A minister, a rabbi and an imam went to Jordan at the invitation of the King. The minister was Reverend Debra Faulk of the Unitarian Calgary of Church. The occasion was to accept the 2017 Gold Medal for participation in UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, a global event that promotes co-operation within and between different faiths, on behalf of the Calgary Interfaith Council. The ceremony for the award took place April 30, 2017, at the Royal Palace in Amman Jordan.
When the Interfaith Council, a partnership of religious communities in Calgary working tofether for the common good, became aware of the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, a planning team was quickly formed, responding to the opportunity to join with others around the world in proclaiming that a core value of faith is harmony. At the opening ceremony held at Calgary City Hall, Rev. Faulk, in her words of welcome, said: “Whether one identifies with a particular religious tradition or not, all human beings have faith. Faith is about trust, conviction and hope, these touch each of us. It is faith, whether in a higher power or in fellow beings, that motivates us to ethical action, to work of the common good, to attempt to live in harmony with others and the planet.” Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, then read the official proclamation making Calgary the third Canadian city to do so, after Toronto and Halifax.
First proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan and unanimously adopted on October 20, 2010, the first week of February is now officially observed as UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. Rooted in the Common Word Initiative, a dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders, and the recognition of Love of God and Love of Neighbour as foundational religious tenets of all three Abrahamic traditions, this was expanded to Love of Good and Love of Neighbour, a formula that includes all people of goodwill, those practicing a religion or not.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week provides a platform — one week in a year — when all interfaith groups and other groups of goodwill can show the world what a powerful movement we can be. If ever the world needed to be reminded of the power of harmony within our diversity, it is now. In response to the escalation of hate speech, we preach harmony, in response to violence we unify in love, standing with each other in both solidarity and curiosity.
At the award ceremony in Amman, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey spoke on behalf of the award winners. In part he said:
that one of the root causes of strife and conflict in our world is religious enmity. It is my contention that the root cause of such hatred is religious illiteracy.
Ignorance of others’ religious beliefs and practices leads to stereotyping, misinformation and prejudice which precludes the formation of healthy, respectful and collaborative relationships. We advocate the Biblical principle of “”ואהבת לרעיך כמכה- Love Your Neighbour as Yourself.” But love cannot take hold when partners do not know each other well. Actions become suspect when we do not understand the values and beliefs that undergirds them.
Fortunately, the antidote is religious literacy. … religion can be a powerful and compassionate force for diminishing human suffering. Our faith traditions offer the building blocks upon which a pluralistic order for a globalized world can emerge. In our highly interconnected and interdependent world, religious literacy is essential for human progress.
And so, in the face of hate, oppression and fear, I stand here today in solidarity with fellow human beings as a force of love and inclusion supporting this effort to befriend and educate ourselves about each other as a route to peace.
In reflecting on the entire experience Debra said the whole time was an incredible learning. In conversation with the 2nd place winners, two professors representing International Forum Bosnia’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, came deeper recognition that working for interfaith initiatives in Canada is safe and does not involve possible danger as it does in other places in the world. Meeting people who are taking the risks makes it so much more real.
The 3rd place winners, PL84U Al-SUFFA, run by Saira Mir and her family, is a neighbourhood agency in East London, UK that serves meals to the homeless and offers haircuts and companionship with deep respect for their clients’ worth and dignity. Meeting this loving family affirmed that the contributions of every person are needed and matter to do the work of peace and justice as well as the power and inspiration of commitment and living one’s faith.
Some of the winners were accompanied by family members, so the group totaled twelve visiting winners, the two main “handlers”, our bus driver and a couple of extras each day that were probably primarily there for security, though that was very low key. During the long weekend, the group traveled to Bethany Beyond Jordan, the place claimed as the baptism site of Jesus, stood on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River and watched full-immersion baptisms happening on the Israeli side maybe forty feet away, visited the Dead Sea, Dabeen National Park and Petra. Sidebar: Debra, the imam, and his wife rode camels at Petra and paid with Canadian money, the camel owners, all Bedouins, were skeptical about the currency.
They all traveled together, ate together, laughed together, shared stories and formed a bond that can only happen in the face to face befriending that this situation offered. The truth of this is also the inspiration to continue the work, to befriend and to educate themselves about one another is a contribution to peace and harmony everyone can engage.