Thursday, September 18, 2014

Religious Diplomacy Speech (UNESCO, Paris) -By Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, Director at Committee for Historical Research in Islam and Judaism

Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics
Religious Diplomacy Speech (UNESCO, Paris)
A Global Summit
Co-sponsored by the
Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics
And Amitié Judéo-Musulmane de France
In Cooperation with Alsadiqin



Religious Diplomacy Speech (UNESCO, Paris)

Rabbi Ben Abrahamson
Director at Committee for Historical Research in Islam and Judaism

Your Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Ben Abrahamson and I am the director and founder of the Al Sadiqin organization which does historical research into Islam and Judiasm. Al Sadiqin provides material for religious scholars, courts and politicians that are involved in cultural and religious diplomacy.

By the term religious diplomacy we don't mean using diplomacy to handle religious conflicts, but rather increasing the visibility of religious and cultural leaders in the diplomatic process.

Echoing what the former Foreign Minister of Turkey said just now, I note that Religious Affairs Directorate Deputy Chairman for Foreign Relations, Mehmet Gormez, noted that religious diplomacy will continue to play an effective role in the way international relations take shape. He said: "Religion has always been a factor that affects international relations. We see that throughout history religion was a factor both in the founding of states and in their dissolution process. Today the impact of religion in international relations is becoming increasingly more valuable, and we will see it peak in the future." Religious diplomacy was credited by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, for Christians and Muslims reach out to each other in Sudan; in assisting in the release of Korean captives by the Taliban; and what could be termed "high-level Abrahamic" dialogue between the US and Iran. As the deputy minister eloquantly explained, Kosovo has seen very positive results by stressing religious diplomacy in its diplomatic efforts. Perhaps an example of this is the bottom up approach with Iraq and Afghanistan, where religious communities leaders systematically approached first. In Turkey, observant people are using any excuse to seek reconciliation with communities in Turkey's Southeast region.

Mutual respect is the starting point of any dialogue

Main point===

Dispelling stereotypes and misunderstandings are another key factor.

One of these mistaken ideas is that religious tolerance and universal human rights are a strictly non-religious, or at least religiously skeptical idea. That sincere and devout religion is the problem and will take farther from a solution. In fact we find in the very foundations of our modern society that from the Early modern Christians in the West to the Ottomans, we find deeply religious people arguing in favor of religious toleration, and doing so on religious grounds.

Dutch Statesman Hugo Grotius "[in any nation] there always lived some Strangers [upstanding citizens unfamiliar with local custom and law] in the Hebrew, hasidei ummot,These, as the Hebrew Rabbins say, were obliged to keep the [universal] Precepts given to Adam and Noah". James Harrington and Thomas Hobbes saw the Noahide Law not as applying to foreigners in the Commonwealth but universally to all citizens, as the law "that which God hath declared to all men by His eternall word borne with them, to wit, their naturall Reason." .

In the Qur'an this message is reinforced:

To each among you have we prescribed a Shariah (law) and Minhaj (custom). If Allah had so willed, He could have made you a single Ummah (faith community), but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth about the matters in which you are different; (Surat Al Maeda 5,48)

"To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) Towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you Together. For Allah Hath power over all things." (Surat Al Baqara 2.148)

To every people (was sent) an Law Giver: when their Law Giver comes (before them) the matter will be judged between them with justice and they will not be wronged. (Surat Al-Yunus 10,47)

The Torah teaches this in describing the circles of believers:

Psalm 115:9-12 says "O Israel, trust thou in the LORD: He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD: He is their help and their shield. You that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: He is their help and their shield."

Rabbinic commentary says that Jethro (Shu-ayb) was a "Bnei Noah" (righteous non-Jew). The "Children of Jethro" were "God fearers" also called "Kenites". Targum Onkelos always translates "Kenites" as Salamai or Muslamai. In this verse we have three circles. The Children of Aaron (the priesthood), the Children of Israel and the God-fearers / Muslamai

Until here ===

We see the European Union under stress because it does not know how to make active and sincere faith to foster a liberal sense of unity. On the other hand a Union in the middle east, led by Turkey, including Israel and other sovereign states, with open economic borders could succeed in by incorporating scriptural moral values in a way that no other grouping of nation states could.

When conflicts have a significant religious component to them, it is a mistake to treat them strictly in terms of territory or economic interest. Perhaps one example is the perception of the "East-West divide" since the 1950's as a conflict due to significant regional differences. In the beginning there was talk of an eastern bloc and communism. But since the cold war, the terminology has been replaced with "Islam and the West." Some people served this process by developing an ideological opposition to the other side. Even the term "Muslim world" reinforced this perception. But this thinking is alien to religious thought, because the entire world is God's and Islamic Deen / Noahide Law / Natural Law testify to the universality of religion. And it is precisely this universality of basic belief that allows for tolerance in diverging forms of religion. If we can see minorities not as imperfections, but rather communities under a different covenant, an older covenant, or on a different path that will lead them to the same place, we can go beyond tolerance, and move on to acceptance, recognition and even support of our mutual interests.

"O Mankind! We created you from one male and one female, and made you into different nations and tribes only so you may know (lita'arafu) each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous. Truly God has complete knowledge of all things, and is fully aware." (Surat al-Hujurat 49:13)

The word "lita'arafu" has the connotation of to acknowledge and recognize, and is related to the root "bil-ma'rufi" which means to be fair, honorable and in kind manner. Minorities are at the top of the most critical factors that makes religious diplomacy effective in international relations.


When we compare the Islamic and Jewish calendars, we seen that the Islamic calendar has Ras Hasana and the Jewish calendar has Rosh Hashana. Ten days later the Islamic calendar has Ashura and the Jewish calendar has Yom Kippur. If you count six months later, the Islamic calendar has Lailat al Baraat (Night of Emancipation) and the Jewish calendar has Passover. Afterwards the Islamic calendar has Ramadan and the Jewish calendar has Sefirat HaOmer. This is the time during which the barley offering ('Omer in hebrew) would be brought to the Temple as an offering. It is a period of seven weeks between the holidays of Passover and Pentacost. After the Temple was destroyed, the barley offering could no longer be offered, so this period became a time of mourning. Sephardic Jewish families begin the period of mourning during the month of Iyyar and continue for thirty-three days until the third of Sivan. No weddings are allowed, mourning customs are observed, music is forbidden. Some Jews had the custom to fast during these days. In Rome fasting after Passover was forbidden on pain of death, so the fasting was moved before Passover and developed into what would be called "Lent".

Until here===

What has been used as a symbol of differentiation Ramadan, Sefirat HaOmer, Lent, when seen in the proper perspective is a source of a common shared narrative for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

I will close with the words of Qatada ibn al-Nu'man (ra) who sums up for me religious diplomacy in six words said "al-din wahid wa al-shari'ah mukhtalifah" (religion is one, the covenants are diverse). Which is in truth a paradigm for Religious Diplomacy: Respect, Recognition and Support