Promoting interfaith dialogue for mutual understanding

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Key speakers at the conference holding hands to signify tolerance, peace and unity

Recently, Accra hosted an international conference on the theme: ‘Love and Tolerance: Peaceful Co-existence in Diversity,’ which attracted reputable local and international scholars with diverse background.

Organized by the Ghana-Turkey Co-operation and Development Association (TUDEC), the Great Volta Foundation Dialogue Centre and the Fountain Magazine, in collaboration with the National Peace Council, the conference stressed that peaceful co-existence is possible only when people learn to accept, embrace and respect one another inspite of their religious and racial differences.

The key objective of the conference was to create a platform for discussion among the 500 local and international participants, pointing out the necessity for the promotion of personal and social dialogue, as well as interfaith or inter-ethnic dialogue for mutual understanding.

It also encouraged participants to see dialogue as the first option in any dispute, and the urgent need to strive to understand the concept and relevance of love, tolerance and acceptance, stressing that achieving peaceful co-existence begins first by embracing the idea of dialogue as a necessary condition for human survival.

According to the organisers of the conference, religions by their definitions, stand on the pillars of love and tolerance, but they can become instruments of barbaric rhetoric and actions in the hands of power hungry individuals and discontented communities, contending that faith is such a powerful dynamic force which can be abused by all forms of extremism when societies are crippled by ignorance.

Mr. Yusif Temizkan, President of TUDEC, says the conference was inspired by the book: ‘Towards a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance,’ authored by Fethullah Gulen, a famous Turkish cleric, scholar, thinker, author, poet and educational activist who supports interfaith and intercultural dialogue, science, democracy and spirituality and opposes violence.

Nine prominent speakers deliberated on Interfaith Dialogue in the context of a globalized world and civil society, education and peaceful co-existence. They were the Most Rev. Professor Emmanuel Asante, Chairman of the National Peace Council and Moderator of the Methodist Church; Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle, Catholic Bishop of Accra; Sheikh Nuhu Sharabutu, National Chief Imam; Rt.-Rev. Dr. Daniel Torto Sylvanus, Anglican Bishop; Mr. Hakan Yesilova, Editor of Turkey-based Fountain Magazine; Scott Christopher Alexander, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Director of Catholic-Muslim Studies Programme at the Columbia University, New York; Dr. Khalid Abubakar, Secretary-General of Jaamatu Nasril Islam of Nigeria, and Jon Pahl Fredric, Professor of History of Christianity at the US-based Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

The Most Rev. Prof. Asante said, “issues of conflict resolution and peace building are the greatest challenges of our time, especially in Africa,” adding that “we cannot as humans, embark on any meaningful development in the absence of peace”.

He assured that the National Peace Council would continue to engage constructively, individuals and institutions that believe in the values of tolerance, forgiveness, love and respect for each other and the culture of peaceful co-existence with different faiths and origins.

“God created humans to interact with one another, and not to fight because of our diversity but to know and appreciate one another through our diverse ways.” Sheikh Sharabutu said.

According to Dr. Abubakar, “hate speeches and indecorous expressions are now becoming habits in our societies and threaten our desired love, harmony and peaceful co-existence,” stressing that “while it is impossible for communities to live without understanding, continued dialogue, forgiveness and mercy should be used to correct anomalies in order to forge ahead to the admiration of our creator”.

Mr. Yesilova, however, said “peace-building is not an easy job and like every building work, peace-building too takes time, money, and requires co-operation as opposed to destruction, which is easy and quick,” adding that “peace-building is difficult and it starts with personal commitment at the individual level, and for cooperation that is not founded on individuals with faith, it is doomed to fail”.

Professor Frederic, quoting Gulen, said, “ignorance can be defeated through education, poverty through work and evidence through dialogue and tolerance”.

Mr. Temizkan said “institutions, organizations, scholars and clerics must be given the platform to talk about issues of love, tolerance and peace so that such messages can prevail in the hearts of men and women across the globe”.

The atmosphere at the conference hall was a delight to watch at the end of the event. The spirits of love, friendship and belongingness seemed to have filled the atmosphere as the participants moved about freely to exchange pleasantries, shared varied views about the theme and objectives of the conference, all in the name of peace.

By  George Frank Asmah

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