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S.M. Musawi: Marshaling Public Opinion for an Interreligious Council

Paper presented at a Summit of World Leaders, “The World at a Turning Point: A Global Vision of Peace and Good Governance,” Seoul, Korea, August 11-16, 2003

Our common aim is to promote understanding and harmony, which naturally lead to peaceful coexistence between people from different faiths, ideas, and communities. The message of religion has always aimed to build a peaceful, constructive, and successful life for human beings in this world and hereafter. However, those who misunderstood or misinterpreted religion caused and are causing human society the worst kind of damage. Misusing religion and religious feelings is not only a crime against humanity, but also a crime against the Almighty God and all religious teachings.

Evil acts cannot be worse than misusing religion because the latter damages the very purpose of religion and the name of religion. The sufferings and losses, through wars and hatred, instigated by misuse of religion are much more than what has been caused by all of the antisocial gangs in human history. That is why we read in the messages of all the prophets and messengers the great importance of sincerity and truthfulness in dealing with every word in the name of religion being the name of God, which must be conveyed with utmost honesty.

The misuse of religion not only damaged the lives of millions throughout history, but also has continued to affect millions of people as a result of their misunderstanding the message of religion. The responsibility of every sincere religious leader and sensible person is to condemn and oppose every aspect of the misuse of religion. We must clarify the reality of religion, which is working to make peaceful and successful lives. How can international interfaith conferences help in reestablishing the true image of religion, in spite of these social and political challenges? How can religious servants, who are mainly and commonly known by the name of religious leaders, promote among their followers and communities a culture of understanding and caring for others—not only those who share a common faith, but for those of other faiths?

Is it enough for us to be diplomatic and polite with other communities and talk about common values among us during conferences and seminars, while we talk to our own communities in a narrow minded language? There is a saying from Imam Ali, the master of the faith of Islam, “One is the enemy of that of which he has no knowledge.” So how can we expect our communities to respect and care for other communities without knowing them?

We at the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League suggest to our member organizations (most Islamic centers all over the world) to arrange mutual visits and programs to inform our community about other communities, including visiting other centers and inviting them to our centers, we believe that more knowledge we have about other communities, the better we will be able to establish respect and constructive coexistence. I firmly believe that our common aim of building a culture of mutual respect and caring for all cannot be achieved without proper planning, active follow-up and timely evaluation. I also believe that every conference with interreligious aims needs to adopt action plans, which should be realistic yet optimistic and courageous. Every participant should then play his or her role in the implementation of those points that are agreed upon. Succeeding conferences should have a review to evaluate the achievements and the challenges.

One current concern is the proposal of an interreligious council in the United Nations. However, there must be clarity in the main aims of the proposal. This will help in convincing those concerned to support the proposal. Why has the United Nations, after more than fifty years, failed to achieve the main aims behind its establishment? Mainly, as I understand it, because the United Nations relates to governments, not to the real masses who form the nations. If the United Nations wants to implement this proposal, it should go to the grass roots of the masses and deal with them and make them participants in achieving their aims.

For that, we and many of our colleagues share the idea that the attachment of human beings to their religion and faith is a very clear reality. People feel comfortable and even glad following religious guidance to improve their lives and societies. So why not promote people’s participation in implementing the United Nations' noble aims by taking advantage of the religious attachments of people? It will be then much easier to fight illiteracy, disease, and crime.

Such a council can also promote communal understanding and peace and harmony by encouraging programs for interfaith and interreligious information and education. Many conflicts can be resolved peacefully if the wisdom of religion is being properly utilized.

There needs to be an action plan to make this proposal a reality, keeping in mind that we do not just want a body of the United Nations without real effect. The action plan, may I suggest, could contain the following:

  1. Marshal public opinion through explaining to people the necessity of such a council. The religious and political leaders as well as media personnel can play a big role in forming public opinion.
  2. Approach your own governments in your own name and in the name of your organization, requesting support for this proposal.
  3. Encourage people through religious and public gatherings to demand from the governments of their countries support for this proposal.
  4. Carry out a media campaign explaining and supporting this proposal and encouraging public participation in it.
  5. Hold a series of public meetings with youth participation to encourage them to be part of the campaign.

I end with a prayer, which we were taught to pray always: "Oh, God, show us the truth and make us see it as truth and grant us the strength to follow it. Oh, God, show us the falsehood and make us see it as falsehood and grant us the courage to avoid it."

For more background materials on a proposal for an interreligious council at the UN, click here.