Universal Peace Federation’s Founding Vision: The Inter-religious Council at the UN’ at 11-00 am 31st August 2010 at House of Commons Boothroyd Room Portcullis House London
Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid
The Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK
Bismillah Hir Rahma Nir Rahim (I begin with name of God the Most Kind the Most Merciful). I greet you with the greetings of Islam (Assalamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakathu (May God’s blessing and peace be with us all.) All perfect praise be to Allah, Subhaana wa ta’aala, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad, is His servant and messenger Sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
I am honoured -- and deeply humbled -- to be invited by the Universal Peace Federation to speak on an important topic on ‘UPF’s Founding Vision: The Inter-religious Council at the UN’. I salute the leadership of UPF specially Chairman Dr Thomas Welsh and UPF Secretary General Taj Hammad and International President of UPF, Rev Hyung Jin Moon who has taken UPF Founder’s vision to the grassroots all over the world and consulting “ We the people” as UN charter begins.
UPF strongly believes and works with different faiths. UPF work on Building Bridges between People of Faiths is exemplary.UPF has held many consultations with statesmen, diplomats, political scientists, jurists, and NGO representatives about the establishment of an interreligious council connected with the United Nations since 2003.
UN Secretaries-General we can find the following: References to religion and spirituality:
"Different religions, belief systems and cultural backgrounds are essential to the richness of the human experience." - Ban Ki-moon (2006 - )
"We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race." - Kofi Annan (1997-2006)
"Cultural pluralism is as important as political and multi-party pluralism. Religious, linguistic and cultural pluralism are vitally important hallmarks of a true democracy." - Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-1996)
"Wars begin in the minds of men, and in those minds, love and compassion would have built the defenses of peace." - U Thant (1961-1971)
"Unless there is a spiritual renaissance, the world will know no peace." - Dag Hammarskjold (1953-1961)
“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together.” Kofi Annan said
“Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” Baruch Spinoza said
I shall try to reflect on the following area:
1. Mission: What is the mission and primary goals of the interfaith council?
2. Feasibility: Is it possible to build an interfaith council within the UN system?
3. Structure: How would the interfaith council function within the UN system.
4. Action Steps: What steps are needed if we are to achieve the goal?
Mission: In my humble opinion there is only one Mission in establishing an UN Inter-religious Council i.e to establish an Advisory body to help World Political leadership to guide on moral and spiritual issues for creating better world.
Feasibility: There are different ways and methods suggested by so many concerned people:
- As an official body? To establish an official body, either on par with the Security Council or as a replacement for the Trusteeship Council, would require an amendment of the UN Charter. However, since even minor amendments to the Charter have almost impossible to achieve, this option seems unlikely, at least in the near future.
- As a subsidiary organ of a body such as the Security Council or General Assembly? An interreligious voice could impact the whole range of UN activities related to international peace and security. If interreligious representatives are allowed give input to debates at the UN Security Council, it could make this body less cynical and more transparent and effective. However, while the numbers of countries backing the proposal have grown, it has not yet received support from members of the Security Council.
- As an international NGO affiliated with ECOSOC? The UN Charter allows ECOSOC to set up commissions to help it perform its functions and consult with non-governmental organizations. As an NGO affiliated with ECOSOC, an interreligious council could submit statements at the annual ECOSOC meetings and meetings of its Functional Commissions and Regional Commissions. This option is open, and the records of such proceedings could lay the groundwork for closer affiliation with the United Nations.
- Religions to be represented
Which religions? Would diverse groups within each religion be represented? Would indigenous religions and atheist groups be represented?
Qualifications of members (examples)
Moral authority representing a religious tradition Acceptance of the existence of other religions Respect for other religions Record of interest and participation in interreligious dialogue Belief in peace Practical abilities to cooperate and change the world for the better Functions (examples)
Promote communication, pluralistic dialogue, and networking Balance centralization and discipline with democracy, pluralism, and grass-roots links. Address not only the commonalities among religions but also the differences Possible active role, such as sending interreligious mediators to areas of conflict
Contributions by religious bodies? Other?
Agenda items (examples)
Human rights Customary laws Differing cultural values Differing understandings of gender, race, and culture Conflicts over resources Environmental concerns
Potential benefits (examples)
Contribute to a more broad-based form of global governance. Help resolve conflicts that have a religious dimension. Defuse the “clash of civilizations.” Expand the UN’s concern about human rights from individual freedom of religion to the broader concerns of religious communities and collective security.
What Action steps are needed to create an UN Inter-religious Council? There is dire need to get more support from Member States as the present UN structure is based on voting system of member states. We need to mobilise wider support of international NGOs. Without these two we shall have a wish not reality.
