“In this past century, a global interfaith movement has been growing, helping to raise consciousness about the need for tolerance and understanding between different cultures and religions. This movement has helped highlight the common goals that most religions share, such as the Golden Rule, which is at the heart of nearly all religious traditions.”
– Robert Alan Silverstein
The “Golden Rule,” an idea present in most faiths, promotes reciprocity through our interaction with those around us. This universal rule instructs us to treat others in the same fashion that they would like to be treated. While the Rule is present in religious texts across the board, it seems that it is still a challenge for all of us to actively practice.
Program activities at international non-profit organizations often occur in environments where faith plays a very influential role in the social and political landscape. Faith is an important factor and it must be acknowledged – particularly if we want to truly encourage sustainable development across societies. At Partner for Democratic Change (Partners) we recognize the importance of interfaith harmony and dialogue and its relevance to our partnerships and efforts. To commemorate World Interfaith Harmony Week, Partners would like to honor those who risk their lives in some of the most volatile environments, all for the cause of sharing our common universal values of peace, respect, and tolerance.
While we all have unique experiences that impact our views of faith and the degree to which it affects our everyday lives, one thing many of us can agree upon is the importance of partnership among different faiths. Interfaith partnerships are instrumental in creating stability within communities prone to conflict. At the heart of interfaith partnerships are the everyday partnerships between individuals in multi-faith and multicultural environments – mostly seen when people from different faiths, or in some cases different sects of the same faith, come together on issues that affect the greater good of their communities. Naturally, the best time to teach lessons of interaction and partnership is early on with children and youth. Otherwise, youth may be sucked into religious and ethnic based violence, which is why Partners’ youth programs empower young adults to become “Champions of Peace.” Youth who have participated in the program are comprised of multiple faiths and sects that represent Iraq’s diverse religions, from Muslims of both Shia and Sunni sects, to Christians, Yazidis, and Mandaeans – all of whom are dedicated to breaking a cycle of sectarian and faith-based violence that has plagued Iraq over the past decade.
In order to create sustainable solutions to solve development challenges its imperative to engage with diverse opinions and viewpoints to develop new and innovative practices. Innovation in this sense may mean approaching a given issue from a new and different lens – a lens that diverges from ethnocentric views of faith in particular. In order for true and organic innovation to occur, implementing parties must learn to “step back” and allow ideas from all parties to flow freely. The Harvard Business Review explains this concept aptly: “The more diverse our experience and knowledge, the more connections the brain can make. Fresh inputs trigger new associations; for some, these lead to novel ideas.” By encouraging faith and innovation as necessary elements to incorporate in dialogue, we provide an opportunity for individuals to improve relationships with their counterparts. It also adds a sense of ownership that can empower others to think more creatively about possible solutions to pressing issues. Through our efforts as a community of socially active and aware individuals, we should certainly prioritize activities and spaces that actively encourage communities to take ownership and contribute to the projects and activities that directly affect them.
“One of the biggest challenges for people involved in interfaith dialogue is to break down the stereotypes of the “other” that exist within their own religious traditions and groups. Religious groups need to first acknowledge and confess their own role in fostering and contributing to injustice and conflict.”
– David R. Smock, Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding
Within our personal and work experiences in the MENA region, we have first-hand understandings on the important role that faith plays. Through a process of trial and error, many of us have learned how to better understand the worldviews of those with religious beliefs different than our own. Furthermore, by simply taking a look at current global events as they are related to interfaith dialogue and tolerance, there is so much that we must learn and improve upon in terms of our approach to creating spaces that promote a culture of tolerance welcoming of diverse beliefs. If there is anything that humanity as whole can learn from the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, it is that across borders we still have a long way to go on our road to true interfaith harmony. Engaging individuals through activities that promote inclusivity and interfaith understanding should be a priority for thought leaders and community leaders to prevent violent faith-based radicalization. Through our work with the LEAD program in Yemen, we encourage multi-faith perspectives in our network of local NGOs. In fact, many of our our partner organizations use faith as a central point to begin dialogue – for instance, training Imams on approaches to interfaith dialogue, tolerance, and conflict resolution. In addition, our colleagues at the Institute for Religious Studies in Rio are at the forefront of studying the impact of faith on public policies in Brazil.
“As religious leaders, you have an essential role to play in ensuring that the values of equality, tolerance and mutual respect, which lie at the core of all the world’s greatest religions, are defended, promoted and used to truly enrich our societies. You can encourage dialogue that respects the importance of tradition but also embraces change. You can foster contacts and create conditions that will lead to sustainable peace, social justice and cultural cohesion.”
- UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the April 2010 World Summit of Religious
Overall respect is arguably the core value that binds and enables us to effectively live and breathe our moral principles. The most basic and core teachings of many faiths is a message of tolerance and reciprocity. While this message is often lost during times of political and social upheaval, and through the influence of some cultures, if we are to form genuine partnerships and relationships than there’s a level of respect that must be met.
Respect is not only tied to partnership, innovation, and the willingness to learn in an interfaith environment, but it is also key to creating more tolerant and inclusive spaces for dialogue and interfaith harmony to prosper. By keeping the guiding principles of respect, innovation, learning, and partnership at the forefront of our outlook, we will be empowered, and we will empower others to confront the challenges of interfaith dialogue and harmony.
Source: Interfaith in the Golden Rule