SG Speech: III International Conference on “Religions and their contribution to Concord and Peace”

6 November 2018

Speech for the KAICIID Secretary General

III International Conference on “Religions and their contribution to Concord and Peace”

Monday, 5 November 2018

Madrid, Spain


Your Excellencies, esteemed religious leaders, ladies and gentlemen,

Please allow me to thank Sheikh Ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, who is a member of the KAICIID Board of Directors, and Dr. Ali Evsen for their leadership in organizing this conference for the third consecutive year.

This gathering has become a global reference by raising awareness of the contributions of religious communities to peace.

It is a pleasure for me to be back in Madrid. I would also like to thank the government of Spain, one of our founding members, for hosting and co-organizing this conference.

We appreciate its leaders’ commitment to interreligious dialogue, especially through their continuous support to the organization I represent, the KAICIID International Dialogue Centre. 

I have been asked to talk about “the problems of religious minorities living in other countries”. But to begin with, please allow me to phrase this in a different way.

When we talk about minorities versus majorities, we imply that one part of the population is weaker than the other. We imply the existence of second class citizens that need protection.

In many of these societies, we have different religious groups that have lived together for centuries. To highlight this peaceful coexistence, we should be talking about common citizenship.

By using this term, we are immediately placing these groups at the same level, with equal rights and responsibilities in their communities; with equal roles towards a peaceful society.

By using this term, we believe we are also finding value in diversity, we are acknowledging how each group is enriching their society.

This is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for in its first article:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

So first, we must consider religious and ethnic diversity not as a problem, but as an enrichment to our societies. We must remind ourselves that we are one human family and should all enjoy common rights of citizenship.

I would like to raise two points that I believe can contribute to peaceful coexistence in diverse societies. First, communities’ internal organization and cohesive work are key. Second, change has to come from within the society – it cannot be imposed.

Let me mention some examples of our work on interreligious dialogue around the world to illustrate this-

  • In the Central African Republic, where Christians represent over 80% of the population and Muslims about 15%, conflict arose in 2013.
  • By manipulating religion for political and economic purposes, it became one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time.
  • When KAICIID started to work in the country, we realised that we could not call for interreligious dialogue when the Muslim community was completely divided and unable to engage with the Christian community from a united front.
  • That is why we initiated intra-religious dialogue and a meeting in Vienna in 2015. Imams representing the two main Muslim groups agreed to unite and work together with Christians.
  • Now, three years later, and after having internally organised communities, we are working on interreligious dialogue and are helping to establish 16 local offices of the Interfaith Platform in every area in the country.
  • Now let me come to Europe, where islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise, and where Muslim and Jewish communities are facing common challenges to religious practices and traditions shared by both faiths.
  • With KAICIID’s support, the European Muslim Jewish Leadership Council was recently established. Religious leaders from both communities of 18 countries are working together towards common issues, and towards common citizenship. Again, these communities have organised themselves and are working together.
  • Finally, when I say that change has to come from inside the society, I must refer to our flagship initiative, United Against Violence in the Name of Religion.
  • It was launched in Vienna in 2014, in an historic meeting that gathered leaders of religious communities from across the Arab World.
  • In one voice, they all denounced violence in the name of religion and agreed to work together. In February this year, once again meeting in Vienna, the 23 highest religious authorities from Muslim and Christian institutions in the Arab world launched the first interreligious platform for dialogue and cooperation in the region.
  • They are a perfect example of interreligious cooperation and religious communities leading change from inside and working towards peaceful coexistence and social cohesion.

KAICIID is building spaces for dialogue around the world. We are promoting dialogue between religious leaders from different communities, and also between religious leaders and policymakers. All of you here know how peace cannot be achieved without the work of religious leaders, especially within communities that have been divided along religious lines

And from our side, after building and supporting so many platforms around the world, we also know that religious leaders cannot achieve peace on their own.

The joint work of policy makers and religious leaders is the key.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the spirit of brotherhood, let us find value in diversity and let us work together, from different religious communities and with policymakers, towards peaceful coexistence around the world.

Thank you.