Religious Congress Delegates Praise Nazarbayev, Denounce Extremism

Israel Chief Rabbi: Kazakh President in “the footsteps of…Abraham”

Pakistan Muslim Leader: Nazarbayev deserves Nobel Prize

Kazakhstan has just hosted the “Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”, where representatives of various faiths came together in a giant glass pyramid (designed by Sir Norman Foster) for interfaith dialogue and to praise president Nursultan Nazarbayev. First up, Shantilal Somaiya:

…Nazarbayev has received Vice President of Indian non-governmental organization K.J.Somaiya Trust Dr. Shantilal K. Somaiya.

“Since 1997 we are trying to develop Christian-Hindu dialogue…I cannot withhold admiration from the way Mr. Nazarbayev leads Kazakhstan. He is a unique leader who is able to maintain peace and harmony in such a multi-confessional country. It is a palmary example of achieving harmony in poly-confessional society”…

Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, gushed in similar vein, as he addressed Nazarbayev directly:

You follow the footsteps of our common forefather Abraham…You have turned your state into the country of peace between the peoples and religions…you [are] a man of sense and moderation, a man full of noble ideas, an open-hearted man.

However, one Muslim delegate was not going to be outdone:

Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, former President of the International Islamic University of Pakistan, suggested nominating Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev for the Nobel Prize in Peace. “I am going to put up Nursultan Nazarbayev for the Nobel Prize”, he stressed.

Delegates wisely steered clear of topics like Sergei Duvanov, the journalist who uncovered Nazarbayev’s secret Swiss bank accounts and was promptly beaten up and sent to prison for rape, or the various opposition politicians who have been arrested in recent years (such as Tolen Tokhtasynov and Galimzhan Zhakianov).

The Congress itself received a wide range of political and religious figures, including:

Abdallah Bin Abdul Muhsin At-Turki, Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Reverend Nicolas Baines, Bishop of Croydon, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantaui, Imam of AI-Azhar University, Ishmael Noko, Secretary General of the World Lutheran Federation, Salman Al Husaini Al Nadvi, President of Jamiat-e-Shabab-e-lslam, Indian Muslim Organization are among the high-ranking guests attending the forum.

A number of eminent politicians including Mahathir Mohamed, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, UN Special Representative in Geneva Sergey Ordzhonikidze, UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura, PACE Chairperson Rene van der Linden.

One hopes that Mahathir controlled his tendency to rant about “hook-nosed” Jews.

High-profile interfaith events are currently the in-thing among ex-Communist authoritarian leaders; the Congress comes just weeks after Vladimir Putin hosted a similar “World Summit of Religious Leaders” in Moscow, which I blogged on here.

The Congress saw various religious leaders reflecting on their own importance in world affairs. One example:

While giving a speech at the 2nd Congress of World and Traditional Religions’ Leaders, Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, has declared that religious leaders were able to prevent conflicts between nations.

“Every leader may influence his people somehow, that is why he must be very careful while addressing the audience”, he mentioned.

Amar recently showed his interfaith credentials when he asked the Pope for support in his efforts to have a Gay Rights parade banned in Jerusalem.

The delegates also discussed religious violence:

Leaders representing major world religions Wednesday denounced intolerance, terrorism and the misuse of religion for political ends.

…”Religious warfare brings out the worst in people,” said Patriarch Bartholomeos I, Archbishop of Constantinople…

“Religious fanaticism is one of the thorniest aspects of the problem and this is where our efforts should focus if we want the world to change,” he said, calling for the teaching of respect and reconciliation “in every synagogue, in every mosque, in every church”.

Also:

“We should exert the unique rallying force of every religion to awaken the people’s inherent kindness, banish their evil thoughts and make shared contributions to building a beautiful and harmonious, earthly pure land,” said Jiamuyang Luosangjiumei Tudanquejinima, vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.

Although, of course, “every religion” does not include Falun Gong – which the Buddhist Association of China sees as an “evil cult” – or the Dalai Lama, who is a “separatist”.

Nazarbayev also graced the Congress with his own ideas, which include making 2007 “the Year of Religious and Cultural Tolerance”, and the creation of an “international center of cultures and religions”. He also announced plans for more religious TV:

Nazarbayev said Khazakhstan’s state TV would, beginning next year, broadcast regular one-hour programmes devoted to “a sermon of kindness and religious tolerance”, and urged other world leaders to follow suit.

The Congress eventually came up with “nine principles of inter-faith dialogue”. These include advice to “avoid prejudice and misrepresentation”; to engage in “effective listening and learning…in the spirit of tolerance on the basis of shared values”; and for dialogue to “assume equality of partners”:

Education to that end conducted by mass media would help achieve “better understanding of the importance of dialogue and thus minimize the risk of religious extremism,” it added.

The Iranian delegation immediately entered into the spirit of things:

An Arabic speaking reporter from Haaretz approached the ayatollah [Sadiki Roshed] and shook his hand, but once he introduced himself as an Israeli, the Iranian leader walked away.

The BBC, meanwhile, suggests that there might possibly be a beam in Nazarbayev’s eye:

But beyond the walls of the spectacular pyramid, there are concerns that the Kazakh government, although more tolerant than others in Central Asia, has recently itself moved to restrict religious freedoms.

Muslim groups that are outside state control and non-traditional groups like Hare Khrisna have complained about official harassment.

This is one of the reasons why critics have questioned whether the Congress was as much aimed at serving President Nazarbayev’s goal of promoting his country, as it was designed to promote world peace.

Name variations: Congress of Leaders of World Religions; Congress of World and Traditional Religions’ Leaders.

7 Responses

  1. […] comes just two weeks after a summit of world religious leaders in Kazakhstan (which I blogged here). Interfax covers the Russian contribution: Deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for […]

  2. […] Hare Krishna Commune Posted on November 23, 2006 by Richard Bartholomew In September, I blogged on President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s interfaith “Congress of Leaders of World and […]

  3. […] various “summits” of religious leaders which I have blogged in past months (here and here). Among those present was David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, who said that […]

  4. […] – which saw religious leaders competing to offer the most lavish praise on the Kazakh leader – here. Machkevitch and Chodiev have good reason to speak well of Nazarbayev, since much of their personal […]

  5. […] a Hare Krishna temple in 2006; just a couple of months previously, Nazarbayev had hosted a “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions” inside a giant glass pyramid designed by Sir Norman Foster; here, various religious […]

  6. […] blogged on previous congresses here and here. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who reluctantly began a third decade in […]

  7. […] but his purpose has always been to strengthen his domestic position and international reputation: in 2006, then-Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzer gushed that the autocrat is following “in the […]

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