UPF Founding Statement: Renewing the United Nations to Build Lasting Peace made by Rev. Sun Myung Moon issued a call for a renewal of the United Nations. Many other leaders were echoing that theme during the 60th anniversary of the founding of the UN. Rev. Moon envisions the wisdom of the world's religions being included in the deliberations of this organization that embodies the hopes for peace of people in every nation.
This proposal for an interreligious body had been introduced during his speech at the UN on August 18, 2000 “God calls upon us leaders, especially religious leaders, in hope that we will stand against the injustices and evils of the world, and bestow His true love upon the world. Hence, all people of faith must become one in heart in order to give full expression, both in words and actions, to God's passionate desire for humanity's restoration and peace.
World peace can be fully accomplished only when the wisdom and efforts of the world's religious leaders, who represent the internal concerns of the mind and conscience, work cooperatively and respectfully with national leaders who have much practical wisdom and worldly experience about the external reality or "body." In this light, it is time for us to give serious consideration even to the prospect of restructuring the United Nations. For example, perhaps it is possible to envision the United Nations as a bicameral institution.
The existing United Nations structure, composed of national representatives, may be regarded as a congress where the interests of each member nation are represented. However, I submit that serious consideration should be given to forming a religious assembly, or council of religious representatives within the structure of the United Nations. This assembly or council would consist of respected spiritual leaders in fields such as religion, culture, and education. Of course, the members of this interreligious assembly will need to have demonstrated an ability to transcend the limited interests of individual nations and to speak for the concerns of the entire world and humanity at large.
The two chambers, working together in mutual respect and cooperation, will be able to make great advances in ushering in a world of peace. The wisdom and vision of great religious leaders will substantially supplement the political insight, experience and skill of the world's political leaders.”
For some there have three main areas of concerns:
1. An interreligious council raises questions of representation (and “representativeness”): Who would designate the representatives on such a council (national governments, transnational religious communities, etc.)? What would be the appropriate principle and proportionality of representation (e.g., representation of minority or local religions, representation of religiously divided/pluralistic societies)?
Would non-religious people be represented on such a council?
Why is religion a more salient identity or type of community than other kinds of identities or communities, which might be equally deserving of representation on a new UN council (North-South, class, race, ethnicity, gender etc.)?
Perhaps these are practical issues, which can be resolved, but they need serious consideration.
2. Questions arise about the very (political) possibility of an interreligious council given that it would require an amendment to the UN Charter. Despite support by about one third of the membership of the UN for the Philippine proposal, a broader consensus (including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) on such a rather significant Charter amendment seems unlikely in light of the difficulties of achieving much lesser institutional changes in the UN reform of 2005 (especially the failed attempt to reform of the UN Security Council despite many proposals and initiatives throughout the 1990s and early 2000s).
3. Questions even arise about the desirability of an interreligious council. Here, one of the few institutional innovations that were adopted as part of the UN reform in 2005, namely the creation of the Human Rights Council (HRC) (as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly), may offer a cautionary tale. Arguably a similar attempt of giving greater prominence to the “moral” dimension of UN activity as a hypothetical interreligious council, the Human Rights Council demonstrates that one may not get what one wishes for. Rather than eliciting more support for and greater compliance with human rights, the Human Rights Council has become highly politicized, incidentally, in part around the question of weighing religious sensibilities against the freedom of expression (c.f., the affair of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and the recent adoption of a resolution by the Human Rights Council that condemns the defamation of religion as a human rights violation).
Revd Marcus Braybrooke, President, World Congress of Faiths, United Kingdom said:
“At the time that the interfaith movement turned its attention to world problems, a growing number of politicians, economists, and others have become ready to hear the voices of faith, recognizing, for example, with the rise of religious extremism, that religion is the missing dimension of statecraft. The World Economic Forum at Davos now invites religious leaders to participate. The same is true of the World Social Forum, and Transparency International has included a religious panel. There is growing discussion of business ethics and the moral dimension of globalization. In August 2000, one thousand religious and spiritual leaders met in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. Symbolically, this was of great signiﬁcance although the substance of the meeting was deeply disappointing. At last, the supreme international political authority was willing to recognize that religions and spiritual traditions have a contribution to make to the major issues that confront humanity today.
Even before the United Nations was formed, Bishop Bell of Chichester suggested in the House of Lords in 1943 that an Advisory Committee with representatives of all major faiths should be formed to work with the UN. The World Congress of Faiths gained some support for this but by the time the ﬁrst meeting of the UN was held in London, the Communist Iron Curtain had shut out all things religious as well as dividing the world into two power blocks. It was not until the collapse of Communism that new possibilities opened up, although of course religious bodies through NGOs and at other levels did exert some inﬂuence on the UN. Even now, despite various suggestions, there is no spiritual or religious advisory council at the United Nations.”
