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Speeches

Q. Khanson: Challenges of Interreligious Dialogue

Presentation at the Interreligious Multicultural Festival in Toronto, Canada
April 25, 2010

Human nature differs from person to person in regards to inherent characteristics, including ways of thinking, attitude, behavior, and performance. We as Jews, Christians, and Muslims hold that humans are a spiritual being created by a monotheistic God, and from generation to generation, human beings have lived, knowingly or unknowingly, in an ongoing relationship with God. Good and evil are defined in terms of how well humans conform to God's commands in Scriptures. The same applies to other religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, etc.

The moral values that form the basis for human rights are traceable through the history of religious beliefs and cultures around the world. Irrespective of what faith one holds, the necessities of all humans are same. The basic values that enable people to dwell in safety and freedom are the same. We may speak different languages, practice different religions, and live by different cultural values, but we cherish the common values of love, respect, affection, and nurturing.

The challenge is to extend this heart to people of other religious communities. It was unimaginable in India back in the 1960s to see Hindu priests visiting a masjid (mosque) and vice versa, yet on key cultural occasions there was a strong desire on an official level to invite representatives from all religious communities. As people learned through hard experience about the evils of hatred and animosity between different religious communities, some chose to shed the label of religion and found comfort in cultural ties. The majority of people in the western hemisphere have been attracted to secular philosophy or a humanistic sense of unity among human beings without following a specific religion. Yet many adherents of religion find spiritual comfort in looking the fine guidelines of interreligious dialogues within religion, which zealously prevented them in the past.

Role of cultures and religions

All the religious people who support human rights today acknowledge humbly that rivalry among the different religious groups helped fuel hatred and deprivation of basic human rights among people in many parts of the world. However, while religious traditions and teachings can be called on to support civil rights, support for human rights has come more consistently from the modern humanist, cultural movements and the noted religious personalities of the world. Let us not forget that World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 was the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. Melbourne, Australia hosted the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions, which was attended by almost 6000 dignitaries.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, people such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (October 17, 1817 – March 27, 1898), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), Baba Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (April 14, 1891December 6, 1956), Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968), Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau (October 18, 1919 – September 28, 2000), Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born July 18, 1918), and Rev. Sun Myung Moon (born January 7, 1920) contributed to humanity in their areas of influence. Their ideas contributed to the statutes of many countries and of the UNO, which has encouraged interreligious dialogue.

When we speak of human rights in Islam and its relation to interreligious dialogue, we mean that God has granted these rights. Among the many rights mentioned in the Qur'an are the right to life (5:32), the right to the safety of life (5:32), respect for the chastity of women (17:32), the right to a basic standard of life (51:19), the individual's right to freedom, the right to justice (5:8), equality of human beings (49:13), the right to cooperate and not to cooperate (5:2), and many more. While the challenges are immense, our determination to overcome them should be equally immense.

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a Buddhist convert in India, wrote that his philosophy of humanity was "enshrined" in three words: liberty, equality, and fraternity.

In his 1941 State of the Union address, US President Franklin Roosevelt called for the protection of what he termed the "essential" Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

In 1982, Prime Minister Trudeau brought Canada's Constitution home, and with it, the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada. The Charter is for national values and national unity. Its 34 sections guarantee fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. These stand as the backbone of human rights in Canada. It took a man of vision such as then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to bring to fulfillment the United Nations' dream of unassailable human rights in Canada.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The translated Declaration is available in at least 375 languages and dialects, making it the most widely translated document in the world. The United Nations Charter "reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person" and committed all member states to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."

On December 10, 1948, Canada was one of the 48 nations that voted in favour of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of the thirty declared articles, the foremost is that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are with reason, conscience and should act towards in a spirit of goodwill.

But it was the 21st century when Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon asked an international peace gathering to consider, "Can everlasting world peace take root, or are we doomed to repeat the 20th century's dark and oppressive history of war and conflict"? He spoke on the topic, "God's Ideal Family: The Model for World Peace." The address marked the inauguration of the Universal Peace Federation in New York City with 376 delegates from 157 nations, and we are hosting a gathering in its name today.

Keys for overcoming barriers to interreligious dialogue

  1. Not interfering in the faith and rituals of the communities engaging in dialogue.
  2. Knowing your own religion first, so you can contribute meaningfully to the dialogue.
  3. Maintaining God-consciousness.
  4. Recognizing that diversity adds to the dignity to the communities engaging in dialogue.
  5. Recognizing that the common values in all religions encourages participants to pool their resources.
  6. Respecting the human rights of everyone, which counters pessimism and strengthens the bond of brotherhood.
  7. Disregarding the opposition of extremists who want to maintain animosity between religion.
  8. Align with law enforcement agencies, not working against the law of the land but abiding by it.

We may not be able to heal all the wounds of the centuries, but let such dialogues be efforts in the right direction. Let us not dwell on the misdeeds of yesterday but learn today to live tomorrow.


For a report about the festival, click here.