Universally, religion remains the nucleus of any society as it has significant impact on the daily lives of the people. It is a system that generates multiple systems, including political, economic, social and cultural and hence it cannot be excluded from any society, even the most secular political ones. Religion is a complete code of life and impacts the cultural and social realities of any society.
In that perspective religion determines how life is managed and lived.
There are approximately 4,200 religions in the world and the followers of each religion inhabit different geographical areas and belong to different ethnic groups.
Each group believes it holds the correct view and follows the right path. As a result, its followers tend to think they are more righteous than others who they sometimes describe as superstitious.
This very view that favors a particular religious or ethnic group over others and considers them as outsiders gives rise to antagonism. This is a thinking that might instigate some to violence against other religious groups. History testifies that such extremist ideas produce people with radical thinking who try to impose their dogma on others by force. They don’t even hesitate to sacrifice themselves believing they are dying for a right cause.
This is true today as there are reports almost everyday from all around the world about groups that are deemed religious but commit heinous crimes against people of other faiths under the pretext of religious justification. The world will become a chaotic place if intolerance increases and every so-called religious group attacks and kills the members of the other faith.
The world has suffered due to religious intolerance and is still suffering because of some extremist groups that have played havoc with religion and disrupted the social harmony within a particular society and among nations.
Realizing the gravity of the situation at the world level, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, being the leader of the Muslim Ummah, called for interfaith and cultural dialogue. This initiative aims to take the world to a state of religious and cultural understanding and harmony that is so essential to end conflicts and ensure peace.
Religion influences the cultural and social milieu of any ethnic group or country and it cannot be changed.
The Soviet Union is a glowing example of this. Its political regime tried to enforce with iron fist its communist dogma on the people while at the same time banned religious practices and their symbolic public appearance in any shape or form.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Islamic countries within the USSR seceded, Muslims in those republics started practicing their religion publicly.
Religion and culture can be causes of misunderstanding and consequently a source of confrontation among peoples and nations. Interfaith and cultural dialogue reduces religious misunderstanding and cultural differences by focusing on religious commonalities and universal values that bring followers of different faiths and the people of the world together.
The world would be a better place when people stop perceiving religious and cultural differences as threats to their views and lifestyles, but rather acknowledge them as a source of enrichment to their lives, which would result in appreciation of others as their fellow human beings. Insulting religions and their sacred symbols only spark animosity between followers of various faiths.
The role of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue is to "act as a hub among religions and cultures, empowering others already working in the field of dialogue and promoting harmony and cooperation."
As the center moves on to achieve its peaceful objectives, the center ought to extend its hands to similar civil and international organizations to bring to reality the call of King Abdullah for the world to condemn insults of religion and prophets by issuing a UN resolution to this effect.
There are several United Nations organizations whose primary responsibility is to safeguard the laws and principles that respect religions and cultures. In addition to that the UN sponsors a World Interfaith Harmony Week that also aims to promote religious harmony. Thus, the political platform to achieve this objective is already in place.
Also, coordination with other interfaith organizations would help pressure the UN to adopt a resolution condemning blasphemy and abuse of religions and religious icons.
Among the similar organizations are the Parliament of the World's Religions that works toward affirming universal values and recognition of the diversity among different cultures; A Common Word (ACW), an organization that focuses on bringing Muslim and Christian leaders together; the C1 World Dialogue, an initiative whose mission is to support and promote, propagate and preserve, peace, harmony and friendship between the Western and Islamic world; and the Common Ground, a body that promotes understanding between Islam and Buddhism.
The world has shrunk to a great extent in terms of interconnectivity. Hence, what happens in a seemingly far away place has its effects on other nations of the world. So, the people of the world need social harmony to live in peace and prosperity that can be achieved through religious and cultural understanding.
— Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh. This article is exclusive to Arab News.