At a time of conflict, religious leaders are coming together to stand for peace

Next week religious leaders from around the world will gather in the Kazakhstan capital, Nur-Sultan, for a global forum to search for answers to the daunting challenges of our time. Here, Maulen Ashimbayev, the Speaker of the Kazakh Senate, explains why it’s time to work together for peace
Maulen Ashimbayev

By Maulen Ashimbayev

Speaker of the Kazakh Senate

05 Sep 2022

Our world besieged by war and conflict desperately needs the message of peace and tolerance. Wars take lives, destroy schools and homes, and devastate fields and factories. But they also divide and polarize entire regions, continents, and the whole world. This is why Kazakhstan hosts the congress of the world’s religious and spiritual leaders every three years. And we hope the upcoming 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will issue an appeal for peace, understanding, inter-ethnic and interfaith harmony in the name of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other world religions. 

As the world struggles with the consequences of the pandemic that has already taken over six million lives, faith leaders and politicians must work together to prevent aggression and violence, and allow nations to prosper and develop.

On September 14-15, Kazakhstan will host the congress, first established in 2003 - two years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 - to foster dialogue between faiths and cultures and search for answers to the daunting challenges of our time. This platform has been critical in building bridges between Christianity and Islam and other religious communities at a time when terrorism and religious extremism threatened a deeper rift between them.

As Kazakhstan is a secular country, and home to 17 religions and more than 100 ethnic groups who have peacefully coexisted for decades and centuries, our capital is the perfect place to host such an event.

This year’s Congress will be vital in voicing the clear and strong position of the world’s religious leaders in upholding peace as the most important condition for human progress. The role of religious leaders in the world’s spiritual and social development in the post-pandemic period is the main topic of the forum.

For almost two decades, the Congress has been bringing together leaders of the world’s religions, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Shintoism, Zarathustrianism, and other religions.

For the first time, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Francis, will take part in this unique forum. We will also host the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophil III, the Grand Mufti of Al Azhar Sheikh Muhammed Ahmad At-Tayeb, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel David Lau, and Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, the Secretary General of the World Islamic League Muhammed ben Abdulkarim Al-Isa, and the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Hissein Brahim Taha. More than 100 delegations will participate in the upcoming Congress. This is a powerful and a unique gathering that must work for peace.

But we also need the world’s secular leaders to jointly address today’s most important challenges, upholding peace, expanding a global inter-religious dialogue and countering religious extremism and terrorism. That is why leaders and politicians from different countries and international organizations will also participate in the congress, that will dedicate a special session to that topic.

Furthermore, we need to enhance education about different religions, raise a young generation that is not afraid of the differences between faith communities – and can manage political differences in a civilized and respectful way.

The Congress adheres to the principle of unity in diversity, a principle that had guided independent Kazakhstan since independence three decades ago. Our country is home to many ethnic minorities and several major religious groups. With a 70 percent ethnic Kazakh population that is mostly Muslim, Kazakhstan is also home to more than 3.5 million ethnic Russians and around 250,000 Ukrainians, who are Orthodox Christians. Uzbeks, Tatars, Chechens, Poles, Koreans, and Germans are also part of our society, many of them exiled to our nation by the Soviet government in the 20th Century. We are proud to have built a culture of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect between the various ethnic and confessional groups.

This is perhaps the most important achievement of our young independent state, a critical precondition to ensuring peace and stability. Everyone in our country can be proud of their identity, whether ethnic or religious. We have enshrined the rights of all ethnic groups in our Constitution and in government policies. The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan was established to represent all ethnic groups in our country at the highest levels of the state, including the parliament.

We enshrined these same principles in the forum for religious dialogue in the world, the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions: to establish peace, harmony, and tolerance as the unshakable principles of human existence; to pursue mutual respect and tolerance between religions, confessions, nations, and ethnic groups; and to prevent the manipulation of religion to escalate conflicts. We believe this is a positive experience worth learning from.

The 7th Congress will be held in the Kazakhstan capital of Nur-Sultan. We hope its strong message will be heard around the world to remind societies that what unites us is greater than what divides us – that every human being needs freedom of belief and mutual respect in order for us together to build a lasting peace.

The Congress of the Religious Leaders, an international event bringing together the leaders of traditional religions, takes place 14-15 Sept in Kazakhstan. For more information visit: https://religions-congress.org/en/news/infografika/136

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