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Building Better Understanding Among Faith Communities Essential for World Peace

Remarks by Hon. David Kilgour at the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action

Fantasyland Hotel, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton

May 4 2003

It is a great honour to be with you all tonight.  As Dr. Zohra Husaini, a Muslim member of the board of directors of this Interfaith Centre, said recently, "There are few times in history when interfaith cooperation was needed as much as now."  Hans Kung, the Roman Catholic theologian, similarly noted:  "There can be no peace among nations without peace among religions; no peace among religions without dialogue among religions; no dialogue among religions without ethical standards..." Can anyone here or anywhere reasonably disagree?

I must immediately salute the fourteen faith communities, which since 1995 have come together to form this respected body.  Your work has included interfaith discussions, visits to the worship centres of your member groups and others, joint advocacy on public issues-including health care and poverty, and holding services for peace. You provide a roster of persons from the different faiths to offer prayer at the opening of the weekly meetings of our City Council.  You provide a prayer service at our annual Heritage Days and co-ordinate interfaith services in hospitals.

A major priority of the Interfaith Centre is a service each March 21st for the International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Sister Rosaleen Zdunick, Coordinator of the Centre, notes that you help schools as far away as Wainwright and Red Deer in having interfaith study days.  Since the events of 9/11, the Centre has helped to provide an introduction of the Muslim faith for numerous events.

Anyone here tonight who has not visited the Interfaith Centre offices in Garneau United Place on 84th Avenue and 111th Street should drop in.  The Centre's founding president, Rev. Don Mayne, is the current head of the North American Interfaith Network.  In short, Edmonton, Alberta and Canada can all be very proud of what you are doing.  Edmonton can be proud to have such a Centre.

Edmonton Interfaith Solidarity

Do any of you recall the day a number of years ago when hundreds of us Edmontonians of different faiths gathered at city hall to protest the "ethnic cleansing" and other horrible persecution of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Bosnia?  How proud we all were that day!  A few years later, many of us did the same thing at the legislative assembly to denounce the serious mistreatment of the Christian community in Pakistan.  Why don't we all do the same thing whenever any faith community is being persecuted anywhere?  One sad answer is that currently we would be doing so virtually daily.

Does anyone think that the century we just left has many substantive lessons to offer about interfaith co-operation?

The fist half of it saw slaughter, cruelty, enslavement and torture on a scale that the world had probably never before seen.  An astonishing 150 million or so human beings in all likelihood died at the hands of professed enemies of all religions like Hitler, Stalin and Mao.  Much of the violence was aimed at women, men and children whose only "failing" was practising a religious faith.  Unfortunately, the same pattern prevails in too many other non-democratic countries today.

One of the miracles of the 20th century was the failure of God to be driven from human consciousness by the likes of Marx, Hegel, Huxley, Nietzsche, Russell, Shaw, Sartre and others who attacked with their words.  Belief in God continued among most of humanity across the earth and is now growing strongly in many communities.  In fact, it is the God-is-dead school which appears to be on life support nowadays.

UN and Religious Freedom

In the tumultuous period in which we are now living, it is frequently forgotten where the UN stands on freedom of religion.  Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 declares that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

A half-century later, most of the world's governments have committed themselves on paper at least through international agreements to protect religious freedom for all their nationals.  The gap between the promise and performance remains large for believers in many lands who find that their right to religious freedom is observed more in the breach or not at all by unscrupulous governments.

Has not the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made human rights central to all UN programming?  Did he not declare, "...I believe human rights are the core of our sacred bond with peoples of the United Nations."  More than any other Secretary General, Annan has spoken most not only of advancing rights but of punishing those who abuse them.  Four years ago, he said: "We should leave no one in doubt that for the mass murderers, the "ethnic cleansers", those guilty of gross and shocking violations of human rights, impunity is not acceptable.  The United Nations will never be their refuge, its Charter never the source of justification.  They are our enemies, regardless of race, religion or nation, and only in their defeat can we redeem the promise of this great organization."

Peace Among Faiths

No one here needs to be told that interfaith violence is already one of the major problems of the 21st Century.  How can you and I help to reduce it?  This is the basic question that we all need to address.

