World Interfaith Harmony Week Observed in Washington DC

Washington DC, USA - The Interfaith Harmony program held on Feb. 27, 2014 in Washington, DC, was co-sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation and The Washington Times Foundation.

UN World Interfaith Harmony Week was proclaimed and adopted by the UN General Assembly on October 20, 2010 as a way to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith and as an annual event to be observed during the first week of February.

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Four speakers shared their life experiences and spoke of their deep convictions about the importance of interfaith dialogue among different religious leaders as a means towards building world peace.

The program began with welcome remarks by Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs, UPF International-DC Office, and Mr. Larry Moffitt, Vice President of The Washington Times Foundation, who served as emcee. 

After remarks by the guest speakers, Mrs. Nanae Goto offered a beautiful song, “Flowers Will Bloom,” that was especially composed in memory of the victims who lost their lives and homes to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan (March 11, 2011). To conclude the program, five people were honored for their works to promote interfaith understanding and respect, and appointed as UPF Ambassadors for Peace.

Dr. Edwin C. Hostetter, Department of Religion, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University

Dr. Hostetter spoke about the variety of interfaith activities and endeavors in his field and within the Methodist church. He promotes “Talking Together, Working Together, Praying Together and Worshiping Together,” with people of different faiths, including: Christianity, Judaism, Baha'i, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. 

In “Praying and Worshiping Together,” he shared his experience of worshipping with Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Muslims, he said, feel uncomfortable not only singing together but also playing music and instruments in their worship, unlike Christians who use music for pleasure and ceremonial purposes. 

United Religions Initiative, an interfaith bridge-building organization modeled after the UN, organizes outreach under the “Working Together” program. Children under their parents’ supervision join together to plant trees. This was a good project to learn about the environment and the importance of appreciating nature. At the same time, through working together with children and parents of different faiths, parents and children bond and come to value and respect other faiths as well as their own traditions. 

Another valuable “Working and Talking Together” project of the United Religion Initiative is the Manna House, which provides nutritious breakfast and hot soup dinners for homeless and near-homeless individuals and families. Families and volunteers learn by talking together and caring for those less fortunate.

The Greater Baltimore Hindu Temple organized a “Talking Together” interreligious dialogue on the topic, “Should interreligious marriage be promoted or not?” Another project was by the Baltimore Interfaith Coalition which shared how recreation centers offer effective and promising programs to reduce gang-related violence in the city.  

Dr. Hostetter teaches classes on interfaith dialogue at George Washington University and other area schools. He often gives assignments to his students to engage people of different faiths in order to gain deeper understanding of their traditions.

Rev. Marcia Dyson, political strategist, social activist and writer

Rev. Dyson expressed her gratitude for the invitation to what she called, “the House of Peace.” She said: “I grew up in Chicago, and because I’m a black woman, I experienced social injustice on the basis of racial, religious and political differences. I have always spoken up when human rights and dignity are in jeopardy and endangered.”

She spoke about the impact of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and how it triggered a personal soul-search. Rev. Dyson asked herself: “Where was God? I was deeply disappointed and dismayed by this senseless violence especially of someone who stood for justice and tolerance.”

Traveling to refugee camps in Africa and Syria, as well as living nearly five years in Haiti after the 2010 catastrophic earthquake, she noted: “Children are war's greatest victims. They cannot lead normal lives doing ordinary activities like drawing pictures with crayons or playing with toys. They do not have parents who can sing a lullaby at night. Steps must be taken to protect the children. We must give them hope for tomorrow.”

The experience in Africa taught her an important life lesson. African countries are regarded among the poorest countries of the world, she was told, but Rev. Dyson said: “As far as I’m concerned, there are no poor countries in Africa, but rather, there is poor or no moral leadership, and this principle can also be applied to my country, the United States. Leaders of nations should practice true democracy and should stand as moral leaders who stand for noble principles. Men and women must work together hand-in-hand to bring about peace, harmony and a more prosperous world.”

The situation in the Middle East is in dire straits. Peace and harmony are desperately needed. “The reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians is essential. Women must be brought into the peacemaking process because the nature and characteristics of women are better suited for bringing more peace and harmony into our communities. In Chicago where I grew up, there is a saying: ‘When Mother is not happy, no one is happy.’”

Rev. Dyson quoted Dr. King’s question: “Where Do We Go From Here?” She added, “We will work and pray together; but I will not close my eyes when I’m asked to pray. We must pray with our eyes open in order to see the changes and the objectives of our prayers be achieved as we continue to act for peace and justice. The wounded hearts must be healed; otherwise, victory is not in our hands. It is time to claim our victory.”

