Baha'is participate in German multifaith dialogue at Jena University

November 12, 2002

JENA, Germany — More than 100 people gathered at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena on 12 November 2002 for a multifaith panel discussion on the topic of "Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'i -- the world religions' common responsibility for world peace."

Sponsored by the Intercultural Council of Germany, the main theme of the discussion was how religions could take joint responsibility for promoting international peace, both in relation to the world at large and to each other.

Participants in the panel included Salomon Siegl, Rabbi of the Jewish community of the State of Saxony; Dr. Hans Mikosch, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gera; Prof. Udo Tworuschka, chair of comparative religious sciences at the University of Jena; Dr. Nadeem Elyas, president of the Central Muslim Council of Germany; and Christopher Sprung of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Germany. The panel was hosted by Dr. Jrgen Miksch, the chairman of the Intercultural Council.

Prof. Tworuschka opened the discussion by saying that the sacred writings of all the world's religions contain statements on the importance of peace. He noted that important Jewish prayers ask for "shalom," that the Muslim paradise is called "Dar-es-Salaam," which means House of Peace, and observed that Buddhists strive for non-violence and peace.

He also quoted from the Baha'i writings, citing Baha'u'llah's call to the "contending peoples and kindreds of the earth" to set their "faces towards unity" and "for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you."

Rabbi Siegl said that the monotheistic religions understand human beings to be a reflection of God, an understanding which can be used to promote peace. By respecting each person as part of God's creation, he said, harmonious relations can be built between religions.

Dr. Mikosch suggested that one way to decrease intolerance and fanaticism, in everyday life, would be for individuals to acquaint themselves with the religious culture of another faith.

Dr. Nadeem Elyas said Islam is a peace-promoting faith, adding that defensive activities are restricted to very specific conditions. Moreover, he said, Muslims in Germany express their obedience to the secular German Government, distance themselves from any Islamic terrorism, and call for the establishment of peace between each person and their creator, and amongst all human groups and between humankind and the environment.

Christopher Sprung suggested that the Baha'i paradigm of unity could be a mainspring for religious peace. By accepting the mutual divine source of all religions, religious leaders could come to a consensus. Cooperative activities could be based on the realization that virtually all Holy Writings contain the same spiritual truths.

"This would lead to true acceptance rather than mere tolerance of one another," said Mr. Sprung. "Simultaneously, all religions must refrain from claims to exclusive truth since this implies there is only one's own way to peace, which constitutes the main barrier to religious peace." He added that the concept of unity as envisaged by the Baha'is can be understood on many levels, including the spiritual, social and economic.

The other panelists expressed their preference to show tolerance towards the absolute claims of another religion and questioned the concept of common spiritual core beliefs as proposed by the Baha'is on the grounds of perceived discrepancies between the different religious teachings. They called, however, on all religions to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Towards the end, the panel discussed practical suggestions for achieving cooperation among the religions. One idea that emerged was to promote the foundation of a one-year school subject called "world religions", similar to a course already taught as a trial project in the ninth grade in some schools in the United Kingdom.

The Intercultural Council of Germany was founded in 1994 by a group of non-governmental, commercial and governmental organisations with the aim of promoting social integration. It has an interfaith "circle" composed of several sub-units, including an Islamic Forum, an Abrahamitic Forum, and an interreligious committee, of which the Baha'i community of Germany is a member.