World Religion Day celebrated by Baha'i communities around the world
STUTTGART, Germany — More than 400 people gathered here on 20 January 2002 for a multi-faith discussion on the topic of "Religions against Violence" in commemoration of World Religion Day.
The commemoration was one of dozens, if not hundreds, of celebrations of World Religion Day held worldwide this year. Initiated in 1950 as an effort to foster interfaith understanding, World Religion Day is now commemorated worldwide on the third Sunday in January.
The Stuttgart commemoration was sponsored by the Bahá'í community of Germany and held at the Neues Schloss, an 18th Century chateau built for the Wurttemberg Kings. The participants in a panel discussion on the topic of religious violence included Meinhard Tenné of the Central Jewish Council of Germany; Dr. Paul Köppler of the German Buddhist Union; Prof. Urs Baumann, department of theology, University of Tübingen; Dr. Nadeem Elyas, President of the Central Muslim Council of Germany; Dr. Johannes Frühbauer of Hans Küng's Foundation for World Ethics; and Christopher Sprung of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Germany.
The panel discussed both the peace-promoting elements of religions as well as their potential to generate conflict and war. All agreed that world religions, if seen in their true essence, are against violence. "The motto of the panel was, essentially, that 'true believers are against violence and terror' and 'you should take seriously what your faith is telling you,' " said Mr. Sprung.
Panelists also noted that competing claims of exclusive truth often prevent religions from establishing a climate of harmony and unity. Prof. Baumann, a Catholic theologian, said the notion that a religion is "the only path to truth and salvation" has all too often been considered the "greatest reason for violence," especially when such a claim becomes institutionalized by government or politics.
Dr. Frühbauer emphasized the urgency to recognize a set of ethical principals common to all cultures and religions. This "minimum set" should be adopted at large by all to safeguard and foster social progress in times of globalization. Mr. Sprung responded by suggesting that religions in particular must together form a "maximum set" of ethical and religious common principles, otherwise the social momentum of any religion would vanish.
Both the Jewish and the Buddhist representative referred to the equity of religions, suggesting that "religions are like different land maps," providing orientation to their followers. Several large regional newspapers reported at length about the event.
A website about World Religion Day and the Stuttgart event exists at www.weltreligionstag.de . The site was called one of the 100 most interesting new websites by Computer Bild, a leading German computer magazine.
Other significant World Religion Day commemorations -- all held on 20 January -- included events in Bulgaria, Mongolia, Pakistan and the United States, where numerous local Bahá'í communities sponsored celebrations. A website dedicated to World Religion Day (www.worldreligionday.com) lists some 15 more countries as having events scheduled for this year, encompassing: Albania, Austria, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Slovakia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.
In Bulgaria, about 45 people gathered at the national Bahá'í Center in Sofia. Participants included followers of diverse religions, academicians, and representatives of non-governmental organizations. The program included the reading of prayers by members of various religions, including the Bahá'í Faith, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. After the devotional program, a talk entitled "Religious Tolerance - Historical Scope and Modern Understanding" was given by Theodore Bourilkov, member of National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Bulgaria, which sponsored the event.
In Mongolia, more than 100 people gathered in Ulan Bator to commemorate the Day. Representatives from the Bahá'í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam were present, as were several government officials and four lecturers from the religious studies department of the national university.
"The theme of the gathering was the 'oneness of humanity,' and the program consisted of short prayers from each faith, interspersed with devotional music, and short talks," said Dulamsuren, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Mongolia, which sponsored the event. The event was covered by two national television channels.
In Pakistan, more than 50 people gathered for a program at Bahá'í Hall in Karachi. A number of members of Pakistan's Zikri community participated. The Zikri community is a peaceful Sufi sect of Islam.
In the United States, events were scheduled in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah, among other places, according to the World Religion Day website.
World Religion Day was initiated in 1950 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States. Bahá'ís celebrate the day by hosting discussions, conferences, and other events which foster understanding and communication between the followers of all religions. In 1985, the government of Sri Lanka issued a postage stamp in commemoration of the day.
The purpose of World Religion Day is to call attention to the harmony of spiritual principles and the oneness of the world's religions and to emphasize that world religion is the motivating force for world unity. As stated in Bahá'í scripture: "...religion should be the cause of love and agreement, a bond to unify all mankind for it is a message of peace and goodwill to man from God" and "Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein."