UNITAR and the Mission of Jordan extend a warm invitation to all UN Special readers: join us in the Kazakh Room (Cinema XIV) at 10:30 on 9 February, to explore the crucial role of interfaith harmony in advancing peace
JESSICA HANEY, UNITAR
A little-known General Assembly resolution comes back around every year, in the first week of February, to remind the international community and the world about the potency of religion. Faith is a subject not too often acknowledged in the halls of power and politics, except perhaps in the narrow context of radical terrorism.
In 2010, on the initiative of His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, the United Nations made a very different sort of acknowledgement: a proclamation, in fact, of an annual World Interfaith Harmony Week. At this time each year, the UN officially charges “all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship…, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbour or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.” It may sound like pretty language alone, but the power of faith in human life is undeniable, and such an acknowledgement at the General Assembly bodes well for us all. It is said that everyone must have faith in something; that even those who profess no religion necessarily demonstrate a faith of some sort, through the words they speak and the actions they take every day. Each human being is forced to set moral priorities, day-in, day-out, whether he or she chooses to do so explicitly or tacitly. And in this sense faith, broadly construed, drives everything we do, from how we raise our children to how we wage war (or don’t). When faith becomes institutionalized and transformed into religion, it mutates from micro to macro, ballooning into a force even greater than the sum of its parts: a force that can wreak both untold destruction and surpassing, surprising peace. Faith and religion, clearly, are not going anywhere, and so we must heed their role in the geopolitical landscape: not simply in order to counteract their most egregious and violent excesses, but also to harness their rare power to transform the world for good.
On 20 October 2010, the UN GA called upon all Member States to find and nourish the light at the heart of the world’s varied faiths, and to harness it for the good of all Nations. And since 2016,
the UN in Geneva has heeded this call with the celebration of an annual Interfaith Dialogue in the Palais des Nations. Upon the initiative of the United Nations Christian Association (UNCA), the event was co-created by the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and serves as the official commemoration of World Interfaith Harmony Week in the UN’s second city. Since its inception, the Dialogue has expanded to include support from a diverse group of diplomatic missions: Sri Lanka, the Bahamas, Ecuador, the Holy See, the Order of Malta, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), among others. Participants of all faiths are warmly invited, not to water-down or understate the firmness of their convictions, but to acknowledge and reaffirm the truth that no religion promotes violence, and that no religion ignores the value of peace. We are, indeed, all in this together.
Each year’s Dialogue presents new variations on the Resolution’s theme. In 2016, the statements coalesced around the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (24 December 2015), and the role of faith and interfaith dialogue in putting a halt to religiously-motivated terrorism. The second Dialogue explored the myriad ways in which faith-based organizations are helping to drive international development, peacebuilding, and the 2030 Agenda. The discussion this year will address these subjects and new ones, continuing to revolve around the overall theme of how faith and faithbased organizations remain critical players in the quest for international peace, harmony, and sustainable development.
UNITAR and the Mission of Jordan extend a warm invitation to any and all UN Special readers to join in this Dialogue on 9 February. Meet us in Room XIV of the Palais des Nations, beginning at 10:30, to hear from Ambassadors and other expert panelists, and, if desired, to engage in the discussion yourself. The ideals and aspirations of the Charter of the United Nations rely upon dialogues such as this one, which are not afraid to plumb the depths of our convictions, both diverse and common, and to ask the tough questions. We hope you will join us.