By Asad Mirza
Attracting an extraordinary assembly of diverse representatives from world’s religious and interreligious networks and communities, the seventh annual G20 Interfaith Forum concluded its meetings mid-October, after five days of virtual sessions which addressed the thematic areas related to COVID-19 emergencies, climate change, social, racial, and economic disparities, environmental challenges, the preservation and safeguarding of sacred sites including places of worship besides other pressing issues confronting today’s world.
Originally intended to be held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, host of the 2020 G20 Summit, the conference was conducted virtually in response to the global pandemic. Virtual attendance exceeded 2,000 participants from more than 90 countries. Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman played a key role in stressing the role of religious leaders and interfaith partnership to find a solution to the global issues by bringing it on top of the G20 agenda.
At the closing of the Forum, the organising partners; the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), the G20 Interfaith Association, the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) and Saudi Arabia’s National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, issued a joint statement calling for more robust representation at global policy making tables for religious leaders and faith-based actors.
Role of faith-based organisations
The five-day Forum brought together prominent religious leaders from across the faith spectrum as well as government officials, senior officials of United Nations entities and opinion formers to consult, deliberate and recommend.
Recommendations received from different thematic panels during the Forum were grounded in the experience and wisdom of the world of faith and the experience and insights of religious actors and institutions. Priority recommendations of these will be presented to the G20 Leader Summit to be held in November at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In his closing remarks, H.E Faisal bin Muaammar, Secretary General of KAICIID, called for greater alignment between religious leaders and policy makers. He said, “The G20 Interfaith Forum has demonstrated the vast breadth and scope of the work carried out by religious actors.”
Speaker after speaker at the Forum noted how COVID-19 had intensified challenges across the entire spectrum of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. H.E Mr Moratinos called for “a different approach driven by unity and solidarity. But most of all by compassion and humility.” In this context he underlined the need for “a convergence between faith actors and state actors.”
The G20 Interfaith Forum
The G20 Interfaith Forum was setup to find global solutions by collaborating with religious thought leaders and political representatives. It builds on vital roles that religious institutions and beliefs play in world affairs, reflecting a rich diversity of institutions, ideas, and values.
The goal of the meetings were to contribute meaningful insight and recommendations that respond to and help shape the upcoming G20 Summit and thus global policy agendas. The Forum’s agenda sought to build on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and additional issues of social cohesion, equity, and sustainability that have been a central underlying theme for the Forum from its inception.
As the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, faith-based organisations and religious actors’ rapid, yet informed responses have been crucial to support the collective efforts. At the same time, responding to hate speech, stigmatisation and other negative dynamics that hinder interreligious relations and social cohesion in the time of a pandemic remains a crucial task in which religious actors have unique leverage.
The IF Forum observed that as a part of an inter-faith approach, experiential learning must be incorporated into the pedagogy by way of opening up spaces that bridge the gap between religious and secular perspectives, and adherents of different faith traditions.
Various panels on different issues underlined the fact that religious institutions and Faith Based Organisations (FBO) have been essential in peace building, conflict prevention and mediation. Evidence continues to grow that when religious actors are valued and engaged in a considered way, informed by effective analysis, they can be particularly effective partners for government and peace building institutions and actors.
The forum’s discussions offered vivid testimony to the need for the world’s political leaders to include religious actors in policymaking processes including notably the immediate opportunity available at the Riyadh Summit. This collaboration can further reinforce the shared values of solidarity, coexistence and respect.
Most recommendations from different panels and policy groups highlighted the key role which could be played by religious leaders to play a proactive role in tackling different issues faced by the society all across the globe.
A key recommendation was that the time has come for formal recognition of the religious platform of the G20 Interfaith Forum as an official engagement group in future G20 Summits.
The Forum urged religious leaders and institutions to agree amongst each other and with policymakers on fostering joint efforts towards more effective dialogue, negotiations, and peace building processes, and reinforcing the role of religion as a means of peace building, rather than a tool for fuelling conflict.
It called for adopting multilateral measures by activating inclusive institutional channels for cooperation between states, institutions, and religious leaders, while fully respecting the independence of institutions. It further stressed the need to strengthen the role of religious institutions and leaders as facilitators of dialogue and cooperation among followers of religions in conflict-affected contexts.
Panellists urged to develop or reinforce institutions and grievance mechanisms, which allow addressing human rights violations and corruption; guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities. Panellists stressed that this would contribute to achieve social cohesion by reinvesting in social rights and in a cohesive society; building an edifice of shared and social responsibilities; strengthening representation and democratic decision-making and expanding social dialogue and civic engagement; and building a secure future for all.
The agreement of religious leaders and religious institutions amongst each other was on to encourage countries to restructure their national legal and political systems in order to address all forms of human rights violations and all manifestations of corruption in the political and administrative sectors, while developing policies that enshrine justice, transparency, responsibility and accountability.
It is high time that we realise that states actors can’t play an effective role without the support of religious leaders and FBOs. For every human being, except atheists of course, religion plays an important role in their lives and on formulating their responses and actions. If we are able to harness that element in their lives then perhaps we can aspire for a world free of its many malice’s and conflicts.
However, a candid analysis of the recommendations makes one wonder whether we have become disillusioned with the western concepts demarcating the domains of both political and religious leadership. And this new thinking may take us back to the old ages instead of moving forward. Further, the recommendations may seem acceptable to an audience in the eastern world but whether the western leaders and public will accept them remains a moot question.
Asad Mirza is a senior journalist and political commentator based in New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org