New York: The UAE, in its capacity as chair of the Group of Member States of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, hosted a dialogue with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on strengthening ties with the Muslim community.
The dialogue session, which took place at the UN Headquarters, was entitled ‘Strengthening Ties with the Muslim Community: Promoting Dialogue, Understanding, Tolerance, and Acceptance’.
The discussion focused on the importance of interreligious dialogue as a core value of Islam with keynote remarks by Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, University Chaplain and Executive Director of New York University’s Bronfman Centre for Jewish Student Life, and Agshin Mehdiyev, Permanent Observer for the OIC to the UN.
Ambassador Lana Zaki Nussaibah, UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, opened the discussion by underlining the critical need for promoting understanding, tolerance and acceptance within the Muslim community and between Islam and other faiths, particularly in light of recent events that have demonstrated the impact of intolerance and polarisation.
She said, “It is abominable that people are being targeted at their places of worship, and it is a tragedy of our modern world that holy sanctuaries increasingly require armed security to ensure the safety of innocent congregants.”
A moment of silence was held at the meeting for the victims of recent terrorist attacks where religious centres were targeted.
Nussaibah underscored the key role of the Muslim community in leading interfaith dialogue. “As Muslims, we have this responsibility not only because we constitute a quarter of the world’s population, but because embracing and welcoming people of all faiths is a basic tenet of Islam,” she said.
During the dialogue, guest speakers and member states focused on the critical responsibility of governments to promote inclusion and peaceful co-existence. They also highlighted the importance of prioritising prevention, including by addressing root causes of extremism and intolerance. Participants stated that religious minorities must be protected and fully integrated into their communities.
Many participants also issued calls to further promote counter-narratives that promote the values of peace and tolerance, in addition to empowering religious leaders, women, and youths in efforts to foster peaceful and inclusive societies.
Secretary-General Guterres highlighted two initiatives he has set in motion to combat intolerance and hate-based violence. The first, drafting a Plan of Action, led by Miguel Moratinos, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilisation, to safeguard religious sites. Second, devising a Plan of Action to scale up the UN system’s response to tackling hate speech, led by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention.
“These measures are not enough; we must also tackle the root causes including poverty and inequality as they make people vulnerable to extremist narratives. I welcome the OIC’s emphasis as expressed in the Abu Dhabi Declaration that was adopted this year on tackling inequality, empowering young people, and promoting gender equality,” he added.
In his remarks, Archbishop Auza underscored several critical aspects of promoting interfaith dialogue, specifically between Christians and Muslims.
He added, “In the joint declaration, ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’, signed in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar strongly affirmed that the name of God must never be invoked to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism or oppression. They both underscored that all religious leaders must condemn any and all acts of terrorism carried out in the name of the God they worship.”
Rabbi Sarna drew on his experience as a religious leader educating young people to discuss new interfaith challenges. “Our students are coming of age in a shrinking world where they are exposed to more and more cultures, with increasing frequency, and higher and higher stakes,” he said. Therefore, in training emerging religious leaders, he hopes that modeling tolerance will become an essential part of their vocation. Rabbi Sarna said that he volunteered to serve as Rabbi for the Jewish community at NYU Abu Dhabi, adding “I have been going to NYUAD since 2010, but I have observed that over the past few years that a Jewish community has begun to form. The first Jewish community to be established in the Arab world in centuries.”
Mehdiyev outlined the role of the OIC in promoting tolerance and understanding in our communities. He added, “There is a call for a closer cooperation between the OIC and the UN as the two largest intergovernmental organizations. Utilising both organisations’ resources is essential while working hand in hand on many shared core challenges especially on the Middle East conflicts.”
The UAE assumed the chairmanship of the Group of Member States of the OIC in New York, concurrent to when the UAE assumed the chairmanship of the 46th Session of the Council of the Foreign Ministers of the OIC in March 2019.