Sixteen years ago, in January 2006, when we were then Speaker of the House, we organized a global interfaith dialogue here in Manila, which was attended by leaders of government, parliament, universities, civil society. , religion and faith-based organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. , on our humble invitation.
Among the political leaders from Asia and the international community who addressed the conference at the time were President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former President Fidel V. Ramos, President Jose Ma. Aznar of Spain, Prime Minister Belgian Wilfred Martens, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, Italian Parliament Speaker Ferdinando Casini and Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of Pakistan.
We helped launch at the United Nations (UN) in November 2004 the concept and practice of interfaith dialogue as a means of helping to resolve political-religious conflicts, strengthening religious moderates and isolating those who advocate terrorism and violent extremism in the name of religion. . Interfaith dialogue supports a global culture of peace and mutual understanding.
A Philippine-led initiative, the Interfaith Dialogue was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly over the Christmas holidays in December 2005. It was a major victory for the Philippines in international diplomacy and our country’s recognized contribution to making advance the cause of world peace. Since then, not only the United Nations and individual governments, but also civil society groups, have organized these dialogues at the local, national, regional and international levels.
To institutionalize the interreligious dialogue, we also proposed the creation of an Interfaith Council at the UN or at least of a “Unit” to be established in the United Nations system whose specific responsibility would be to organize, coordinate and to systematically supervise interreligious dialogues, as well as to evaluate their effectiveness. We were partially successful because there is now a “focal point” on interfaith dialogue in the office of the UN Secretary General.
Much earlier, as Speaker of the House, we remember addressing the UN Security Council and traveling long distances – meeting various political, parliamentary and religious leaders and speaking at international conferences. – to campaign and galvanize support for interfaith dialogue.
In November 2003, during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s State visit to Washington, we discussed the idea of interfaith dialogue with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Councilor to National Security Condoleeza Rice when President Arroyo and we spoke with them in the Oval Office of the White House.
We also had the personal support of our old friend Jean Ping, then President of the United Nations General Assembly. Jean Ping served his beloved country Gabon as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the African Union Commission and Chairman of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) when Gabon was a member of OPEC.
We remember being received by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the Royal Palace in Jeddah. The beloved Saudi King ruled for 10 years, from 2005 until his death in 2015. Saudi Arabia is considered the leader of Sunni Muslims.
The late King Abdullah realized more intensely the global threat of terrorism and violent extremism, as his kingdom finds itself in the vortex of a so-called “clash of civilizations”. He then initiated a series of “Interfaith Dialogues”, first in 2008, in the holy city of Mecca, between Sunni and Shiite clerics, then in the main western cities of Madrid, Geneva and the Vatican, among others. We had the honor to speak in the dialogues of Madrid and Geneva at the invitation of Rabitah of Saudi Arabia and the World Muslim League.
We also met with religious and political leaders from Iran, which represents Shia Muslims, to promote interfaith, intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue. In Tehran, we met with Presidents Mohammad Khatami, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Amadinejad, Speakers of Parliament Nategh Nouri, Haddad Adel, Ali Larijani and Vice President Aboutorabi Fard, among others. We have also written to Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran was the partner of the Philippines when we launched the Interfaith Dialogue at the UN, which was supported by some 50 other countries.
Iran’s fifth president, respected statesman Mohammad Khatami, was also known for his “dialogue among civilizations” proposal which was recognized by the UN in 2001.
We also humbly recall that when then Prime Minister of Spain José Luis Zapatero and today’s Prime Minister of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began to organize international group action against extremism through intercultural, interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue, we were among the first to speak on their behalf and to bring these proposals to the corridors of the United Nations.
Madrid has made a historically appropriate site for “interfaith dialogue”, for a conversation between Christendom and Islam. During their first 350 years of coexistence, from the beginning of the 8th century, Spain had been the region of their greatest contacts and interactions. Spanish Islam enriched both classical Arab civilization and emerging Christian culture in Europe. Toledo, then the Spanish capital, was the first center of transmission through civilizations of culture and learning, including the Greek and Roman heritage that the Arabs kept in translation throughout the Dark Ages from Europe.
By advocating interfaith dialogue, we have always emphasized that understanding between the great religions, cultures and civilizations is the anchor of a just and lasting world peace.
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