U.N. chief says Mideast, African crises show need for interfaith amity
The violent crises in Syria, Gaza and Mali show how important it is for different religions to work together to promote understanding rather than sow hatred, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said on Monday.
Addressing the opening of a new Saudi-backed interfaith centre in Vienna, he said the Syrian conflict was “taking on troubling sectarian dimensions” and “unrest (continues) between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Valuable religious monuments had been destroyed in Mali, he said, referring to the destruction of centuries-old Muslim heritage by the radical Islamist Ansar Dine movement.
Religious leaders “can unite people based on tenets and precepts common to all creeds” but at times have also “stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate.”
“I fully support your vision of religion as an enabler of respect and reconciliation,” he told about 800 religious officials and activists meeting in the Austrian capital to discuss how to promote better understanding among faiths.
Named after Saudi King Abdullah, the new centre is a welcome boost for bridge-building between faiths in an era of financial austerity but has drawn criticism because Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic code and bans non-Muslim religious practice.
It plans to work first on improving how religions are presented in media and schoolbooks, involving faith leaders in children’s health campaigns in poor countries and hosting religious leaders for fellowships at its Vienna headquarters.