NEW YORK – The UAE, in its capacity as the chair of the Group of Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), hosted a dialogue with UN Secretary-General H.E. Antonio Guterres on “Strengthening Ties with the Muslim Community: Promoting Dialogue, Understanding, Tolerance, and Acceptance” on 2 May 2019 at the UN Headquarters.
The discussion focused on the importance of interreligious dialogue as a core value of Islam with keynote remarks by H.E. Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, University Chaplain and Executive Director of New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, and H.E. Agshin Mehdiyev, Permanent Observer for the OIC to the UN.
H.E. Lana Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN, opened the discussion by underlining the critical need for promoting understanding, tolerance, and acceptance within the Muslim community and between Islam and other faiths – particularly in light of recent events that have demonstrated the impact of intolerance and polarization. She stated: “It is abominable that people are being targeted at their places of worship, and it is a tragedy of our modern world that holy sanctuaries increasingly required armed security to ensure the safety of innocent congregants.” A moment of silence was held at the meeting for the victims of recent terrorist attacks – where religious centers were targeted.
Ambassador Nusseibeh underscored the key role of the Muslim community in leading interfaith dialogue. “As Muslims, we have this responsibility not only because we determine a quarter of the world’s population, but because embracing and welcoming people of all faiths is a basic tenet of Islam,” she said.
During the dialogue, guest speakers and Member States focused on the critical responsibility of Governments to promote inclusion and peaceful co-existence. They also highlighted the importance of prioritizing prevention, including by addressing root causes of extremism and intolerance. Participants stated that religious minorities must be protected and fully integrated into their communities. Many participants also issued calls to further promote counter-narratives that promote the values of peace and tolerance, in addition to empowering religious leaders, women, and youth in efforts to foster peaceful and inclusive societies.
Secretary-General Guterres highlighted two initiatives he has set in motion to combat intolerance and hate-based violence: First, drafting a Plan of Action, led by Miguel Moratinos, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilization, to safeguard religious sites. Second, devising a plan of action to scale up the UN system’s response to tackling hate speech, led by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Genocide Prevention. He added “These measures are not enough; we must also tackle the root causes including poverty and inequality as they make people vulnerable to extremist narratives. I welcome the OIC’s emphasis as expressed in the Abu Dhabi Declaration that was adopted this year on tackling inequality, empowering young people, and promoting gender equality. “
In his observations, Archbishop Auza underscored several critical aspects of promoting interfaith dialogue, specifically between Christians and Muslims. He Aadded “in the joint declaration” Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together “signed in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar strongly stated that the name of God must never be invoked to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism or oppression. They both underscore that all religious leaders must condemn any and all acts of terrorism carried out in the name of the God they worship. “
Rabbi Sarna drew on his experience as a religious leader educating young people to discuss new interfaith challenges. “Our students are coming from age in a shrinking world where they are exposed to more and more cultures, with increasing frequency, and higher and higher stakes,” he said. Therefore, in training emerging religious leaders, he hopes that modeling tolerance will become an essential part of their vocation. Rabbi Sarna said that he volunteered to serve as Rabbi for the Jewish Community at NYU Abu Dhabi, adding “I have been going to NYUAD since 2010, but I have observed that over the past few years that a Jewish community has begun to form. first Jewish community to be established in the Arab world in centuries. “
H.E. Mehdiyev outlined the role of the OIC in promoting tolerance and understanding in our communities. He added, “There is a call for a closer cooperation between the OIC and the UN as the two largest intergovernmental organizations. Utilizing both organizations’ resources is essential while working hand in hand on many shared core challenges especially on the Middle East conflicts. “
The UAE assumed the chairmanship of the Group of Member States of the OIC in New York, concurrent to when the UAE assumed the chairmanship of the 46th Session of the Council of the Foreign Ministers of the OIC in March 2019.