Islam-Christianity dialogue features at Kazakh interfaith meet

May 31st, 2012 - 3:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Astana, May 31 (IANS) With religious tensions running high in Europe and other parts of the world, a dialogue between Islam and Christianity is the highlight of a global congress of faiths and civilisations this Kazakhstan capital that began here Wednesday and which is being attended, among others, by the head of the Global Islamic League, the metropolitan of Minsk and the chief rabbi of Israel.

Should there be a major breakthrough, it would match the dramatic call by Israeli President Shimon Peres at the third edition of the Congress of World and Traditional Religions in 2009 for a three-way meeting between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Arab world to restore peace in the Middle East.

The theme of the fourth edition of the Congress is “Peace and harmony as the choice of mankind”. However, the topics suggested for debates makes it evident that the focused will be on the integration of Islamic values to Christianity.

Noting that one of the themes was “Religion and Multiculturalism”, an official associated with the Congress said it would “be a place for civilized discussion between representatives of Islam and Christianity on the tradition of wearing headscarves and veils by women. That is, as Christians believe, an over-expression of religion in secular European countries, where historical religion is Christianity”.

The official also admitted that there would be “mutual accusations”. This was because on issues like the hijab, European leaders had urged Muslims to keep in mind the “traditions of the host country” while pointing to the dress codes in Islamic states.

“Muslim leaders are also likely to remind Europeans of the indispensable democratic premise of religious freedom and, as a result, the freedom of choice of religious clothing. Within this debate will be raised an issue that recently stirred up the British - the right to publicly wear a cross,” the official said.

There will possibly be debates on the concept of renewals in the Catholic church and in particular, on whether to allow the ordination of women.

And, even though gender equality is still far from ideal in Kazakhstan, there will be discussions on the role of women in family and society, the responsibility of women for the future of nations and the planet and the role of women and women’s organizations in the intercultural and interfaith harmony space.

“However, the main theme of the meeting will be the role of leaders in achieving sustainable development in the world. Their role is increasing nowadays and it can be proved by the fact that recently, US President Barack Obama said that he is ready to permit Iran to develop civilian nuclear energy but not atomic weapons. But he intends to keep the dialogue on this subject only with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of his country,” the official said.

“It is increasingly becoming evident that in an economically unstable world, religion becomes a key factor. In fact, today the world has to correct mistakes of the twentieth century, when religion was preceded by mercantile interests. And to demonstrate that peace is possible through a dialogue of different gods,” the official said.

In this, Kazakhstan is ideally placed. The world’s ninth largest country by area, it is home to over 130 nationalities. In a country with a population of just over 16 million there are represented 42 faiths and denominations and about 4,500 religious organizations.

Being held in a unique pyramid-shaped building, the conference is a bold reminder to the world that people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds can and should live together in peace, the official said.

The nine-storey monument - Palace of Peace and Concord - rising more than 200 feet high has been built specially for the meeting of world religions.

At the end of the inaugural Congress in 2003, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu and Tao leaders adopted a declaration stating that “extremism, terrorism and other forms of violence in the name of religion… are threat to human life and should be rejected”. The second Congress was held in 2007 and the third in 2009.

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