From left: Dr Prema Pandurang, Hindu preacher from India; Surender Kandhari, chairman, Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Dubai; Paul Hinder, Bishop, Roman Catholic Church for all Catholics in UAE, Oman and Yemen; Sayed Mohammad Al Madani; and Jeffrey Singer, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints UAE and his wife Sandra Singer during the World Interfaith Harmony Day at the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights, Dubai. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Speakers from various religious communities said during the first-ever World Interfaith Harmony Day, held in Dubai on Wednesday, that peace is the need of the hour in today’s conflict-prone world.

The event, which was held at Hyatt Regency Dubai Creekside Heights Hotel, was organised as part of the wider UN-endorsed World Interfaith Harmony Week (February 1-7).

Local and overseas speakers from Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Mormonism faiths gathered here to call for peace.

This year’s theme was ‘Peace at Home Builds Peace in the World’.

They took the opportunity to describe how peace was promoted in their respective religions, noting that all faiths share the common value of harmony. Speakers also highlighted the need to protect children from hatemongering and stressed that youth have a vital role to play in interfaith dialogue.

The event’s presidential address was delivered by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development.

“Here in the UAE, the policies of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan have enabled people of diverse nationalities, ethnicities, languages, religious faiths, and cultures to live and work harmoniously in the country — in not just this week of World Interfaith Harmony but all 52 weeks of the year,” Shaikh Nahyan said.

In his keynote address, Frode Mauring, UNDP Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Acting In-charge for UAE, Oman and Qatar, said every individual is entitled to human rights regardless of his or her beliefs.

He added that the “value of diversity” should be recognised and celebrated, and not exploited for nefarious aims such as terrorism in the name of religion.

True faith comes from the heart

During the question and answer session of the first part of the proceedings, Dr Mohammad Al Qubaisi, Grand Mufti, Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, Dubai, said true faith can only come from the heart and cannot be forced upon people, in line with Islamic teachings.

He added that knowledge was key to finding the true path, noting that the first verses to be revealed in the Quran speak about knowledge rather than rites and rituals.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the conference, Swami Sadyojathah, from The Art of Living Foundation in India, said: “Peace is exactly what is required and needed right now in the world”, adding that the UAE is an example of how various faiths can coexist in one place.

In the second session, Mormon speaker Jeffery Singer, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the UAE, said peace at home begins with providing guidance to children and leading by example as children are the future leaders of the world.

He was followed by Sikh speaker General Bikram Singh, former Indian army chief, who shed light on the Sarv Dharam Sthal, an army institution that serves as a place of worship for soldiers of all faiths under one roof. “If it [harmony] can work in the army, then why not in the neighbourhood?” he added.

Meanwhile, Buddhist speaker Kulvech Janvatanavit from Thailand shared his journey of transformation from a well-heeled PricewaterhouseCoopers professional to a monk.

His point was happiness can only be achieved through the selfless serving of others. “I made a lot of money but I was not happy… I became a monk for a month, came out and resigned. Most things I’m doing now are for charity… I’m happy,” he said.

Zoroastrian speaker Dr Ramiyar Karanjia, principal of the Dadar Athornan Institute in Mumbai, India, said the Zoroastrian message of peace was the same as that of other religions, as the event demonstrated.

“It’s necessary to sow the seeds of peace in every child’s mind, regardless of their religion or background,” he added.

There was also a session dedicated to youth speakers from various countries.


What they said:

Surender Kandhari, Sikh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Darbar, Dubai: UAE is the nerve centre for interfaith and harmony. More than 200 nationalities, including people of different religions, live in peace here. The credit also goes to the UAE government for creating this culture of harmony.

Father Mina, Christian, Coptic Christian Church, Dubai: The UAE enhances the peace between different faiths and encourages people, through programmes such as this World Interfaith Harmony Day, to promote love between various communities. That is very important for any society.

Swami Sadyojathah, Hindu, Art of Living Foundation, India: The UAE has a history where all religions coexist peacefully. This is exactly what is required and needed nowadays in the world. You can go deep in your own religion and at the same time learn to live in harmony with people of different faiths.

Dr Ramiyar Karanjia, Zoroastrian, Principal, Dadar Athornan Institute, Mumbai, India: The UAE and Dubai have such a good reputation; it makes sense to have such an event held here. It doesn’t need any accreditation as its history proves this fact. Peace is a must, which all messages say, but that needs to be said. This forum does achieves that aim.