Let me turn to a shared Abrahamic tradition: the story of Joseph, Yossef, Yusuf. We all know this story from our Bibles, Torahs, Qurans.
Joseph is a dreamer. In the story he interprets two sets of dreams. The first set of dreams results in him being thrown into a pit. The second set of dreams results in him moving into a palace. So what distinguishes the two sets?
In the first set he only dreams of himself and his own self-aggrandisement: he ends up in the pit. In the second set he help others: the butler, the Pharaoh: he ends up in a palace.
KAICIID has a simple and bold dream: to help others: to bring people together into a global dialogue: to promote mutual respect and understanding among followers of all religions and peoples of all cultures, to promote peace and the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
My journey into KAICIID has been an extraordinary one. KAICIID has given me a safe space to explore new ideas with fellows and institutions from around the world: as a direct result of KAICIID I have published an essay on religious pluralism in Indonesian; helped edit an entry into an Encyclopaedia in Turkey; discussed issues regarding youth cohesion with the European Commission; discussed ways we can combat religious intolerance on an Austrian radio station and brought my learning from here back home to create a mini-Fellowship at the University of Surrey in England for religious leaders to develop inter-religious community development.
A wise rabbi once said that when he marched with Dr Martin Luther King at Selma that he was praying with his legs…
Empathy is putting myself in another persons shoes and KAICIID has allowed me to do that:
Those belonging to religious leaders and academics from different faiths; from different continents. I have walked in the shoes of both men and women. I have walked in the shoes of those who seen conflict and those who have created peace… I have walked in the shoes of people of stature. And all those have walked in my shoes. And they allowed me to still be myself, to be true to myself, to walk at my pace and in my way and still be me in their shoes. But I shall never walk in the same way again.
We live in a world where religions, ethnicities and peoples are retreating from each other, where walls are being built and distrust, prejudice and terrible acts of violence are carried out. The leaders of those violent and particularist movements only dream of self-aggrandisement of their group or themselves as individuals. To fear the other, vilify them and trample upon their dignity: that only leads to a pit. The palace can be found when we come together in the service of our common humanity: to create safe spaces to enable those who dream of co-existence, mutual respect and a love of humanity a place to create a better global vision. We need a place where religions, cultures and humanity meet, explore and understand the other and breakdown barriers whilst respecting the dignity of difference. As its host Austria should be congratulated in helping KAICIID to do just that. Austria has given me the space to do this so let me personally thank you for the opportunity and the responsibility that you have given me to change people lives and empower others to do likewise: to promote peaceful coexistence based on our shared human values enshrined in our religious values and the universal norms expressed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights that you have advocated.
In our story of Joseph took his people on a long and difficult journey into exile, one that led to enslavement but culminates in the Exodus: a path that leads to both their liberation and redemption. It is this story that still inspires billions of people across the world, across different faiths, cultures and traditions today: the hope of a better tomorrow, in the service of G-d and humanity. If anything, it illustrates that sometimes change takes time and those that start the work may not see it come to fruition but do it nonetheless selflessly. To quote Pirkei Avot: "We do not have an obligation to finish the work but neither can we walk away from it". In that we all have a long journey ahead and a lot of pair shoes to get through. I hope others will join us: to walk out of the pit and into the palace. I think it will be worth it.