At the World Conference on Religion and Peace
25 November 1999
(Translated from Arabic)
Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to open the seventh assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, and on behalf of all Jordanians to extend to you the warmest welcome. I take your choice of Amman as the venue for your meeting to be a token of recognition of what Jordan stands for: cooperation, openness and understanding. This choice is a gesture, which we deeply appreciate, and we wish you all success in all your endeavours. May I also seize this opportunity to thank His Royal Highness Prince Hassan for his relentless efforts to promote fruitful dialogue among different faiths for the sake of a peaceful and prosperous world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This Assembly is held at a time when the family of nations is at the threshold of a new millennium. This auspicious occasion prompts us to look simultaneously in two directions: to the recent past with its calamities and blessings, its frustrations and achievements, and to the future with all its promises of a peaceful world, a world that is capable of facing up to global and local challenges. The theme of your deliberations, "Global Action for Common Living: The Role of Religion in the Next Millennium," is a clear indication of this hope. Who but you can tackle this lofty theme from such a comprehensive perspective? You represent fifteen different religions and spiritual traditions; you represent three quarters of the population of the globe; and you represent a hundred countries in which thirty branches of your organisation are located. More importantly, you are all committed since the inception of your organisation in 1970 to respecting religious differences while endeavouring at the same time to develop cooperation among religions for the sake of peace.
Quantity and quality in the structure of your conference harmoniously integrate to form a formidable moral force that is eminently qualified to address the great challenges mankind is still facing on both the material and the spiritual levels. We will soon cross the threshold of the new century, but the world is still beset by the threat of the arms race, fears of weapons of mass destruction, and the effects of environmental abuse. A quarter of the world's population still suffers from abject poverty, and millions are suffering from ethnic and religious conflicts. Millions also suffer from hunger, disease, discrimination and human rights violations. Innocent civilians, especially women and children, are most often the helpless victims.
Now more than ever, the family of nations feels that it is imperative to build bridges to link religious and academic leadership in tandem with political leadership in order to create appropriate forums for debate, where the various problems besetting the world, such as extreme nationalism, religious nationalism and other fanatical tendencies, can be discussed. Such forums can be the foundation not only for the practice of pre-emptive diplomacy but also for conflict resolution. They can strengthen peace, deepen mutual understanding, and help solve cross-cultural, ethnic, and political problems.
The nations of the world, regardless of race or religion, are anxious to see your noble ideals take shape, hoping as they do to live together in security and peace. The spheres of cooperation that your organisation has identified include the hopes and fears of all nations as they look to the new millennium.
This is why your organisation has received the support of various religious groups, individuals, and international institutions. I am confident that you will also have the support of governments and peoples. Evidence of this support can be seen in the favourable response of the 1998 session of the United Nations General Assembly to the call by the Islamic nations to declare the year 2001 the year of dialogue among cultures.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The nature of conflict in the post-Cold War era has changed dramatically. Inter-state wars have been replaced by internal struggles for dominance and power, pitting religion against religion, tribe against tribe, sect against sect, ethnic group against ethnic group, neighbour against neighbour. Such struggles are soon transformed into bloody conflicts, turning innocent people into refugees, and refugees into agents for pulling neighbouring countries into the abyss of conflict. The outcome is a regional conflagration where states waste their national resources and people pay the price in hatred, prejudice and physical insecurity.
Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia attest to this. Indeed, the Middle East is but another example of regional conflict. The communal conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine that took place during the inter-war period in this departing century was transformed after the Second World War into a regional conflict. It still challenges the parties and the world community to reach a just, comprehensive settlement. Because of the frequent wars that have been sparked by this conflict, and because it has continued for so long, it has reproduced itself in sub-issues, each of which is as complex as the one that originally produced it.
Of these issues, the gravest and most significant is Jerusalem. I highlight this issue because it embodies the dichotomy of religion and war. Religion, which has been and can still be a force for war, also embodies the values of tolerance and good, values that are the foundations of peace and the antithesis of war.
Religion in itself does not cause war, its fanatic followers do. Your organisation is the epitome of religion as a source of peace, and is obviously opposed to religion as a source of conflict, fanaticism, hatred and exclusion, all of which breed war.
