Friday, June 22, 2007

Some Pressing Interfaith Issues

Asia-Europe interfaith talks urge new attitude

Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post, Nanjing, China

Participants in the latest round of interfaith talks in the region have spoken of the need to reach out to all communities across the world.
The Nanjing Statement on Interfaith Dialog issued Thursday stressed "the need to create more possibilities and favorable conditions for deepening interfaith and intercultural dialog, especially at the grassroots level."
Religious leaders and observers had separately raised the urgent need for such dialogs to move beyond government officials, religious leaders and academics, although a number of civil society groups already participate in similar events.
Recent interfaith talks have been held in the Philippines and in New Zealand.
The Nanjing talks from June 19 to 21 were a follow up to similar talks held at the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Larnaca, Cyprus in January, and earlier in Bali in 2005.
The statement added that the favorable conditions for more dialogs at the grassroots would need at a national level an "environment of understanding and mutual respect in which all people, be they religious or non-religious, shall be living in peace, practice and communicate their faiths and convictions."
A working group on social cohesion had raised the need to also include people who do not adhere to any faith.
The host country China, which is officially communist, claims among its 1.3 billion population 100 million followers of Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism and Islam, its five state-sanctioned faiths.
Although the constitution protects the right to religious beliefs, members of several unrecognized faiths claim to have been harassed. The most known to the outside world, Falun Gong, is banned.
The assistant minister of foreign affairs, Cui Tian Kai, said the government would "seriously and earnestly implement all our commitments enshrined in the statement", in following up the statement's appeal for Asian and European countries to "respect freedom of religion or belief, diversity in social system..."
However, "as to the evil cult which you referred to, that is of course an anti-humanity and anti-social cult and it runs counter to the tenets of all religions."
"And evil cults like this will have to banned in every country," he said.
Among other issues touched on in the statement were the recognition of the migrant communities that had increased ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in Asian and Europe countries.
The statement raised the need to adopt the best policies possible "to help legal migrants while respecting and preserving as much as possible their original faith and cultural traditions so as to promote social cohesion and peaceful co-existence."
Tension between largely Muslim migrant communities and recipient countries such as the United Kingdom and France has particularly drawn attention in the past years.
Government officials from European countries explained their policies in the talks, with tiny Singapore also sharing its policies of ensuring that representatives of all groups including "hard liners" join top-to-bottom intergroup-level dialogs in each community to overcome any misunderstanding.
The talks were attended by representatives of 35 of the 45 country "partners" of ASEM.
Indonesian moderator Din Syamsuddin, leader of the Muhammadiyah Islamic organization, said to be effective interfaith dialogs needed "a new formula, a new approach".
He said his proposals "to include the excluded" posed a dilemma when referring to groups that are considered "hard-line" or "extremist". Attempts to reach out to these groups must be continued in Indonesia, he said.
One of the Indonesian speakers, Komaruddin Hidayat, said a "more personal approach" would be needed regarding "hard-line groups".
"Who really wants to live a life hunted by the police and isolated by society?" he said. Violent religious expressions were far from sanctioned by communities, he said

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