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Peace is the existential bedrock of a society Image Credit: Gulf News

The first World’s Parliament of Religion held in 1893 in Chicago, United States was a significant event. This was the time when Western world was riding the wave of technological and industrial advancements.

The torchbearers of development in the West had realised that striving for pole position in the military and economic sector would not serve the cause of their nation’s progress into the future. They will have to strive to build the foundation of a visionary, multicultural and multi-ethnic society.

As the pages of history were turned, this role had been picked up by the United Arab Emirates. Today they are at the forefront of this inclusive thought process. The importance of this topic is understood by the fact that even at a time when crises beset the world, the Abu Dhabi-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, has continued with its mission to light the ray of hope.

For many years, the Forum, which is chaired by UAE Fatwa Council President Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah (under the aegis of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), has been one of the most prominent voices in the Muslim world, advocating for coexistence both within the Muslim nations and worldwide.

From the ground-breaking Marrakesh Declaration held in Morocco in 2016 to calling on to the Rights of Religious Minorities to the Alliance of Values in 2018 and then chartering New Alliance of Virtue between Abrahamic religions in 2019.

The 2021 annual conference of the Forum for Peace has gathered leaders, scholars, thinkers of different faiths from around the world to discuss principles of peace-building, advocacy, and conflict resolution.

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While opening the 8th assembly of the Forum at Al-Wasl Plaza in Expo 2020 Dubai, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, highlighted the UAE’s leadership efforts to promote the values of peaceful coexistence between all nations and people of the globe.

The theme of the Forum Assembly in 2021 is ‘Inclusive Citizenship’ which is a series of deliberations on the topic based on the principles of the Quran and Hadith.

The fact is that universality is inextricably linked to Quranic thought. Those who embrace the Quranic method of thinking will begin to think at a global level. His individuality will be intertwined with the human brotherhood as a whole. Regardless of where he is physically located, he becomes a citizen of the universe in terms of his thinking. In this regard, Islam or the Quran can fully considered to play a supportive role to foster the idea of global citizenship.

When we talk about citizenship, it is important to articulate a duty based citizenship. There was a time when every member of the society was duty conscious but that slowly changed to a rights centric society. From being a giver member of the society, they became a taker member of the society.

Unknown opportunities

The earlier scholars used to devote themselves to the study of scriptures and literature for a lifetime to comprehend it and then pass it on. In the present age of social media, the internet allows everyone to share information as they like. While this change has created hitherto unknown opportunities, it comes with challenges, which needs to be addressed appropriately.

Being a part of the conference it is inspiring to witness how a prominent Islamic scholar like Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah is taking the lead in addressing challenges originating from religious misunderstanding. Faith leaders have an important role as vanguards, as the Abu Dhabi-based Peace Forum exemplifies.

Religion isn’t a quaint idea in human affairs, and it’s no less important than other topics. Leaders should approach religion in the same way they do economics and politics: it substantially impacts people’s and government’s behaviour. In addition to political and economic factors, religion has a vital impact in determining behaviour, sometimes leading to more extreme consequences.

When faith, social identity, ethnicity, or nationality are all intertwined, it creates a foreign policy objective that is much more important. Religious extremism, which has reached frightening proportions in recent decades, can serve as a catalyst for the world to address religious extremism on an ideological level.

Peace is the existential bedrock of a society. For a society as diverse as the UAE, harmony assumes paramount importance to ensure that opportunities flourish and development potential is actualised. These ecumenical initiatives should not only be applauded but the words raised here should be amplified further as it would be crucial in encouraging cooperation, fraternity, and inspiration for a peaceful future for everyone.

Raamish Siddiqui is a lawyer, author and Islamic thinker. Twitter: @raamishs