The Jerusalem problem poses a great challenge to those of us who are on the side of religion as a source of peace. I am afraid that Israel, our peace partner, perpetuates exclusion by its persistence that Jerusalem, both Arab and Israeli, is its capital alone. This is a manifestation of discrimination and contrary to the right to self-determination. This also implies that Israel would be siding with religion as a source of conflict, and maintains the irony of Jerusalem, the City of Peace, as a hotbed of conflict. The concept of religion as a source of peace requires putting an end to this irony by abandoning the policy of exclusion and adopting the policy of inclusion. Only thus can we be assured that one of the most formidable impediments to peace will be removed.
Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews will all triumph when they enshrine religion as a foundation of peace rather than an agent of war. To us, Islam and peace are synonymous. Jerusalem is too sacred and too symbolic for it to belong exclusively to one party. It can accommodate two capitals, one Palestinian and one Israeli, and belong, as it should, to the entire world at the same time. Political will and creative thinking can lead to a formula that embodies this vision. We Jordanians hold firmly to this concept and call on all parties to give it the full support it deserves. I have no doubt in my mind that your organisation, which has as its objective the utilisation of religion as a source of peace, will exert all possible efforts to help resolve the Jerusalem issue by peaceful means, away from the dual enemies of peace: coercion and exclusion. Your organisation represents a massive moral force because it draws on the collective efforts of many religious organisations. All of them sincerely believe that the shared values permeating their faiths can solve the common problems that exist among the peoples of the world.
Here I would like to pause for a moment and ask: Should we allow the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has continued to trouble us for the whole of the 20th century, to spill over into the twenty-first? Isn't it high time for the parties to the conflict, as well as the world community, to wake up to this painful reality and end its disgraceful continuity? Aren't our shared religious values and moral imperatives capable of putting an end to this conflict and bringing about comprehensive peace? My greatest wish, Ladies and Gentlemen, is to make sure that we will be able to achieve a just, comprehensive peace, to be our gift to the peoples of the Middle East and the world community on the dawning of the twenty-first century and the third millennium. I strongly believe in the great impact of shared religious values when employed in conflict resolution. Through the proper use of information technology in our progressively globalised and inter-dependent world, great achievements can still be made.
The preamble to Article 11 of the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty states that "the parties will seek to foster mutual understanding and tolerance based on their shared historic values." We firmly believe in the gist of this article and are committed to its realisation, since it constitutes the essence of the culture of peace that we are striving to promote. Nevertheless, it is valid to ask whether the culture of peace can ever come to fruition while the parties stand impotent in addressing the Jerusalem issue on the basis of inclusion and the refugee issue in accordance with the principle of justice.
I highlight these two issues out of the many others that are still obstructing a just, comprehensive peace, only because they are the most immediately related to your mission as a non-governmental organisation concerned with various human issues: children and youth, conflict resolution, disarmament, environmental protection, human rights, peace education, refugees and displaced persons, and sustainable development.
Jerusalem, as I said, embodies the dichotomy of religion and war. The plight of the refugees, on the other hand, is a distillation of the evils that one human group perpetrates against another. It is a most tragic situation where ethics, law, right, and justice are disrupted or violated. It is also a degradation of the ideals and principles which have been revered by all religions and upheld by civilisations since the dawn of history. It encompasses your primary areas of concern, as well as international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Refugees are always endangered by poverty, disease, ignorance, unemployment, exclusion, crime, terrorism, lack of security, despair and loss of direction, among other evils. Consequently, the problem of the Palestinian refugees, which has been with us for over half a century, is a shameful episode in the history of the modern human community which has committed itself to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is high time the world atones for the crime by putting an end to their tragedy. But any solution must be morally convincing. Thus, United Nations Resolution 194 must be implemented: the refugees must exercise the right of return, and they should receive adequate compensation, and must be rehabilitated in order for them to be able to live and work in peace and security with others.
Strengthening the bond between religion and peace is one of the foundations of hope in a better future for humanity. Your organisation, which is one of the most prominent institutions of civil society, undoubtedly has the will and ability to contribute to this noble cause because it is active not only on the local and regional levels but also on the international level. Shared religious values are universal by their very nature. Since your organisation adopts the moral imperatives that these values entail, the space of its action cannot but be universal, and the time span cannot but cover the entire future of humanity. This is why you have established a youth division of your organisation, and are meeting in Amman to map out the action of religious organisations in the next millennium.
I appreciate all that you have done, are doing and plan to accomplish.
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent:
O Mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well-acquainted with all things. (Surah Al Hujurat, Ayah 13)
I thank you all and wish you success in all your endeavours.