Consultation on Inter-Religious
Cooperation in Asia
April 5-10, 2003
An Interfaith Endeavour to Learn from Each Other’s Wisdom to Live Together
Jointly organized by:
Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA),and Church Development Service (EED), Germany,
Buddhism: Its exposition and present status in Sri Lanka,
Namo Tassa Bagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa (Word
Challenges to Faith Institutions in a Troubled Global Order, Prof. Hizkias Assefa, Africa Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Resources (Word version)
Fundamentalism and Terrorism, Asghar Ali Engineer, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (Word version)
Global Ecumenical Response to the Challenge of Inter-Faith Cooperation, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, World Council of Churches (Word version)
The Impact of Islamisation of Laws on Multicultural Malaysia: Some Experiences on Issues of Justice, Peace, Sustainability and Gender Interaction, Salbiah Ahmad, member of the Malaysian Bar and a committee member of the Bar Council Human Rights Sub-committee (Word version)
Interreligious Cooperation in Asia: A Chinese Christian Woman’s Perspective, Rose Wu (Word version)
Living Our Faith in Community: Seeking Justice, Peace and Sustainable Alternatives Together, Thich Gia Quang (Word version)
Looking At The Past – Perspective On Inter-Religious Cooperation in Asia, Naeem Shakir (Word version)
Looking To The Future: “Living Together. How?” (Christian’s Perspective), El. Anna Marsiana (Word version)
Promoting Interfaiths to Live Together: In Sustainable Justice and Peace, Ma’arif Jamuin, Representative Committee of Inter-religious Cooperation in Asia, Director of the CISCORE Indonesia Foundation (Word version)
Questions of Inter Religious Cooperation in Pakistan, Shabnam Rashid (Word version)
Some Thoughts Concerning Living Together In The Future From An Inter-Faith Perspective, His Grace Kanagaraja Kadamba Kanana, President, Society For Krishna Consciousness (Word version)
Some Thoughts from Buddhism for Living Together, Lapapan Supamanta (Word version)
Strengthening Interfaith Movement Amidst the Philippine Government’s All-Out War Campaigns (The Bangsamoro People’s Fight Against State Discrimination and Oppression in the Philippines), Amirah Ali Lidasan (Word version)
Women and peace building – Community Development Perspectives, Raja Rajeswari (Word version)
To Seek Peace, Justice and Sustainable Lifestyle: An Interfaith Cooperation in Asia
is the booklet produced from this consultation.
Moving Toward Inter-Faith Cooperation
"We have experienced conflicts in the past, sometimes in the very recent past, but we believe that violence is not the way forward. Our appeal is that all religious communities in Asia join hands to make our region one in which our shared values of peace, compassion, justice and harmony truly come to shape and characterize our Asian societies."
This was the conclusion of the 37 participants from 14 Asian countries attending the Consultation on Inter-religious Cooperation in Asia held from April 5 to 10, 2003 in Parapat Indonesia. The participants, coming from the four major faiths of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, met to seek the commonalties they share as a starting point for cooperation in working toward peace, justice and sustainable lifestyles.
On the first day of the consultation Ashgar Ali Engineer, a Muslim from India, encouraged all participants to set religious rituals aside because rituals are often where the different faiths come into conflict. Rather all should focus on the common values taught by each faith.
To stress his point, Mr. Engineer said, “All the religions are for the benefit of humanity. All are unique and are not against each other. Yes, we have our differences, especially if we compare our culturally-bound rituals, but we must start to look at the things we have in common—OUR VALUES."
Agreeing with Mr. Engineer, His Grace Kanagaraja Kdamba Kanana of Sri Lanka expressed the importance of values in the Hindu faith by quoting from religious writings. "Lord Krishna gave the peace formula very succinctly in the following verse, 'He who lives devoid of all attachment, giving up desires, egoism, and the sense of I and mine, attains peace.'” (Bhagavad-gita 2.71)
Buddhism emphasizes the same values according to Venerable Thich Qia Quang of Viet Nam. He shared the Buddhist values found in the Noble Eightfold Path as being; right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These are values all faiths hold in common and strive to teach and practice.
Another Buddhist, Ms. Lapapan Supamanta from Thailand shared with the consultation how all religions have value and are practiced by different people to meet their specific culture and needs. This diversity is essential in making it possible for all people to find peace in their lives and answers to their problems.
"One way to look at diversity of faith," she said, "is just like a medicine. Even for the same illness there are a variety of medicines that work. But a patient takes only one kind that is most suitable according to his/her condition. Similarly, I feel that Buddhism makes sense to me. It fits my inclination, my nature. But for other people, other religions might suit them even better. So long as people get well from the disease by taking a particular medicine, it is ridiculous to fight over differences of active ingredients written on the labels of the medicine bottles."