Syed Shahid Husain Senior Advisor, Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations said: “Looking back in retrospect over the past fifty-six years since the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations, one sees that in the face of great strides in scientific and technological progress and productivity, the giants of poverty, deprivation, illness, disease, illiteracy, and insecurity still remain at large, promoting inequity, polarization, distrust, and fear among the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is so because the most important element, which would have effectively advocated and promoted peace, harmony, and sharing of gains, was missing. This was the spiritual or religious element, which is capable of serving as the last restraint on earthly power and last solace of earthly misery. Its basic teachings, namely that we of the human race are brothers unto one another if only because we are the embodiment of one and the same Holy Spirit into which we eventually return, gives to us a sense of inner-belonging, sympathy, compassion, qualities that make us truly human.
Absent from the Charter of the United Nations was the important mandate that would have motivated and reminded the believers of all faiths of their duty toward one another, and toward other nations, and called for policies and programs that would protect and promote the interest of all human beings on earth. Today the need for this is more important than ever before.
In April of 1945 the founding fathers of the United Nations were meeting in San Francisco where adopting the charter of the United Nations, and subsequently the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding fathers of the world organisation endeavored to plug in their best intentions, efforts, and skills, and negotiated and accepted intricate compromises so that they and their succeeding generations would be saved from the scourge of war, which twice in their lifetime had brought untold sorrow to mankind. The most important of these instruments, besides the Security Council, was the Economic and Social Council. To bring real equality in the world The most significant statement of policy was the embodiment in Articles 55 and 56 of the charter, by which all member states promised themselves to promote, among other things, higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress. They also promised to find solutions to international economic, social, health, and related problems, to international and local educational cooperation, and to provide universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
As the world looks for direction in the post 11 September 2001 period, to address the issue effectively it would be important for the United Nations and other governmental organizations to begin to introduce some forms of spirituality into their mandates and programs. Some, in fact, have already begun to recognize the benefit of doing so. Thus the United Nations, through successive resolutions of the General Assembly, is encouraging the concept of Dialogue among Civilizations, which was initiated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference a couple of years ago. The World Bank has launched a world faith development dialogue on the basis of the joint recommendations of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Hussein of Jordan, among others, with the objective of associating the spiritual communities and people of ethics with developmental issues. In the fall of 2000, the General Assembly, as part of the commemoration of the new millennium, convened the largest ever gathering of the world’s spiritual leaders, who, among other things, made recommendations on issues of human security and the eradication of poverty as a matter of priority for people of all faiths all over the world. Finally, through a joint initiative of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the government of Austria, the General Assembly adopted a historic resolution in May 2001 calling for the protection and preservation of religious sites all over the world. This action taken during the United Nations year of Dialogue among Civilizations bears testimony to the culture of tolerance and respect for religion and for the diversity of religions that by God’s grace is now emerging at the United Nations.
It is gratifying that the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace in its present international symposium on the theme of the United States and the United Nations has taken the initiative to include in the agenda the important topic of interreligious dimensions in peace and security issues. This is particularly important at a time when religion seems to have somewhat receded in societal considerations. I am reminded of a personal experience a couple of years ago, when during the Christmas holiday period, Christmas carols were being sung over the loudspeaker system of a department store. One store assistant was overheard saying to another, “Fancy bringing religion even into Christmas.” Well, the signals are there. It is a very timely initiative and I feel greatly honored to be given the opportunity to add a few thoughts on the issue.
Sayyed Mohammed Musawi, President, World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League, United Kingdom said:
“Meet together, speak together, and let your minds be of one accord – Unity of God and Unity of mankind are the fundamental principles of Islam. We and many of our colleagues share the idea that the attachment of human beings to their religion and faith is a very clear reality. People feel comfortable and even glad following religious guidance to improve their lives and societies. So why not promote people’s participation in implementing the United Nations' noble aims by taking advantage of the religious attachments of people? It will be then much easier to fight illiteracy, disease, and crime. Such a council can also promote communal understanding and peace and harmony by encouraging programs for interfaith and interreligious information and education. Many conflicts can be resolved peacefully if the wisdom of religion is being properly utilized. Our common aim is to promote understanding and harmony, which naturally lead to peaceful coexistence between people from different faiths, ideas, and communities. The message of religion has always aimed to build a peaceful, constructive, and successful life for human beings in this world and hereafter. However, those who misunderstood or misinterpreted religion caused and are causing human society the worst kind of damage. Misusing religion and religious feelings is not only a crime against humanity, but also a crime against the Almighty God and all religious teachings.