One way is for all of us to learn more about other faith communities so that we can debunk the myth-making that so commonly is a precursor to demonization and then violence.  Let me here confess that my own ignorance is part of the problem.  In preparing for tonight, I picked up a book, The World's Great Religions.  In reading it partly from the standpoint of where various faiths stand on the sensitive issue of forced conversions, I was fascinated.  Let me refer only to five faiths:


Where is there in Hinduism, which goes back over 4000 years and has no central authority or hierarchy, a basis for coercing non-believers to become Hindus?  Did not Prime Minister Nehru of India, who was a political disciple of one of history's best-known Hindus, Mahatma Gandhi, pride himself on India's secularism and constitution which prohibited the spending of public money for any religion and the teaching of faith in public schools?  Has not Hinduism flourished since among many Indians in this structure just as religion has done in the US, which also separates church and state rigidly?


Where in gentle Buddhism, going back 2500 years and being one of the most enobling influences anywhere, is there authority for coercion?  Prince Gautama, or the Buddha, gave up three palaces, took up the life of a wondering mendicant, achieved the enlightenment he was seeking and began to preach about it.  During his 45 years in northern India, the Buddha never used force to win a single convert.  He once rebuked some of his followers who had resorted to violence: "Shame on him that strikes, greater shame on him who, stricken, strikes back."


Where in the great religion of Islam is coercion sanctioned throughout the thirteen centuries since the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, died in 632 CE?  Does not the Qur'an say, "There will be no coercion in matters of faith"?  The God of Islam, Allah, is also the God of Judaism, Christianity and other faiths, whose word for Muslims was fulfilled in the Qur'an.  The Prophet was the spokesperson of God, who experienced revelations from God for a decade or more, which he set down in the holy book of Islam.  Later, Muslims developed an outstanding culture in art, philosophy, poetry, mathematics, architecture and medicine.


Like Christianity and Islam, Judaism rests on the concept of strict monotheism.  Among numerous other features, it looks to a messianic era, but is a strongly earth-centred, with much stress on a never-ceasing effort to know God's will as set down in the Torah.  Judaism sees history climaxing in a happier age when all peoples "beat their swords into plowshares."


Christians believe that the resurrected Jesus Christ lives forever to intercede for humankind.  Jesus is not only the founder of the faith but the essence of it:  He never forces Himself on anyone. A true Christian cannot justify doing what Christ would never do.  Coercion and violence have nothing to do with the true teachings of Jesus.

Building Understanding Among Faith Communities

For centuries religious leaders have been challenged to find a common ground for people of different faiths and cultures to live together in harmony.  There is a common denominator for all peoples of different faiths and cultures; we all believe in one God the creator of heaven and Earth; the God of Abraham. 

This Centre knows that there are practices that help build an enabling environment for all faiths:

1. Dialogue:

When conflict arises, establishing dialogue is key.  Through it, solutions begin to appear. 

2. Listening:

We need to listen to others because our times require it.  Daily, the world grows smaller, leaving understanding the only place where peace can find a home.  Understanding brings respect; and respect prepares the way for harmony.

 As Thomas Mertononce noted, "God speaks to us in three places:  in Scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger."

Said Jesus:  "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you"

Said the Buddha:  "He who would like to reach the utmost height must be eager to learn".

The minth sikh guru, Teg Bahadhur, noted that the different religions are like flowers in a garden.  He added that if one places flowers together in a bouquet the result is even more beautiful.

Understanding other faiths helps us to minimize differences.  Educating one another helps any community to deal with ignorance.

3. Love and Compassion:

Compassion brings inner strength.  Once developed, it usually opens an inner door, through which we can communicate with fellow human beings.

Compassion creates a positive atmosphere.  Where there is compassion, there is a pleasant atmosphere.


Permit me to share some good news from our national capital.  Recently, we formed an all-party and multi-faith Working Group on Religious-Cultural Harmony.  There have been two successful meetings and we are now working on a declaration for the House of Commons to consider.  Later, some of us hope to initiate a religious-cultural solidarity week hopefully to be held yearly in every constituency across the country.  It is a modest and timely beginning on a work which this Centre has already begun well in our province.

Finally, a quote from a recent speech by His Highness the Aga Khan given in India:  "In the troubled times in which we live, it is important to remember, and honour, a vision of a pluralistic society.  Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other people's cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world.  Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development; it is vital to our existence.  Never perhaps more so than at the present time, must we renew with vigour our creative engagement in revitalizing shared heritage through collaborative ventures such as the project we are inaugurating today."

 I close with a brief word of prayer:

God of mercy; as we gather to celebrate your gift of love we recall with sorrow the times when we forget you and are divided one from the other.  How often our thoughts, our words, and our actions, have betrayed the goodness you have shown to us.  Forgive us, merciful God.  Mend what is broken.  Heal the wounded relationships that separate us form you and one another.

 God bless the work of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre.

 Thank you / Hae, Hae


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