Report on the II congress of leaders of
world and traditional religions
Astana, Kazakhstan, 12-13 September, 2006
Mr Michel Nseir
At the II Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which took place in Astana, Kazakhstan on 12-13 September, 2006, the World Council of Churches was represented by their Executive Secretary of the Middle East Desk, Mr Michel Nseir, substituting for Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, Executive Secretary for Interreligious Relations and Dialogue and member of the preparatory board of the Congress.
Although an interreligious gathering with representatives of major world religions present, Muslim and Christian participants were in majority. Among the high-level Muslim represenatives were:
Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmohsin Al-Turki, Secretary General of the Muslim World League (Saudi Arabia), Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt, Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq , Minister of Awqaf (Religious Endowments & Islamic Affairs), the Arab Republic of Egypt (Egypt), Ayatollah Sadiki Rashed, head of the mission, Organization on Culture and Islam Cooperation (Iran) and Absattar Kazhi Derbisalli, Chief Mufti of Kazakhstan
Some important Christian leaders had also accepted the invitation to attend the interreligious congress. They were:
His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch (Turkey), His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Holy See of Etchmiadzin), His Holiness Philaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarch’s Exarch in Bielorussia, Russian Orthodox Church, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, Emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, Reverend Dr. Ishmael Noko, Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation (Switzerland/USA), Rt Revd Nicholas (Nick) Baines, Bishop of Croydon (United Kingdom), Michael Livingston, President of the National Council of Churches, USA.
The Congress was presided by Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan Congress assisted by Nurtay Abikayev, Speaker of the Senate of Kazakhstan and Head of the Congress' Secretariat.
Between the two sessions, the participants were received by the President at his Palace and also by the Mayor of Astana at a cultural evening.
During the first session the President presented a draft paper on the principles of inter-religious dialogue, which had been prepared by the congress secretariat prior to the congress, which were adopted as given below.
PRINCIPLES OF INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
- Dialogue shall be based upon honesty, tolerance, humility and mutual respect. It requires effective listening and learning, producing genuine engagement.
- Dialogue must assume equality of partners and create the space for free expression of opinions, perspectives and beliefs, allowing for the integrity of each culture, language and tradition.
- Dialogue must not aim at the conversion or defamation of the interlocutor, nor may it aim at demonstrating the superiority of one's own religion over that of others. It should not aim at eliminating differences, but rather at knowing and respecting them. It should enable participants to explain their faith honestly and clearly.
- Dialogue aims at avoiding prejudice and misrepresentation of the faith of the other, thus encouraging better knowledge and understanding of the other. It helps prevent conflict and the use of violence as a means of reducing tension and resolving disputes.
- Dialogue offers a way towards the peaceful coexistence and fruitful cooperation of peoples. It encourages better education, may also help towards a greater understanding of the importance of dialogue by the mass media and minimise the risk of religious extremism.
- Inter-religious dialogue can serve as an example for other kinds of dialogue, especially social and political dialogue for the good of societies.
- Dialogue conducted in a spirit of tolerance emphasizes that all people inhabit the same earth. This assumes certain shared values such as the sacredness of life, the dignity of all human beings and the integrity of creation and nature.
- Dialogue assumes that religion plays a vital and constructive role in society. It promotes the common good, recognises the important role of good relationships between people and respects the specific role of the state in society.
- Dialogue is fundamentally important for future generations to benefit from better relations between people of different religions and cultures.
The leaders of world and traditional religions present at the interreligious congress in Astana resolved among other things to :-
- take concrete collective measures for encouraging and highlighting positive perceptions of inter-religious relations by organizing joint meetings, seminars and addresses in the mass media, the Internet and other places of influence;
- strongly promote interreligious tolerance among younger generations to make them more devoted to dialogue and encourage them recognize universal values;
- integrate questions of the dialogue between civilizations and religions into curricula at all educational levels with a view to helping young people to respect and understand religious and cultural difference without hostility;
- use our spiritual influence, authority and resources to further establish peace, security, stability and contacts between each other in order to make a combined contribution to the prevention and resolution of disputes among different religious communities;
- offer our experience and best efforts to governments and people or groups and powers involved into conflicts in order to assist them in easing tensions, forming where appropriate joint delegations to conduct negotiations with them;
- bring to the attention of the General Assembly of the United Nations the conceptual and practical role performed by the Congress in promoting dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions and its considerable achievements in interreligious understanding, inviting support for the further activity of the Congress.
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