Evil acts cannot be worse than misusing religion because the latter damages the very purpose of religion and the name of religion. The sufferings and losses, through wars and hatred, instigated by misuse of religion are much more than what has been caused by all of the antisocial gangs in human history. That is why we read in the messages of all the prophets and messengers the great importance of sincerity and truthfulness in dealing with every word in the name of religion being the name of God, which must be conveyed with utmost honesty.
The misuse of religion not only damaged the lives of millions throughout history, but also has continued to affect millions of people as a result of their misunderstanding the message of religion. The responsibility of every sincere religious leader and sensible person is to condemn and oppose every aspect of the misuse of religion. We must clarify the reality of religion, which is working to make peaceful and successful lives. How can international interfaith conferences help in reestablishing the true image of religion, in spite of these social and political challenges? How can religious servants, who are mainly and commonly known by the name of religious leaders, promote among their followers and communities a culture of understanding and caring for others—not only those who share a common faith, but for those of other faiths? I firmly believe that our common aim of building a culture of mutual respect and caring for all cannot be achieved without proper planning, active follow-up and timely evaluation. I also believe that every conference with interreligious aims needs to adopt action plans, which should be realistic yet optimistic and courageous. Every participant should then play his or her role in the implementation of those points that are agreed upon. Succeeding conferences should have a review to evaluate the achievements and the challenges. One current concern is the proposal of an interreligious council in the United Nations. However, there must be clarity in the main aims of the proposal. This will help in convincing those concerned to support the proposal. Why has the United Nations, after more than fifty years, failed to achieve the main aims behind its establishment? Mainly, as I understand it, because the United Nations relates to governments, not to the real masses who form the nations. If the United Nations wants to implement this proposal, it should go to the grass roots of the masses and deal with them and make them participants in achieving their aims. Such a council can also promote communal understanding and peace and harmony by encouraging programs for interfaith and interreligious information and education. Many conflicts can be resolved peacefully if the wisdom of religion is being properly utilized. There needs to be an action plan to make this proposal a reality, keeping in mind that we do not just want a body of the United Nations without real effect. The action plan, may I suggest, could contain the following:
- Marshal public opinion through explaining to people the necessity of such a council. The religious and political leaders as well as media personnel can play a big role in forming public opinion.
- Approach your own governments in your own name and in the name of your organization, requesting support for this proposal.
- Encourage people through religious and public gatherings to demand from the governments of their countries support for this proposal.
- Carry out a media campaign explaining and supporting this proposal and encouraging public participation in it.
- Hold a series of public meetings with youth participation to encourage them to be part of the campaign.
I end with a prayer, which we were taught to pray always: "Oh, God, show us the truth and make us see it as truth and grant us the strength to follow it. Oh, God, show us the falsehood and make us see it as falsehood and grant us the courage to avoid it."
H.E. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States once said: “The UN Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace highlights the ideals, norms and objectives of a global culture of peace and identifies the actors involved in their realization. It has been an honoor for me to chair the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Program of Action. I will always treasure and cherish that. This has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity. This document addresses states and international organizations like the United Nations, it includes religious and community leaders, parents, family, teachers, artists, professors, journalists and students—people from all walks of life. In these circumstances I believe that it is very important for us to focus on the original vision articulated in UN Charter. Even though the Charter was launched in 1945 in the name of “we the peoples of the world,” every word of that charter is still valid and still relevant and still important for the organization. We need new leadership.
I would like to identify four areas where special attention is well deserved.
The role of civil society: The United Nations cannot perform effectively if it remains solely as an organization of the member states. It has to embrace the larger international community, including civil society organizations such as the UPF. There are hundreds of them working everywhere, and I believe that to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, peace, and security, the UN needs civil society. These organizations are integral to the UN’s work.
Participant democracy: This is absolutely essential for economic, social, and national development for every country. By participant democracy I mean democracy not only at the parliament level but also even at the grassroots level, including local councils and the smallest administrative bodies. The work of development is done through village councils, and their participation is important to ensure efficient delivery of development assistance.
Good governance is also in the best interest of everyone. By good governance, I mean accountability, transparency, and the ability to perform efficiently. Closely connected to with participant democracy is the need to ensure that all human rights are enjoyed by all.
