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High Level Thematic Debate of the UN General Assembly on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation - 2015-04-21

Mr. President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Let me express first, on behalf of the OIC General Secretariat, our sincere appreciation to the UN Secretary General, President of the General Assembly and High Representative of UNAoC for this important initiative.   

Let me also reiterate at the outset our guiding principles. The OIC calls for tolerance, harmonious and peaceful coexistence among various cultures, religions, and civilizations. It rejects intolerance, discrimination and violent extremism. It respects and promotes respect for different kinds of traditions and religious practices while encourages interfaith, inter-cultural, and inter-civilizational dialogues. The OIC believes in the need for mobilizing and reaching out to civil society including religious leaders, women and youth.

The OIC has strong interest in further strengthening and enhancing cooperation with the UNAoC, in the respective areas, in particular to address the issue of intolerance and discrimination based on religions and beliefs and to promote harmonious coexistence of peoples and cultures.

Mr. President,

At a time when we face a bundle of interrelated challenges threatening world’s precious heritages and traditions of interreligious co-existence and social cohesion, leading to fragmentation of social fabrics of societies, particularly when it comes to the conflicts presented as religious antagonism between communities in Africa, Middle East and South East Asia, naturally we need to ponder about and reinforce initiatives, institutions and individuals that can make a meaningful positive impact on the course of future developments.      

As a matter of fact, despite all the gloomy pictures surrounding us today, international community has come a long way in recent years institutionally, in its endeavors to combat religious hatred, including Islamophobia, Christianophobia and anti-Semitism  and to promote freedom of religion, religious tolerance, a global culture of peace, as well as inter-civilizational and inter-religious dialogue.

In addition to the efforts of UNESCO, and many national, regional and international initiatives, positive momentum was ignited through initiatives such as  Alliance of Civilizations, “A Common Word”, “World Interfaith Harmony Week”, launching of the Istanbul Process to encourage implementation of HRC Resolution 16/18, and establishment of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID). What we need to do now is to interconnect and operationalize these initiatives to support local initiatives.    

It is vital that religious leaders as moral leaders of their communities should be empowered to play a responsible role to ensure communal peace and harmony. Recent developments in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia have shown to us that despite all efforts towards deepening and transforming interfaith dialogue into practical cooperation, we should be mindful that, exploitation of religious sentiments and perceptions of injustice and past grievances for political aims might easily alter the conflicts to acquire religious connotations. We must encourage interfaith initiatives to develop capacity and mechanisms in order to play a preventive and reconciliatory role.  

In this regard, let me take this opportunity to mention just a few important initiatives supported by the OIC.

In addition to supporting the MENA Regional Inter-religious Council of Religions for Peace, as an important regional multi-religious mechanism that is led by the religious leaders of the region’s religious communities to advance citizenship, religious freedom and protection of minorities, and supporting commendable initiatives of UNAoC and KAICIID, we are also  contributing, as a co-founder of 'the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

The Network was initiated in 2013 as a collaborative effort between Finn Church Aid (FCA), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Religions for Peace (RfP) with the encouragement of UN Mediation Support Unit and UNAOC Secretariat. It aims to draw on and strengthen the positive contribution of religious and traditional peacemakers, and strives to “connect the efforts of the United Nations with these important peace advocates”.

The OIC General Secretariat is also engaged in developing projects with an aim to create hope among the future generations through implementing country-specific micro-finance projects; and the establishment of a 'Culture Fund' at the Islamic Development Bank, IDB, to provide opportunities for young artists and creative people to express themselves in the belief that creating outlets to creativity is a counter discourse to violent extremism.

Moreover, I would like to highlight the importance of top-down global or regional interfaith dialogue initiatives which could support local peacebuilding efforts.  Visible increase in the role of faith based actors in both prevention and also deterioration of conflicts as well as various challenges such as promotion of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, religious tolerance and respect and interfaith dialogue, have shown the need for creation of multiple axes of dialogue simultaneously. In addition to existing global, regional, national and local interreligious dialogue efforts, these axes could include Muslim-Christian Historical Reconciliation, Muslim-Buddhist dialogue, and a dialogue between political and thought leaders, including secular and humanist ones on one side  and religious leaders on the other. Naturally, efforts on these axes could not be sustainable without the pro-active involvement and mobilization of women and youth.   

I wish to conclude by emphasizing that while we mourn for and feel the pain of every soul we lost to senseless violence including as a result of most reprehensible assaults against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East,  the OIC member states are among those most widely impacted by extreme violence. Muslims suffer from those groups that have hijacked Islam in the most inaccurate and illiterate readings of its texts; and at the same time, Muslims are under assaults of ideological and Islamphobic voices that stigmatize, outcast and blame Islam and Muslims for the ills of the world. Thus, we, as an organization, have every interest to join, contribute to, and be in the forefront of, all efforts in the fight against  violent extremism as understood in its multifaceted nature, sources and manifestations. In this regard, we stand firmly by the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 and work sincerely with our partners including the USA and EU towards the implementation of its provisions.

Thank you.     

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