On December 10, an international conference Moderation of interethnic and interreligious relations in a secular state" was held online.
It was initiated by the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Harmonization of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations together with the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia.
The conference was attended by members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, representatives of the scientific and expert community, along with religious and public figures from Russia, Germany, Italy, the USA, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and other countries.
The participants discussed the most relevant aspects of interethnic and interreligious dialogue and shared their experience and practices that contributed to the achievement of interreligious and interethnic harmony. “In the modern world it is difficult to ensure a balance of interests of representatives of different peoples and confessions, but this is a necessary condition for the prosperity of modern secular states. A compromise is needed in order to preserve the secular values of most modern states and respect members of minority and religious groups,” said Albir Krganov
, Deputy Chairman of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Harmonization of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations, mufti of the centralized religious organization "Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia."
“Today we hear numerous news headlines, just like battlefield reports, from different countries about incidents of violence, extremism and terrorism with a religious and national connotation. And this worries us. Muslims of Russia are convinced that the preservation of peace and stability is possible only by combining the efforts of representatives of all religions, nations, governments, as well as international and public institutions,” he added.
According to Albir Krganov, overcoming modern challenges and terrorist threats is directly related to strengthening cultural, civilizational and interreligious dialogue, overcoming religious ignorance and conflict, as well as harmonizing ethno-religious relations. Furthermore, he argues that a big problem for many European countries is the influx of migrants, which has generated many problems in the social and security sectors.
“Russia is a multinational and multi-confessional state. I strongly believe that only with the help of properly established dialogue can the world community gain the upper hand over religious ignorance, extremism and recruitment into terrorist groups, as well as contribute to the harmonization of interreligious relations and the stability of our society,” said Alexander Shkolnik
, Vice President of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
“Our model of interreligious cooperation and the current Russian legislation do not allow citizens of Russia, our society to make disrespectful statements about matters of faith and beliefs of people,” he added.
The Deputy Chairman of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Harmonization of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations, Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church Synodic Department on Church Relations with Society and the Media Vladimir Legoida
cited the words of Patriarch Alexy: "In Russia, religion is separated from the state, but it is not separated from society." He also stressed that relations between religious associations in Russia were primarily built on respect and cooperation.
“There is genuine reality behind these words, and this is a unique experience that we can offer to the whole world today,” he said.
The Chairman of the Idel analytical center in Berlin Ahmad Wagner stressed that the experience of Russia was very important for Germany.
“In Russia, Muslims and Christians have lived together for over five hundred years, and Russia is indeed a good example for Europe in terms of building interethnic and interreligious dialogue in a secular state. Our government only 15 years ago began to deal with issues of how we can live together, and now our politicians realize the full scope of the problem. I would like to ask for help, in particular from the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of Russia, in sharing with our center the best practices of the Russian Federation in the field of harmonizing interethnic and interreligious relations," he said.
Member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation from the Republic of Kalmykia, Vice President of the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia Sergey Kirishov
joined the participants during a break between services on the occasion of the national Kalmyk holiday Zul, symbolizing the onset of the New Year according to the lunar calendar. “The Buddhist community is always ready to support all initiatives of representatives of other confessions in matters of modeling interethnic and interreligious relations,” noted Sergey Kirishov. “In my opinion, in our country there are no strong problems of an interethnic or inter-confessional nature, and this is a very good sign. Of course, we have some issues to work on, but this cannot be called an acute problem, and in many respects it is the merit of religious figures and organizations,” he added.
The President of the European Council of Religious Leaders (one of five regional interreligious councils within the movement Religions for Peace) Thomas Wipf emphasized that a secular state was not a guardian of the truth, but a defender of freedom, which gave representatives of different peoples the opportunity to safely coexist based on the principle of mutual respect.
"We must join forces around the world in order to create an environment that will ensure freedom of human rights and freedom of religion, and we must make efforts to ensure peace and the well-being of all the representatives of the world's religions," he said.
Albir Krganov asked Thomas Wipf to send his best wishes to European religious leaders and expressed hope for further cooperation with the council.
Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, head of religious programmes at the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, stressed that freedom of speech did not exempt a person from the responsibility of his own words. He also tried, in the context of recent terrorist attacks, to explain the psychology and the specific outlook, drawing people towards confrontation.
“We are dealing with the overlap of two discourses, two cultural models, which at the moment cannot find common ground. From the viewpoint of a democratically and secular-minded person, expressing a word is equal to voicing an opinion. That opinion does not commit anyone to anything, and it does not have to be true. In religion, and I think I can say this about all confessions, a spoken word has much more influence and it is perceived as an action. The word is perceived as an attack that requires defence or offence. In today's world, freedom of speech is the right to express opinions. But this right frees a person from responsibility. Religious ethics, on the other hand, emphasizes duties and responsibilities to a greater extent, interpreted as instruments of man's manifestation in this world. Therefore, when some say to others that they have the right to express their opinion, the very formulation of the concept turns out to be completely incomprehensible to the other side. Words perceived as aggression against faith can provoke a backlash, and in the context of recent events, the chosen means to do this cannot be justified. At the moment, the planned idyllic society in Europe, which was originally designed for only one paradigm of freedom, i.e. secular freedom, unfortunately, is like a castle in the air," he stated.
The President of the Islamic Affairs Council of the State of Maryland (USA), founder of the Civilization Exchange and Cooperation Foundation Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat emphasized that it was important for Muslims around the world to objectively understand the realities of the modern world and revise the strategy of communicating with the world community. He also noted the need for the development of educational programmes aimed primarily at young people, promoting a respectful and careful attitude to human life and peaceful coexistence with all representatives of society in the spirit of religious morality.
“Our Prophet Mohammed is a mercy for the worlds. Those who follow Sharia law should bring mercy to the world, as well as show others how to value life and health, preserve life in all its manifestations, and improve it for all mankind,” he said.
The Deputy Chair of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society Elena Agapova is convinced that it is necessary to adopt an international law that prohibits insulting the feelings of religious worshippers, and noted that a similar law was already in effect in the Russian Federation.
“I am confident that the joint efforts of the state, religious organizations and civil society will protect the spiritual sectors in Russia: traditional family values and cultural principles that unite peoples and religions in our country,” she said.
The Head of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation on Harmonization of Interethnic and Interreligious Relations Vladimir Zorin
noted that the issue of interreligious relations was extremely important for the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.
“We have a complete freedom of religion in our country, and this is associated with a respectful attitude towards representatives of any confession. This positive trend needs to be consolidated,” he stressed.
The Head of Research at ASRIE Analytica (Italy) Giuliano Bifolchi touched upon the situation of Muslim migrants and the development of Islamophobia in Europe, stressing that many problems were caused by the irresponsible actions of the United States and some European countries in the Middle East and North Africa. He also expressed regret that the current political situation complicated dialogue between Europe and Russia on issues of moderating interreligious relations and combating extremism.
“I would like to remind you all that in 2022 Russia, with the support of the UN, is set to host the World Conference on Interreligious and Interethnic Dialogue. Today’s meeting is a vivid example of how discussions on such issues should be structured,” concluded Albir Krganov.