Ms Anna Marsiana from Indonesia urged participants to also look at the traditional values our Asian communities practiced long before "modernisation." These traditional values are often closely connected to our religious values and can help us live together peacefully and supportively.
Reflecting on her experiences growing up in a Christian community Ms Marsiana said that, "Traditional values often have much to teach us about peace and living together in community. One such value is expressed by a saying 'It is better to live in a house surrounded with pager mangkok (walls made of bowls) rather than in a house surrounded by pager tembok (walls made of bricks)'. Mangkok is a bowl, the symbol of food. Food is the symbol of life itself. The idea of pager mangkok wisdom is that life is a blessing; the more we share the more we are blessed. Pager mangkok wisdom teaches us to live with the value of caring and sharing."
Inter-faith cooperation is the responsibility of all people in society, not just the religious leaders. However, religious leaders play an important role because they give people direction and they influence the behavior of the lay community. Therefore, a special challenge must be given to them.
"Religious leaders must step out of their spiritual cages and go among the people and raise awareness so the people are motivated to overcome all their divisions and barricades and unite to create a new world free of all exploitation, injustice and oppression. Religious leaders must come together with an inter-faith approach to work towards a universal set of principles for organizing human society and struggle to achieve a liberating social order with the people. The oppressed people are the hope for living together in the future and we must serve them and help them to realize their true power and capacity to inherit and rule the earth." (His Grace Kanana)
In the light of the serious political, economic and social conflicts that confront our world today, Mr. Hiskias Assefa of Kenya, Africa said that one of the major functions of religion is to be the conscious of humanity. He expressed this concern in some very crucial questions.
"What is fuelling the leaders of this world? How far are we willing to push greed and lust until we destroy the world? How come we are prepared to use multi-million dollar bombs to kill people who are living on one to two dollars per day? How can we spend billions of dollars a year on weapons to kill those already dying is a serious ethical problem. This is not a political problem. This is a deep spiritual and ethical problem. It seems we have lost our sense of who we are and what the purposes of leaders are and what our duties are to each other as humanity. What we need is not more knowledge because we have plenty of knowledge, but we need wisdom on how to use our knowledge. Where is the voice of the religious people calling for wisdom and compassion? How is it the world succumbs to greed and violence? How can our religious and faith institutions help us in understanding these challenges?"
There was a consensus among the participants that our different faiths can make a significant difference if we but learn to work together in cooperation rather than competing with each other. In politics we use power to solve these conflicts. According to Mr. Hiskias it is only a matter of time until those who have pushed others will be pushed back and that results in growing anger and violence.
"Deep down every person is a spiritual being. If we go deep enough, we will be able to get hold of this spirituality. Even those people who call themselves Atheists share many of the same values that we hold. But they refuse to call it God. If you create space to dialogue without this religious umbrella you come to the same conclusions. This type of deep reflection involves the mind, the heart and the spirit," concluded Hiskias who practices the Christian faith.
The consultation, sponsored jointly by the Christian Conference of Asia, Asia-Pacific Alliance of YMCAs, Church Development Service (EED) and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) is expected to be the first of a series of inter-faith activities to build understanding and strengthen the movement for justice and peace regionally. A working committee drawing people from each of the faiths has been established to carry forward the recommendations made by the consultation. These will include establishing a website where materials related to inter-faith cooperation can be collected, further consultations on gender justice, and the creation of a justice and peace fund for Asia to support local initiated projects focussing on inter-faith justice and peace building.
A total of fourteen papers were presented at the consultation. These papers, as well as the findings of the consultation, will soon be published in a full report. This report will be available from the Christian Conference of Asia.
Background to the Consultation
There is increasing realisation today that in the midst of the uncertainties that surround us there exists hatred in the world today - a hatred borne out of misunderstanding and the unwillingness to extend fellowship to the “other”. This is a trend that the major religions of the world today recognise. Any true follower of their religion will see that there is much opportunity in today’s climate for continued dialogue and understanding. Whilst the tragic 11 September 2001 event in the United States of America is NOT the main reason for the holding of the Consultation, it has nonetheless brought awareness to a development in the world that should not continue – that of unexplained hatred.
As Christians and people of other faiths, we should be concerned that life is not about control (of the environment, of goods, of the world) but it is about our relationship with God, it is beyond our own material capacity. We should realise that we are not talking about absoluteness, nor about fundamentalist views of what is right and what is wrong. We want to learn how other religions are viewing this situation today.
We are all part of community – living in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic environment.
Therefore, this Consultation is called to examine religious perspectives on the root causes of some of the threats and conflicts we experience in community today, among them poverty, consumptive lifestyles, and unjust distribution of land. The Consultation will reflect on alternatives for economic development without growth; and the need for more gender interaction and youth involvement in building religious partnerships for working together for the transformation of society.
It is an endeavour to find alternatives through listening, learning, discerning messages from the grassroots, and to join in cooperative efforts to achieve these alternatives together.
