European Leadership Conference in Tirana, Albania - 21, November, 2015 - Session 3. Interreligious Dialogue, Peace Education and Sustainable Development
The third session was moderated by Mr. William Haines from the United Kingdom, who was also one of the speakers.
The first speaker was Mufti Muhammad Effendi Jusufspahic of Serbia, who began by elaborating on various meanings of God’s name in different languages. Then he spoke of the meaning of peace, whose source is God. In essence, God is Peace, he stated: “Peace be upon you” means “God be upon you.” Our main problem, past and present, is materialism. That disease has three aspects: First, nationalism. We put our nation above all. Second, worshiping our Teacher, our Prophet. But according to Scriptures, there is no difference among the Messengers of God, he said. Third, worshiping religion. Some people today worship Islam; therefore they are not Muslims, they are Islamists. God said that only He should be worshiped. Such is the way to peace, he concluded.
Archimandrite Nikifor Milovic from the Serbian Orthodox Church diocese of Budimlje-Nikisic in Montenegro spoke of the renewed important public role of religion in the post-Cold War Balkans. The challenge, he said, will be continuity, tradition and heritage. State and religious institutions need to demonstrate their relevance to future generations and give contemporary solutions to current problems. We need to show that religious pluralism, mutual respect and understanding are the cornerstone of a peaceful and just society, he said. Education, culture and prayer are the means to combat extremism. He concluded with a moving personal story. On the wall of the Montenegro monastery where he was an abbot for six years, a fresco represents two brothers: Mehmet Pasha Sokolović, a famous janissary and grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, who was taken away as a child from his Orthodox Bosnian family, and his physical brother Makarije Sokolović, whom he installed in 1557 as the first Serbian patriarch. When asked once by a visitor about the possibility of coexistence of Christianity and Islam, Father Nikifor looked at the fresco and felt overwhelmed by a voice from the heart. He responded, “If these two brothers have lived 500 years side by side on this wall, why couldn’t we?”
Mrs. Besa Ismaili, the leader of the Kosovo Women Islamic Forum, spoke of women’s role in interfaith activities in Kosovo. Through interfaith activities women’s voices have become stronger, she said. Women have been actively involved in community work and counseling between the communities, with a focus on youth and children. However, although they have succeeded in solving community problems, they lack support. All their work is by self-initiative, she said. After ethnic conflicts in Kosovo in 2004, women were the first to reach out to other women in Serbian enclaves, but they often were treated as traitors. Women need to be equipped against extremist ideology, she said; mothers are best placed to identify early signs of extremism in sons or husbands. They need to be supported. But patriarchal attitudes limit their activity. They need better coordination with other agencies; capital support for activities; and better communication support from the media. Then they can develop their creativity, she said.
Mr. Engjëll Ndocaj, the deputy director of Albanian National Television, spoke about his life experience as a longtime journalist regarding interreligious tolerance in Albania. He recalled several events in Shkodra city where religious leaders showed courage in unity and forgiveness beyond religious denominations. This foundation of religious harmony and tolerance is tried by today’s events worldwide, particularly by the latest terror attacks. He concluded by bringing up the extraordinary example of Mother Teresa’s multifaceted life: a Catholic nun of Albanian descent, who lived for people in need in a foreign country of a different faith. Tolerance should be not just a nice word, he concluded. It means to live and to allow everyone to live in his or her own way and environment.
Mr. William Haines, a schoolteacher in Great Britain and former curriculum director of the International Educational Foundation in the former Soviet Union, explained to the participants how religious education in British schools covers all main religions. In the 1990s, he said, after the UPF Founders met with President Mikhail Gorbachev, IEF was invited by the Russian Ministry of Education to produce a series of textbooks on spiritual and moral education for adolescents, to address the crisis of values and meaning after the collapse of Marxism-Leninism. The curriculum eventually was used in thousands of schools, he said. In the first volume students are taught to recognize that morality is universal, to respect other faiths and be tolerant, and to be able to combat religious and secular extremism. The second volume deals with norms of human relationships, teaches students about traditional marriage and family practices and about sexuality, promoting chastity and personal integrity.