr Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, from Chiang Mai Buddhist University in Thailand, who saw an obstacle in the traditional way of living within our own communities:
”We need to interact with one another and talk more to each other in order to understand each other and co-exist. But interfaith dialogue is not only about talking, but about actually working together. The aim is the dignity of all human beings, he said.
For the fifth participant, Swami Navananma Jnana Tapaswi, Shanthi Giri Ashram, representing Hinduism, interfaith dialogue was all about ”unifying faiths to a unique level of thoughtfulness”:
”Different faiths will merge together in truths and the ultimate truth will emerge, which will make us unique in faith. One religion, one faith and one God for all”.
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches.