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Importance of Inter-Religious Harmony

David Saperstein. (File)
David Saperstein. (File)
Importance of Inter-Religious Harmony
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Interfaith cooperation among religious communities around the world is a powerful counterbalance to hate, violence, and injustice, said U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein.

This is especially true in countries afflicted by sectarian violence. In Kenya, for example, when Islamist gunmen suspected to be al-Shabaab attacked a bus in December 2015 and demanded that Christians and Muslims be separated, the driver of the bus said that the Muslims on board refused to be separated from their fellow Christian travelers. They told the militants to kill them all or leave them alone – which incredibly the gunmen in the main did. Yet one man, Salah Farah, was injured while shielding Christians from the attack and later died. His brother Rashid told media that he hoped Salah’s example would encourage Kenyans to live as one community and promote religious harmony.

In Israel there are examples of peace-building through interfaith education that schools like the Tabeetha School in Jaffa or the six Hand in Hand schools in cities all across Israel, provide to Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian students.

In Turkey, members of Istanbul's tiny Greek Orthodox community, visitors from neighboring Greece and other faithful attended an Epiphany service led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians in Istanbul, where the Patriarchate is based. A ceremony to bless the waters was also held in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city. It was the first "official" Epiphany ceremony there since the Greco-Turkish War ended in 1922 triggering a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Although the Greek Consulate in Izmir had organized a ceremony in 2006, it was the first time the Turkish government both approved and helped to organize it. "It's a historic day here and we're grateful to the local authorities and to the Patriarchate ... for making this happen," Tina Samoglu, secretary of the Izmir Orthodox Community told Greek state TV.

"There is a power to be found when we advocate not just for people who share our beliefs, but also for those whose beliefs are profoundly different. When Jews advocate for Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs....when Christians advocate for Buddhists....when Hindus advocate for Muslims....when Muslims advocate for atheists....," said Ambassador Saperstein. ”When we all recognize that if any one of us is not free to practice our beliefs, then none of us are."