On October 15, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the first week of February each year to be World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The resolution “encourages all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world's churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week, based on love of God and love of one's neighbour or on love of the good and love of one's neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions” (Read the full text here).
The resolution was sponsored by His Majesty King Abdullah II and HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, long-time advocates for interreligious peace. Both were involved with “A Common Word”, an open letter composed by a group of Muslim scholars from all over the world and all schools of Muslim thought. The document draws from both the Bible and the Qur’an to define the common ground between Islam and Christianity and provide a sound theological resource for those who work in interfaith dialogue.
World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) represents a maturation of that project. It is a broad call to people from all religious backgrounds, or no religious affiliation at all, to engage with one another in respectful ways in order to promote harmonious coexistence. It provides an opportunity for groups working toward similar goals to collaborate and take collective action, and, as an annual event, will continue to build momentum each year.
Its first year kicks off this week, February 1-7, and it has already prompted and outpouring of support from religious leaders, NGOs, scholars, and regular people seeking a world free from religious strife. Their voices have come from all corners of the globe, and from all faiths. You can read their letters of support, including one from Tanenbaum, on the WIHW website. You can submit your own letter as well.
The website also lists events running during the Week, ranging from lectures and film screenings to breakfasts and prayer meetings. Events are happening all over the world and all across the United States. Check the listings to find one near you, or register your own event if you’ve got something in the works.
Players on the world stage have also taken action. Leaders from the European People’s Party, including many heads of state, signed on to a “Declaration of Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue” in December, giving their support to World Interfaith Harmony Week and defining an atmosphere for interreligious respect in the European Union. In China, the leaders of five national religious associations, encompassing Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics, and other Christians, issued a “Joint Declaration on Promoting Religious Harmony”. The declaration pledges efforts to increase communication between members of China’s different religions in order to reduce prejudice and discrimination.
Tanenbaum, in keeping with our efforts to provide practical tools to advance interreligious understanding, has created a set of Clergy Speaking Points, available for download from our website. The Speaking Points serve as a guide for religious leaders to broach the topic of interfaith harmony as they speak to congregations in their mosques, churches, temples, and other places of worship this week. They grew out of the UN Resolution and Tanenbaum’s Shared Visions project, which uses holy texts from many religions to highlight the common values between them, including charity, forgiveness, peacemaking, and the Golden Rule.
Initiatives like World Interfaith Harmony Week are also important in supporting the activities of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action. These individuals have been living the spirit of WIFH throughout their many years of work in armed conflict zones, where religion is so often co-opted to fuel violence. WIHW serves to promote the work of those like Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, reconciling Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, and Najeeba Sirhan, bringing Arab and Jewish students together in Israel. Recognition and affirmation of their work on the international level provides them with credibility in their communities, encouraging participation in interfaith activities and discouraging would-be antagonists. We hope that WIHW and similar initiatives will bring our Peacemakers closer to achieving their goals and bringing peace to their communities.