Seeking a Common Ground through Uniting Religions

SingingI was privileged to be one of the delegates who attended the Religions for Peace (RfP) 9th World Assembly held in Vienna, Austria from 21st – 23rd November 2013 and the Youth Pre-Assembly on 20th November as a representative from the African Youth Interfaith Network. The assembly was sponsored by Religions for Peace supported by The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) under the theme “Welcoming the other: Action for Human Dignity, Citizenship and shared Well-Being” brought together more that 600 Religious leaders, NGO representatives, friends and partners of Religions for Peace. Founded in 1970, Religions for Peace has since been working to Stop War, Protect the Earth, Build Communities and End Poverty.

Noting that 84% of the world population, identify with a religious group, meaning more than 8 in 10 people identify with a religion, the work of a united voice through religion is vital in the global Development agenda and the place of religious leaders cannot be more emphasized. Some alarming statistics from one of the presentations showed that in 2007 global religious restrictions was at 29% and by 2011 it was at 40%. This shows the importance of a united religious voice in safeguarding religious freedom.

The conference theme song lyrics and tune which still resonate in my mind “Rising up I’ll walk with you, what looks so far is near, waking together without fear, Ueomuite (Japanese word meaning ‘Looking Up’)” goes deep and speaks to the heart and if applied will go a long way in fostering mutual understanding and global peace which though may seem ambitious, can be achieved.

The most exciting part of the conference was meeting and interacting with people, young, old, women, and men from all different faiths, beliefs and religions. I never thought I would meet a Monk, a Native American, and sit with Muslim Sheiks and Muftis but the assembly facilitated that. I learned and appreciate other people’s religions by learning new things about the different faiths, mostly how similar we are on issues relating to peace, respecting dignity and now with more effort than before the fire to promote religious freedom and cooperation has been ignited in me.

The assembly strived to include the two groups who had previously been sidelined. I was pleased to see more women and youth making presentations on the work they have done and the impacts they have made. One great example was the arms down campaign led by youth. One woman whose story caught my attention was Layla Alkhafaji who was tortured for 6 months, jailed for 11 years during the reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, she wasn’t allowed to see her family during that time and her mother passed away while she was in prison. She was finally was released and after being in exile in Canada, she went back to Iraq and became a member of parliament and has since then been a human rights defender. From Layla’s story, one of the lessons from the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ comes out clearly where even if she was in prison she was free to think, believe and hope; she may have been chained but her mind was free.

Highlighted below are two notable quotes from a Religious leader present. Cardinal Onaiyekan “Often, human beings identify themselves by their differences instead of our common humanity” and “seeking common ground so the so called other is not a stranger anymore” For more information on the conference one can tweet or Facebook the hashtag #RfPAssembly.

In the end, a quote by the Religions for Peace Secretary General summed up where it all starts, when he stated that “Promoting dignity starts in the home, by influencing our children”

By Hannah Ondiek, the Regional Director of WYA Africa.