Interreligious Dialogue Highlighted at Athens International Conference as Tool to Support Peaceful Coexistence

31 October 2017

In Athens, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias opened the Second International Conference on Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East. In addition to religious leaders and government officials from Mediterranean and Arab region countries, H.E. Emmanuel, Metropolitan of France, and Chief Rabbi David Rosen, both Board Members of the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), as well as the Centre’s Director General, Fahad Abualnasr, participated.

Convened from 30 to 31 October 2017, the event reviewed developments in religious pluralism in the Middle East over the past two years since the first international conference gathered to discuss this complex of issues. During two days of deliberations, the participants also examined future challenges to religious pluralism and proposed positive initiatives that promote religious co-existence and pluralism in the Arab region.

The Conference focused on the role religious community leaders play in using social media to promote religious pluralism and mutual respect. Director General Abualnasr presented the International Dialogue Centre’s work to build networks against extremism and vitalize social media as a channel of dialogue not division. “Since 2015 the International Dialogue Centre trained about 400 young religious community leaders to use social media to build empathy, solidarity and a willingness to cooperate”, he noted. “We produced a social media dialogue training manual in Arabic and have run inclusive training sessions in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Soon we will hold a training session in Saudi Arabia. When the training is completed in February 2018, we expect this group of young, adept communicators to begin coordinate campaigns”, the Director General said.

Networks in the Arab region that promote religious pluralism were also of particular interest to the participants. Director General Abualnasr provided the conference an overview of the Centre’s work to empower religious leaders and communities to counteract threats to peaceful coexistence. This year the Centre launched the first theological and Sharia faculties network in the Arab region. The network comprises 16 Christian and Muslim institutions that are working on a shared curriculum on interreligious dialogue. “Our hope is that the next generation of scholars and leaders in the Arab region will be equipped with the dialogue skills they need to build peace, and be more active in endorsing common citizenship for all components of Arab societies” the Director General noted.

In his concluding remarks, the Director General stated, “ interreligious dialogue offers us a path towards sustainable pluralism in the Middle East in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities. Dialogue is an effective antidote against extremism, prejudice, indifference and exclusion, if we can educate our children, future leaders and institutions to use it”.