2) Objectives of the Consultation
The Consultation aims to bring people of different cultures and religions together:
- To listen and to share life experiences and each other’s spirituality.
- To learn together about alternatives for sustainable life together.
- To promote understanding of principles, methodologies and instruments for working together towards a future with just peace.
3) The Programme Contents
Day 1 : Looking at the Past
Following an Introduction to set the tone for the Consultation, invited participants will make Presentations including the most urgent issues in relation to the Theme, from the perspectives of the four major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Representatives from the major religions will meet in Workgroup Discussions for clarifications and further internalisation of the issues and concerns will be held, followed by a Plenary to receive feedback from the Workgroups
Day 2 : Looking at the Present
One invited participant from each of the four major religions will present in-depth and comprehensive case studies of the on-going activities that they have undertaken in relation to the concerns and Objectives. These case studies would be reflective of the various regions in Asia. These will be followed by time for clarifications.
Workgroups composed of representatives from different religions will reflect on the case studies presented, examine and draw out principles that can be applied for living and working together for Justice, Peace and Sustainable Alternatives. Some basic questions that could be raised : “Are cases transferable to another community? What are the conditions required for a successful transfer of the programme?” The Workgroups would report their findings in a Plenary session.
Day 3 : Looking to the Future
To explore the Question “Living Together – How?”, one participant from each religion will present the on-going activities that they have undertaken in relation to the Objectives of the Consultation and the concerns of Justice, Peace, Sustainability and Gender Interaction. They will also express the vision of a new community of living together from the theological and sociological perspectives of their own religion. There would be time for clarifications following the presentations. The presentations would be in-depth and comprehensive. They would also be reflective of the various regions in Asia.
Workgroups composed of representatives from different religions will examine the opportunities for working together to build new communities of justice and peace and will share feedback in Plenary.
Sharing of Life!
This will take place in the evening and will be a time for sharing of our cultural heritage, activities, food and drinks in community.
Day 4 : Looking to the Future
Having examined our past and present, and having shared perspectives on how we can share life together, participants will in Workgroups brainstorm for possible concrete inter-religious activities in the multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic local communities to bring justice, peace and hope to a threatened world. It is hoped that together in Plenary, we will, in sharing, find answers to “What can we do together to bring hope to a threatened world?”
Daily, participants will join in reflecting together the set theme for the day – to be led by representatives of a different faith each morning.
4) Processes and Methodologies
The Preparatory Committee comprising representatives of the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY), the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the Church Development Service (EED), Germany met in August 2002 in Hong Kong to draw up plans for the Consultation.
A representative from each religion participating in the Consultation will be invited to participate in a Pre-consultation Preparatory Meeting together with the Preparatory Committee one day prior to the commencement of the Consultation at the Consultation Venue.
General Process and Methodology
The Consultation will be conducted in an open, participatory manner, with opportunities for workgroup sharing and learning together throughout. Brainstorming and clarifications will be used in Workgroup sessions. Plenary sessions will be used to share deliberations from the Workgroups.
There will be presentations on the main concerns – as expressed in the Theme and in visioning for future cooperative endeavours. Case studies will be used to bring to the fore on-going positive inter-religious endeavours at the grassroots level.
As mentioned in the Section on Programme Content, Presenters for all sessions shall be selected representatives from all the four major religions invited to participate in the Consultation.
The Presentation Papers should be submitted at least one month prior to the Consultation. The length of paper will not be restricted, but presentation time would be 30 minutes each.
The members of the Preparatory Committee and selected representatives of the different religions will form the Steering Committee for the Consultation.
A Writing Team composed of selected persons will be formed to draft an appropriate document to be presented to the final Plenary for endorsement.
5) Dates and Venue
Dates : 5 – 10 April 2003
(5 April – arrival, and 10 departure)Venue : Hotel Nirvana
Prapat, North Sumatra, Indonesia
The expected number of participants, will be 40 persons. Participants will be selected based on the following criteria :
- 50 – 60% should be grassroots persons with inter-religious cooperation experience
- 50% should be below the age of 30 years of age
- Selection should reflect gender balance (Equal gender participation)
- Equal participation from the four religions - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam
The final selection of participants from nominated persons for participation from the different religions based on participation criteria and from different geographical regions of Asia will be by a meeting of the members of the Preparatory Committee resident in Hong Kong.
We are 37 participants — Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims — from
14 Asian countries and other continents. We have come together on 5-10
April 2003 in Parapat, Indonesia, to study the need and possibilities for
inter-religious cooperation in Asia. We gather at a tragic moment in which
the Iraqi people are being attacked by a coalition of the powerful. We
have reached a defining moment in modern history where a clear division of
humanity between those who engage in violence and wage wars and the
builders of peace has become evident, and the agents of corporate
globalization are identified over against the victims of oppression.
