In this issue: World's Religious Leaders Gather in Kazakhstan,
Condemn Terrorism and Call for Dialogue
U.S. President Bush and other political leaders pledge support
Leaders and senior representatives of all the world's major faiths closed their two-day meeting in Astana September 24 with a strong condemnation of terrorism and prophecies of a "clash of civilizations". They pledged to continue dialogue in the name of peace, harmony and prosperity.
the initiative of President Nursultan
Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan's capital,
drew wide-spread support from
political leaders of both Western
and Asian nations. Kazakhstan is
a Muslim-majority country and is
considered an example of
interethnic and interfaith harmony.
The Congress was a bold reminder
to the world that people of different
faiths and ethnic backgrounds really
can and should live together in
At the end of the Congress, senior
clerics from Islam, Christianity,
Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism,
Taoism and other faiths adopted a declaration stating "extremism, terrorism and other forms of violence in the name of religion have nothing to do with genuine understanding of religion, but are threat to human life and hence should be rejected."
"The inter-religious dialogue is one of the key means for social development and the promotion of the well-being of all peoples, fostering tolerance, mutual understanding and harmony among different cultures and religions," the religious leaders said after the closing joint prayer.
President Nazarbayev, who chaired the conference, said, "it is unacceptable to attach ideological or political dimensions to existing cultural and religious differences." He countered the notion of the "clash of civilizations", saying it would be more appropriate to talk about "a meeting of civilizations."
A total of 18 different religious delegations participated in the meeting from such diverse countries as Belgium, Britain, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and the U.S.
Islam was represented by General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia-based World Muslim League Abdalla ben Abdel Muhsin At-Turki, President of the Islamic Knowledge University Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Khamenei of Iran and others from Pakistan and India.
Papal Envoy Cardinal Joseph Tomko led a delegation from the Vatican. Metropolitan Mefodiy represented the Russian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Emmanuel of France led the delegation of the Constantinopol Orthodox Church. Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, represented the LWF.
Losantsyumay Tudanzyuezinima, Living Buddha and deputy chairman of the All China Buddhist Association, Jian Ziyui, first deputy chairman of the All China Taoist Association, Dr. Shantilal Somaya, Director of Shinto Temples Directorate from Japan, represented their faiths.
Jonah Metsger, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and the chief rabbis of Belgium, Switzerland, and Russia led the delegation represening Judaism.
In the final declaration, the leaders said they would not "allow the use of religious differences as an instrument of hatred and discord."
"We shall strengthen co-operation in promoting spiritual values and a culture of dialogue with the aim of ensuring peace in the new millennium," the participants declared. They pledged to continue the dialogue on a regular basis and to meet again in Astana in three years.
The leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, China, Egypt and other nations, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, sent letters of support and commendation to the participants.
U.S. President George W. Bush said in his message to President Nazarbayev, "The United States strongly supports the Congress' objectives of deepening inter-faith understanding to advance the cause of religious liberty, expand freedom, and eliminate the root causes of terrorism."
"For the United States, itself a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse nation, these meetings underscore the importance of working with our friends in Central Asia to advance the values of tolerance and respect that form the foundation of democracy," the President added.
A bipartisan group of senior senators and congressmen from the United States, including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), representatives George Radanovich (R-CA), Joe Pitts (R-PA), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and others sent a letter to President Nazarbayev saying the Congress was "timely". They thanked Kazakhstan "for taking consistent and concrete steps to bridge the growing divide between Muslims and Jews at a time when tension in the Middle East is at a fulcrum, and intolerance and anti-Semitism are rising worldwide."
Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has seen a remarkable religious reawakening among its 100 ethnic groups and 40 different religions and faiths. Ancient mosques, churches and synagogues have been restored and hundreds of new ones built across the country as believers of all faiths began to enjoy the new climate of religious freedom and peace.
Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan in September 2001 and called it the "example of harmony between men and women of different origins and beliefs." At the Astana Congress, President Nazarbayev announced plans to build a single center in Astana that would house "a mosque, a church, a synagogue and a Buddhist temple."
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News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the USA and Canada
(Compiled from own sources and various agencies' reports)
Contact person: Roman Vassilenko
Tel.: (202) 232- 5488 ext. 104, Fax: (202) 232- 5845