Speakers at a world conference on human rights and religion at the United Nations in Geneva, including the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, have stressed the need for equal citizenship rights to counter xenophobia and discrimination.
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “The need for equal citizenship rights is timely in a global context such as ours – which has seen the rise of instrumentalization of religion for deeply polarizing causes.”
He was one of the keynote speakers at the 25 June “World Conference on Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights,” that included representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
In opening remarks, the director general of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing, spoke of the immense difficulties for people on the move in the world these days in an especially “toxic environment”.
Tveit in his speech recalled meeting a delegation of the Muslim Council of Elders led by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyeb at Al Azhar in Cairo last year where he emphasized “that the principle of citizenship is a proper way to express in the realm of politics something that is also important in our faith in God.”
Principle of citizenship
“The principle of citizenship belongs to the realm of politics and legal systems, but can provide the rights and the protection we need whoever we are and whatever faith community we belong to.
“Hence, it is all the more necessary for people from different religions, creeds and value systems to unite together for the cause of equal citizenship as an antidote to the scourge of xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance.”
The conference was held under the patronage of Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and was addressed by more than 25 religious, political and lay leaders from the major regions of the world.
Tveit explained WCC’s long involvement in protecting human rights and promoting dignity while always focussing on those “most vulnerable” and also working through the United Nations since its inception 70 years ago, the same year WCC was created.
“In such a context the call to equal citizenship is also actively a call to solidarity to safeguard some of the basic rights of all including the protection of freedom of religion and belief.”
Sunni Islam expert Dr Ahmed Al-Dawoody, International Committee for the Red Cross legal adviser on Islamic Law and Jurisprudence and assistant professor at Al-Azhar University, quoted from the Quran the words of God in creating a “sense of unity” which “necessitates equality among humankind and that there is no room for discrimination among people.”
He also noted that in his Farewell Sermon on 6 March 632, Prophet Muhammad reinforced the same concept:
“All of you belong to one ancestry of Adam, and Adam was created out of clay. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab; or for white over the black or for the black over the white except in piety.”
He said this means that any form of discrimination or superiority of an individual or a group of people against another “is prohibited in Islam.”
Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission delivered a message on behalf of Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
He said, “Equality among all the members of the one human family is a fundamental value. This equality has its origin in ‘One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God.
“This is why no one, no ethnic, religious or political group can claim more rights than others because of their belonging to a particular ethnicity, religion or a political party,” said Vitillo.
“The fact of being treated with inequality generates nonsatisfaction, bitterness, frustration and, in some cases, even hatred and a desire of vendetta. This is why all should consciously endeavour to overcome situations and structures of injustice.”