Poverty and development: The United Nations is composed of 192 countries. Fifty of them are considered to represent the weakest and poorest segment of humanity, the least developed countries. Out of those fifty, thirty-four are in Africa. These countries should be at the top of the agenda of the United Nations. I have been an advocate for these countries for many years in my role as an ambassador of Bangladesh, which is one of the fifty, and also as the UN High Representative for these countries. I believe that the United Nations should a give bigger voice to these countries. These countries are so weak and so poor that they have no means of determining the United Nations’ agenda and supporting themselves
Promoting a culture of peace: The UN tries to work as a fire brigade. Wherever there is a “fire,” we send a fire brigade, a peacekeeping operation, and try to put it out. But more important than putting out fires is to cultivate a culture of peace in the mind of each person.
We should develop the ability to understand the rich diversity of the world. Diversity is not something negative. Diversity is positive energy in this world. Because we should inculcate this culture of peace among the young people, we need to engage the young people. We the adults have somehow failed the world, but we will be failing it even more if we leave the young people out of the multilateral and universal work of the United Nations. We need to tell them that the culture of peace starts with individuals, and we need to transform ourselves.
The United Nations also needs to engage the family. Peace starts with caring parents who tell their children about the world and teach the values of tolerance and understanding. It is very important that we tell our children about the values of all human life. If we can give that message and example, it will stay with them for the rest of their life.
I think a universal value system is absolutely essential to the broader concept of a culture of peace. I believe that should be the main stage and the anchor of the work of the United Nations for humanity. In this way we can at least hope that in the next decade we can succeed in making this a secure, peaceful, and better world.
Dr Zia Rizvi, Director General, Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues, Pakistan once said that An Interreligious Council Should Be Well-Defined. He said “ I believe the concept of an interreligious council is very sound, timely, and useful. I must admit that when I joined the UN, I thought the UN was the voice of the voiceless. It was supposed to provide power to the powerless. In time, I realized that it can also be a tool for the powerful to play power games. I believe that an interreligious council can be a counterbalancing force, giving the United Nations a new dimension that might perhaps bring more sense, more humanity to politicians.
There are several points I would like to make.
First, The purpose of this council is to bring the human family closer, to make modern people more human; this is the biggest challenge, in my opinion, that we face today. In other words I believe that this council should be a council for humanity and its purpose should be exclusively to promote humanitarian causes, causes that are common to all religions and should be common to all human beings, whether they are religious or not.
Second, I feel that it is of very great importance that an interreligious council is perceived as and proves to be a counterbalancing force of extremism, bigotry and exclusivity. Today in many parts of the world religion is being used as an excuse for violence and intolerance. What is called “terrorism”, “fundamentalism” and “extremism” is now also being called “terrorism.” It should be the contrary. I think that the concept of council will gain very much morally and politically if it is presented as a body intended to end religious extremism.
Many good ideas have been victims of procedures that are used to reach political objectives. Therefore, the idea that an interreligious council should be an organ of the United Nations, which would involve a revision of the Charter, involves an additional challenge that could hurt its chances for adoption. We need to consider what outcome we want from an interreligious council. We must not become victims of semantics.
Sometimes organs are not as powerful as their subsidiary bodies. Sometimes a committee with a powerful idea can have much greater impact than the whole General Assembly. We need to build a consensus around this noble idea of making humanity more human—an idea that is not intended to be made into a tool either of extremists or of non-extremists. And for that we must develop fixed, practical goals and objectives designed to bring this body into being.
Let me say also that the United Nations is one of the organs to build the world better. Chapters 6 and 7 of the Charter address issues of peace and peacekeeping. However, peace can only be kept once it has been made. Peacemaking is a weak point of the UN. Peace building is another weak point. Peacekeeping is a procedural matter and UN has not done this very well so far.
The individual must come to peace within himself or herself and only then can that individual be at peace with others. We are going to bring, therefore, into the United Nations a concept that radically challenges the UN’s conventional wisdom. One of the things we are trying to do is to strengthen the UN organization. If you know the history, even when the Charter was being written, it started, “We the governments.” Then Eleanor Roosevelt, I believe with Winston Churchill, just cut out “governments” and put “the peoples.” At the millennium, Kofi Annan issued the Millennium Report and it, too, says “We the Peoples.”
UN is slave of governments and governments are about politics, not about humanity, most of the time. Poverty breeds extremism. I think an interreligious council should address its root causes. If poverty can be eradicated, frustration and extremism and fundamentalism and violence could disappear because deprivation produces frustration. The challenge that lies in front of us is how to turn passion into compassion. That is our task. Turn passion into compassion and the Council will work.
I submit that we all should work together to establish an Inter-religious Council at the UN.
With Best Regards
Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid
Imam Brighton Islamic Mission since September 1976;
Chairman Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK (MCRRH) since 1980;