Having listened to, discussed and reflected upon reports, analyses, and testimonies from our fellow participants, we would like to send with common voice the following message to our brothers and sisters in Asia and the world.
1. The present situation. In sharing our experiences from various parts of Asia, we find many common elements that compel us to work together for inter-religious cooperation. We are disturbed to find religious and ethnic conflict in many parts of Asia, external factors such as the “war on terrorism” has exacerbated the situation of conflict and will continue to do so. Such conflicts seem to have increased in recent decades, often shattering patterns of communal harmony that had existed for centuries. A common factor that underlies these conflicts is when one group seeks to dominate and impose its will on others.
The lack of a functioning democratic process hinders inter-religious cooperation in many places. The concerns of ordinary people are frequently not heard and attended to by those in power. This lack of representation is often compounded by economic disparity, the unjust control of material, financial and intellectual resources in the hands of a few. Globalization of the market economy has widened the gap between rich and poor, which in turn intensities social conflict.
The increasing prevalence of violence underlines the importance of cooperation across religious lines. We refer not only to communal violence, but also to everyday violence toward those sectors of society least able to defend themselves — women, children, the poor, and ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities. There is also violence against nature, a rapacious, selfish exploitation of natural resources that has produced an ecological crisis throughout Asia.
2. Causes of conflict. We agree that religion in itself is not the cause of conflict and violence. However, we must face the sad reality that religious identity and emotions are too often manipulated to further the self-centered goals of vested interests. Religion thus gets politicized, instrumentalized by powerful groups and individuals to promote political ambitions and the pursuit and maintenance of power and domination. Attitudes of superiority, whereby religious groups consider themselves better than others, are easily exploited by the unscrupulous to foment unhealthy competition, hatred, injustice and conflict.
3. Common values. In this Situation, the bases of inter-religious cooperation must be those religious values that we hold in common. All our religions teach peace, justice, compassion for those who suffer, equality, love, human dignity and solidarity, non-violence, sensitivity to others and the oneness of the human family. We all believe that humanity and nature are interdependent. However, we must humbly acknowledge that our own communities have often failed to be agents of peace and to live according to our shared values. Such as self-critical attitude must be accompanied by a love and renewed commitment to what is best in our own tradition, as well as genuine respect and esteem for the spiritual and humane values enshrined in all religions of the powerful.
The challenge we face is whether we can work together on the basis of these shared values to build more just, peaceful, harmonious and sustainable societies.
4. Dialogue. The way to build more godly and humane societies is through dialogue. In dialogue, we come to accept others as they are and to overcome tendencies to view others as enemies to be defeated. In dialogue, we learn that others share with us values and a vision that enable us to cooperate for the good of all. In dialogue, we are able to move beyond narrow confessional goals so that we can turn our attention to the real needs of society and especially the concerns of its weakest and neediest sectors, the marginalized, and the victims of discrimination. In dialogue, we can fight stereotypes and also become the voices of the voiceless whose just demands often go unnoticed in the councils of the powerful.
Create a continuation committee that would be responsible for initiating and monitoring the following tasks:
- Form a website with the papers of consultation and other interfaith activities in Asia;
- Prepare further consultations on gender justice, religious leaders, youth groups and donors organizations;
- Undertake a research project to examine and evaluate school text books to identify cases of prejudices and stereotyping and to propose educational materials that enhance interfaith respect, harmony and human values;
- Initiate national training programs, and internship, student exchange and live-in programme aimed for interfaith leadership formation;
- Form interfaith mediation and reconciliation teams that can intervene in situations of violent conflicts;
- Encourage and support an Asian Interfaith Day, when interfaith events would be held in each country;
- Prepare a manual for peace that would highlight the common points among religions, that could be used by groups of ordinary people and get translated into local languages;
- Create a justice and peace fund for Asia to support local initiative projects focusing on interfaith justice and peace building;
- Identify and make better known the existing resources for peace education in Asia and explore the feasibility of an Interfaith Institute for the Study of Peace.
6. Appeal. We appeal to the peoples and governments of Asia and the world not to allow their religions to be misused for political power and exploitation of weaker sectors of society. Religion should make an option for the oppressed and marginalized, rather than for the rich and powerful. Religion should be an important resource for peace building and reconciliation. Too often religion is seen as a source of tension and violent conflict in society. We appeal to our fellow believers to live in daily life the values that we profess and in doing so make our religious communities effective agents of peace, justice and harmony in Asia. We are convinced that inter-religious cooperation is the most effective way to change oppressive structures in society and to transform unhealthy cultural attitudes. We have experienced conflicts in the past, sometimes in the very recent past, but we believe that violence is not the way forward. Our appeal is that all religious communities in Asia join hands to make our region one in which our shared values of peace, compassion, justice and harmony truly come to shape and characterize our Asian societies.