To conclude, Rev. Dyson offered a powerful and emotional “Call to Action.”

This one and that one, each one is God’s gift to the world. We are, they are, each one is God’s gift to the world. There are no extra people in this world.

In a mansion or a gutter wherever you start to soul search and wherever your journey leads you. Look across the ocean. See those on the distant shores or see the one beside you. Look in their eyes long enough and you will know, this one, that one and each one, all are lonely people.

The first ones and the last ones, once they win or lose, all those remembered and all those forgotten are in every single nation around the globe.

Do not forget about the babies. Do not forget the solders. This one, that one and everyone are all God’s gift to the world. 

I believe this is true. 

Ven, Maharagama Dhammasiri, president, Washington DC Buddhist Vihara

Ven. Dhammasiri spoke about the importance of interreligious marriage. “From the Buddhist perspective,” he said, “interreligious marriage is a blessing. It is a highway to heaven and a short cut to create harmony and maintain balance.”

He shared about an interreligious marriage ceremony he recently conducted for a young Muslim man from Sri Lanka and a Buddhist woman from a local Buddhist temple. He said: “When her husband goes to the Islamic mosque, she also will go to the mosque with him and to the area where women are permitted to pray. When she goes to the Buddhist temple, her husband will go with her. He will kneel down in front of the Buddha statue. He may not pray to Buddha, but in his heart, he wants to support his wife. It is a beautiful sentiment and relationship.”

In human history, according to Ven. Dhammasiri, when the number of people who were killed in wars is combined, more people were killed in the name of religion. For that reason, he advocates and encourages interreligious marriages. “Where there is true love, nothing is impossible,” he said.

He offered a Buddhist prayer:

May all living beings be well, happy, peaceful and prosperous. May no harm come to them; may no difficulty come to them; may no problem come to them; may they always meet with success.

May they also have the patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems and failures in life. Amen.

In conclusion, Ven. Dhammasiri said: “If we practice this, then there will be neither conflict nor wars. Everyone should be in peace and happiness. This is very simple; the truth is always simple. I encourage religious leaders to gather from time to time and try to understand one another. It is very important. That is why today’s gathering is important despite your busy schedules. I want to conclude by saying that UPF has been doing this for a long time. I want to congratulate you on your noble work. UPF is spreading goodness and happiness to this world.”

H.E. Mohammed Al-Sharif, Ambassador of the League of Arab States

Ambassador Al-Sharif said: “Washington, DC is the capital of the world. I wish I could have been here when I was much younger, but I am here now and enjoying my job immensely. I am not an expert on interfaith, but I will share my observations having served over 40 years as a diplomat and been exposed to different cultures and societies in more than 36 nations.”

He began his remarks with a quote from the Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam:

God considers all humankind to be one singular human family by the virtue of the Origin.

All human family was created by the singular pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other … the diversity is the sign of God.

The ambassador said: “As I have traveled, I have been fortunate to be exposed and come to understand the diversity of cultures of the world. I was fascinated to see the many ways business and other affairs are conducted according to the different cultures and heritages.”

As he grew older, the Ambassador said he became more tolerant. He described the concept of tolerance as “to respect, accept and appreciate the rich diversity of the world’s cultures and forms. These are expressions of who we are as human beings.”

He praised tolerance as “the cornerstone of dialogue.” He said: “Tolerance with dialogue will prosper, while dialogue without tolerance will decline. If you respect people, you will want to know more about him or her. You will accept that person, even if they are not compatible or agreeable to you. In my life, I have come to conclude that each culture is entitled to evolve in business and politics in the way that fits its own culture and heritage.”

He noted: “I have become more conscious about the fact that none of us were consulted prior to our own birth about what kind of religion or cultural background we would prefer to live in or inherit.”

The ambassador left the audience with sage advice. “We would be better off ignoring details and matters in which we disagree. We should focus on the principles that unite us all. Ignorance, suspicion, prejudice, not understanding others, not accepting others – create dangerous attitudes and false deceptions.”

The ambassador said that if we want to succeed we must focus on the common denominators that unite us. He quoted King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who at the World Conference on Dialogue in 2008, said: “We must focus on the common denominators that unite us, namely deep faith in God, noble principles, and lofty moral values which constitute the essence of religion.”

This year’s Interfaith Harmony luncheon program held in the Beech Room of The Washington Times was a great success. Guests from the diplomatic community, community activists, religious and civic leaders and Ambassadors for Peace were inspired by the different perspectives and the opportunity to network. The Interfaith Harmony program is one of the most important annually programs of the UPF-DC Office. The organizers expressed gratitude to everyone who participated in the celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Interfaith Harmony Week 2014 from Universal Peace Federation International

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