(ANTIMEDIA) Amid continuously mounting tensions and division throughout the world, religious leaders of various faiths recently came together to issue a plea to their followers: make friends with those who hold beliefs different from your own.
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“Our advice is to make friends to followers of all religions,” said Ayatollah Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani, a senior Shia Muslim cleric in the U.K., in a video recently posted to Youtube. It is accessible in 16 languages.
The Make Friends channel seeks to foster global community and tolerance by signaling to adherents of different faiths that it’s okay, if not vital, to build connections with others.
“We are called, as we like to say, to look into one another’s eyes in order to see more deeply and in order to recognize the beauty of God in every living human being,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity,” reads the caption accompanying the three-minute video, which was released at a press conference in London last week.
The video is a compilation of individual religious leaders — from Buddhism to Islam to Judaism and Christianity — promoting this message. Those individual interviews are also available on Make Friends Youtube channel.
“Personal contact is believed to counter misperceptions, prejudices and distrust,” says a press release issued with the premiere of the video and announcement of the campaign, which is sponsored by the Elijah Interfaith Institute. That release summarized the sentiments of various leaders:
“Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka demonstrate how their religious experiences have been enriched by their interfaith friendship. Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Allam stresses not to focus on differences between religious groups. The Dalai Lama calls for a deepening of spiritual friendship. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says “One of the wonderful things about spending time with people completely unlike you is that you discover how much you have in common. The same fears, hopes and concerns.”
“Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelén stresses the importance for society: ‘This should start a process that will take prejudices away and where new insights and hope is born.” The Archbishop of Canterbury adds that ‘It’s not complicated, start with sharing what we all share, which is the pleasure of conversation.’”
The full list of leaders is as follows:
“Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I – Grand Mufti Shawki Allam – Pope Francis – H.H. the Dalai Lama – Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – Ayatollah Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani – Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh – Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma)
– Archbishop Justin Welby – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – Archbishop Antje Jackelén – Ayatollah Sayyid Hassan Al-Qazwini –Rabbi Abraham Skorka – Ven. Khandro Rinpoche”
According to Prof. Gregory M. Reichberg of the Norwegian Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), who attended the press conference in London, said misunderstanding and hating other religions “sets us up for a bad dynamic and tends to produce what we fear.”
“That misunderstanding stems from the lack of contact between religious people of different faiths, fueling prejudices and social tension,” says the press release.
It’s admittedly undeniable that the institutions many of these leaders represent are responsible for grave injustices, both currently and throughout human history.
Yet as Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute and the chief organizer of the joint statement, said during the press conference:
“We cannot deny that in the books of many religions you can find texts that are
not very open, even hostile, to people of other faiths. Therefore, when the world’s most important leaders call for friendship, they are in fact affirming a particular way of practicing religion and rejecting another.”
However, whatever one’s feelings on religious institutions’ past transgressions and the value of religion in general, the power of religion is impossible to dismiss. A 2010 Pew Research survey found roughly 84% of the world’s population — or 5.8 billion people out of 6.9 billion — adheres to some form of religious belief.
Martijn Lampert, head researcher at Glocalities, which contributed research to Motivaction, a data analysis firm located in the Netherlands, said at the press conference that “a message promoting friendship across religions is likely to resonate with the majority of religious people around the world.”
He based his statement on a recent survey he conducted that “found that people of all faiths are generally open to people with other beliefs.”