The Words of the Kittel Family
Dhaka, Bangladesh - “The present world is torn by inter-religious and intercultural conflicts,” noted the President of Bangladesh, Md. Zillur Rahman, as he inaugurated the first International Conference on Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue, held in the beautiful, white-marbled Senate Building of the University of Dhaka from October 7-9, 2009.
He went on to highlight the significance of this three-day program by explaining the importance of conducting inter-religious dialogue in an environment of tolerance and openness and saying, “There is no alternative to dialogue.”
With an international contingent from eight nations and more than 400 participants from Bangladesh attending the opening session in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the president concluded his remarks by challenging delegates to make their inter-religious deliberations meaningful in order to “contribute to promoting world peace.”
Dr. Kazi Narul Islam, Director of the Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue and conference organizer, welcomed the participants. No nation, no religion and no culture can “live in isolation,” he said, adding, “We must learn to cooperate together in order to promote peace in this world.”
Dr. Islam made clear both the method and expected outcome for inter-religious dialogue as he addressed the distinguished delegates at the outset of the inauguration. Conveying the spirit of all great religious leaders, he underscored the need for working hand-in-hand beyond our religious and cultural barriers, so we can turn our houses into homes.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dhaka, Dr. Arefin Siddique, stressed the goal of creating a culture of religious harmony: to overcome communalism, fanaticism, and fundamentalism. “We must eliminate exclusiveness,” he said, “and create a culture of dialogue to foster interfaith harmony.”
After the inaugural ceremony there were four working sessions over the next three days. In each session there was a keynote address followed by six to eight panelists. The major religions of the world were discussed: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and the Baha'i faith.
The heart of a family of religions is created when gifts were given. Mrs. Jessiee Kaur Singh, the Secretary-General of the Global Dialogue Foundation in Australia, donated CDs of the Adi Granth to the University of Dhaka. She also brought sweets to share in honor of the Muslim Eid celebrations.
Mr. Peter Schier from Germany presented a series of 25 display panels to Dr. Islam and his department. The panels which, stand about ten feet tall and about three feet wide, were a gift from the Konard Adenaur Foundation of Malaysia. They depicted the Golden Rule as taught by all the major religions, giving also the historical time of the founding of the religions and its basic tenets.
On Friday morning, the final day, international participants were able to visit many of the historical sites and religious places before the last session.
The focus for the fourth session was very interfaith. Here leaders from Christianity (including Mennonites), Taoism, and Confucianism presented their ideas about inter-religious dialogue. One of the overlapping themes was the need to look inward, to change ourselves before we try to change others or the world around us. In theistic terms, we need to discover God in our brothers and sisters and in other faith traditions.
At the Closing Session that followed, Abul Kalam Azad, the Honorable Minister of Information and Minister of Cultural Affairs for the Government of Bangladesh, expressed appreciation and encouraged the participants by saying, “Dialogue is only possible when we respect each other's individuality -- accepting their social, cultural, and religious diversity.” He called this an “exchange of mutual values,” which he said would “lead to a life of peace and harmony” for everyone.
Dr. Islam drew the conference to a conclusion by expressing his sincere gratitude to participants, including his own staff, for their efforts to make the first Conference on Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue in Bangladesh a grand success and the foundation for further discourse.