Religious leaders stress interfaith dialogue, tolerance at Kazakh conference in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM. KAZINFORM - Religious leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Tuesday for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, sponsored by Kazakhstan, TPS reports.

The conference, organized by Kazakhstan every three years and often held in the Central Asian country, was instead held in Israel for the first time. In attendance were spiritual leaders and representatives of Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Bahai and Druze communities, among others.

«We started these congresses after the events of 9/11 and it was important for us to bring religious leaders together and unite the world,» said Bulat Sarsenbayev, one of the Kazakh conference organizers.

«In Kazakhstan there are different religions and our people live in peace. In our country there are over 30 ethnic cultures,» Sarsenbayev noted. «Kazakhstan is a major crossroads that many religions have passed through throughout history because of the Silk Road. Our ancestors were also patient people and lived peacefully next to each other.»

«Most religions are very similar in nature, they have common human values. It is easier to find commonalities than differences,» he added.

On the day before the conference, Kazakh Ambassador to Israel and Cyprus Satybaldy Burshakov said that his government attached much importance to the gathering. «We believe that harnessing the collective efforts of religious leaders around the globe will serve to counter current challenges to world peace, as well as advance trust and progress among different nations and communities.»

Dr. David Rutstein, Secretary General of the Baha’i International Community told the Tazpit Press Service that the conference setting in Jerusalem was deeply meaningful.

«It’s particularly nice that this is happening in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is so important to so many faiths in the world. It’s a small example of the unity of humanity and actually, the unity of all religion, which is a fundamental belief Baha’is have,» Rutstein said.

Stressing the need for continued dialogue, Dr. Iyad Zahalka, general director of Israel’s Sharia courts told the gathering, «The Great Koran calls to preserve the dignity of people, regardless of their religious background. God commanded us to have a dialogue in a good and wise way. At this stage we need meetings and agreeing on foundations for coexistence, harmony and understanding. We must avoid racism and extremism and prevent the extremists from harming peace.»

Added Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Church, «Peace must be at the heart of every reformed society, humanity and every religious tradition. Peace is the foundation of every relationship between man and God. Jerusalem is the foundation of peace and those living in Jerusalem understand the power of peace.»

Denouncing religious fundamentalism, Bishop Dr. Giacinto-Buolos Marcuzzo of Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate, said, «Fundamentalism corrupts every faith. Religion should be part of the solution and not part of the problem of peace. Freedom of religion – religion must be free and this is a condition for peace in every community and in every country. There is no coercion in religion.»

Rabbi Yitzhak Elefant, in attendance as the representative of Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, said that «The ways of the Torah are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. God’s name is also peace. Peace is both peace and wholeness. This is actually the goal of life. Peace should be whole, real.»

Kazakhstan is a secular Muslim state that is tolerant of its religious and ethnic minorities, including Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian and Tatar communities, among many others.