Peace and Tolerance*
|Prof. Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu|
President of Religious Affairs of Turkey
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent and the Most Merciful
Honorable spiritual leaders, distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to begin by thanking Allah Almighty, who created us, blessed us as human beings, and gave us the ability to live together in peace. Praise be upon all the prophets, including Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and our Prophet Muhammad, who brought the message of Allah as blessing to all humanity.
First, I pray for those who died or suffered because of the earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir and in other natural disasters that took place recently. May Allahs mercy be with those who lost their lives and May Allah save all human beings from such natural disasters and help us in reaching a lasting peace among all civilizations.
The problems that modern societies face today are many; some are due to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods; others are manmade ones, like wars and conflicts; some have physical affects, and others have moral and spiritual implications. There are many national and international problems we have to overcome. If these problems are not tackled effectively, they will soon turn to be global threats for us all.
It seems that poverty, inequality, and lack of education threaten the future of mankind. There are also such problems as intolerance to differences, absence of dialogue, and lack of understanding that we face all the time. Such challenges stand in the way of a peaceful co-existence in a diverse world and threaten not just one region, one religion, or one civilization, but whole humanity. Therefore, we are all responsible for dealing with these problems not in words but in action.
I believe that one of the most effective steps to solve such problems is to establish ways for strong dialogue among religions as well as cultures. Such a dialogue will not only help to wipe out the prejudices of the followers of different faiths, but also contribute to solve the above-mentioned problems. I believe that lack of sincere dialogue causes the discourse of the clash of civilizations gain ground. I am, however, optimistic for the future because we are able to make the world better and we have enough intellectual and spiritual resources to confront these problems. What we need is just to re-discover our spiritual strength, and show the will to build a peaceful world. And this can only be achieved when we fully realize that action speaks more than words.
I see no obstacle on the side of the religion of Islam to establish such a sincere dialogue, because Islam maintains that sincerity is the core of all human acts. Islam has agreed on inter-religious dialogue since its very first day. Islam, from the beginning, has encouraged and supported a healthy relationship among all individuals, societies, and cultures. Yet, one should bear in mind that dialogue in this sense does not mean to approve the faith of others, but to understand and communicate with them. I know very well that the approach of other religions to dialogue is not of a different one. And I firmly believe that it is not the religion itself that causes negative outcomes, but various interpretations of it. Such an attitude gives way to abuse of religion in the arena of international politics leading to distrust and suspicion between parties. And when suspicion is prevalent, any initiative by great powers to solve global problems is perceived to have a hidden agenda other than humanitarian one.
I would like to stress that we must be against any kind of radicalism, extremism and violence carried out in the name of religion no matter what reasons and sources they have. We sadly witness today that religious symbols and rhetoric are used throughout the world to justify these evil acts.
We, as religious leaders, should stand firm to declare that violence can have no justification from religion. It should be our duty to underline that religion cannot be abused by actors of terrorism. Yet, we should also be aware that religious leaders and religious communities cannot solve this problem on their own, because the matter does not emerge directly from religion itself. It has social, economical and political aspects which provide a fertile ground for violence.
It is therefore our duty to warn and enlighten our political leaders that multi-cultural and multi-religious structure of societies should be maintained. We must consider the multi-religious and multi-cultural structure of our societies as valuable resources in our struggle against radicalism, extremism and violence. I believe that it is equally harmful to force communities to have a monolithic structure. That is why a lasting peace in the Balkans, Caucasia, Central Asia, and anywhere else could only be achieved by preserving the variety of religious and the cultural traditions.
It is a clear misgiving to think that another society can be our friend only when we shape it. This is an uncivilized idea as it is an unholy one. The Quran is very clear in this sense. Allah Almighty says: We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. (Hujurat 49: 13).
There are ways in which our efforts for dialogue and cooperation can lead to unintended consequences. We should, therefore, observe some principles in this respect. First of all, dialogue should not prevent us from expressing the truth in our religions. Here again, we need to make a distinction between expressing the truth and exploiting cultural differences for `religious` aims; furthermore, peaceful coexistence with religious and cultural diversities should be preserved and encouraged; and finally any kind of initiative to solve the global problems such as poverty, inequality, and lack of education must remain loyal to its stated goals and should not be manipulated for political purposes.
My Presidency of Religious Affairs has taken active roles in developing and adopting projects for cooperation among different religions and cultures. And we will surely continue to do our best to find solutions to challenges which may emerge in the future.
I thank you all and pray Allah to give us strength in our spiritual journey for a more peaceful future.
* This is the speech made in the Conference on Peace and Tolerance II, co-sponsored by Appeal of Conscience Foundation and Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, on November 7-9, 2005.