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Sheikh Nahyan: Bridges of communication vital for productive interfaith dialogue

2014-04-21 16:33:12

WAM ABU DHABI, 21st April, 2014 (WAM) — Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, today inaugurated a round-table preparatory conference in Abu Dhabi as part of preparations for the G20 Interfaith Summit, to be held at Griffith University, Brisbane, later this year.

The Abu Dhabi round table is being organised by the Griffith University, the Australian Government and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development as part of a series being held all over the world in advance of the Summit being held from November 16th to 18th.

Below is a transcript of Sheikh Nahyan’s speech in full: “Dear Friends, Distinguished Guests from abroad, ladies and gentlemen: This is the question: What can we in the United Arab Emirates contribute to an interfaith discussion that centres on us? This is the answer: A great deal.

The November conference in Brisbane aims to reconcile two undeniable facts: Fact One: Scores of different religious and ethnic groups live on our planet.

Fact Two: Those groups all want to retain their beliefs unimpeded as they pursue their own economic well-being.

We in the United Arab Emirates know those facts, and we are reconciling them. Our story is the story that the Brisbane conference wishes to discuss. All of us who live and work here can tell that story. Each of us is a vital part of it.

Simply consider the composition of the participants in this symposium. People from many different ethnic cultures, people from many different nations, people with many different native languages, we are a microcosm of the population of the United Arab Emirates. Here we all are Muslim and Hindu, Christian and Buddhist and Sikh and who knows what else? People with different beliefs among us and with different beliefs even within our own communities.

How do we manage? How do we maintain our individual beliefs in this bewilderingly global community and at the same time enhance our economic well-being? In the Qur’an, God tells all human beings: “O people! We have created you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The United Arab Emirates understands that explanation of difference and that command to “know one another.” Our country also takes to heart the wisdom of the line from Proverbs that some of you know well [and I quote], “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Our attitude toward the world’s various religious faiths constitutes a key element in the vision of the United Arab Emirates. Our vision is a global vision because our country is a global country. We want our global community to prosper, not perish.

The rulers of the United Arab Emirates understand and embrace the message conveyed by His Highness the President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan who said that “the United Arab Emirates has relied, and will continue to rely, on the rich and diverse contributions of its true wealth, its people, to guarantee its prosperity.” Our leadership knows its true wealth and accepts the obligation to respect and understand the many different religious beliefs of the people living in our country. I believe that each of you can provide evidence that the leaders of the U.A.E. are fulfilling that obligation.

The U.A.E. vision recognises, as does the vision of all believers, that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We share the religious attitude, the essence of which is the conviction, to use the words of the philosopher Ronald Dworkin, “that inherent, objective value permeates everything, that the universe and its creatures are awe-inspiring, that human life has purpose and the universe order.”

Each individual must work out the challenge of the religious attitude for himself or herself, an attitude that usually leads each individual to a specific religion. Let there be no doubt that we live together harmoniously in this country because we recognise that individual responses do indeed differ one from the other. We daily see the actions of unique individual men and women who hold a wide variety of religious beliefs.

We routinely observe that those individuals habitually act as good human beings. Good human beings work for peace and cooperation, prosperity, and the well-being of society. Good human beings respect one another and seek to understand each other’s good motives, whatever their cultural differences and personal beliefs may be.

Mutual understanding and respect for people of various faiths and ethnicities have enabled the U.A.E. to become a destination desired by residents and visitors from all over the world.

Citizens of other countries are comfortable trading with the U.A.E., visiting the U.A.E. and living and working in the U.A.E.. Their comfort often results from their recognition of universal virtues demonstrated by Emiratis with whom they come in contact.

The clearest way to appreciate the paramount virtues valued by Emiratis is to examine the well-documented actions of a single person whom all Emiratis admire. That person is the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the leader who united the Arab Emirates. Seven virtues characteristically marked his actions, and they identify him today. Sheikh Zayed exhibited the virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Prudence, Temperance, Loyalty, Justice, and Generosity.

Emiratis know Sheikh Zayed as a wise, courageous, prudent, temperate, loyal, just, and generous person. Likewise, knowledgeable global citizens identify him with those virtues and are prone to expect those virtues in all Emiratis. Ever eager to embrace their heritage, Emiratis cultivate those virtues, and they constitute an essential identity of the Emirati culture.

But Emiratis are not alone in seeking to act in accord with those virtues. Those virtues are universal. People of all religious beliefs who live and work in our country admire and cultivate those virtues. They are bridges that connect the many elements of our country’s global population. When Sir Isaac Newton, the great mathematician and philosopher, said that, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges,” he implied the fundamental attribute of bridges. Bridges enable interaction and productive dialogue. People cannot talk through walls.

We can all talk about wisdom, courage, prudence, temperance, loyalty, justice, and generosity. We can all look for those virtues in strangers, and we can see them in their actions. We can engage the unknown through the recognition and understanding of those universal virtues. They are bridges that accommodate our individual beliefs. They allow us to talk with one another and to understand and appreciate our differences. They allow us to work together.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Work may be essential to our project. Whatever our different beliefs may be, we are all working to improve our economic well-being. Our common goal helps us to recognise our common virtues and, hence, helps us to work effectively together.

Our project requires constant attention. In particular, our schools and universities, both religious and secular, must combat ignorance and promote understanding through the scholarship of our faculties and through their teaching of our students.

Free and open discussion must prevail. Curiosity must be honoured. Faculties must encourage students to engage the unknown. Human history reveals that men and women of all religions, ethnicities, and cultures have long been threatened by the unknown. It has too often been the case that many of “us” have known very little about “them”. Even in today’s world of easy travel, instantaneous communication, and almost unlimited access to information, alarming numbers of us humans remain extremely parochial, indifferent to other points of view, resistant to new knowledge, content in our ignorance. Fears of the unknown breed hostility and often lead to armed conflict. Fear and ignorance destroy civilizations.

Our founder and moral paragon, Sheikh Zayed, wisely likened education to “a lantern which lights your way in a dark alley”. That lantern burns brightly in the U.A.E. and shines its light throughout our global community. We know that without education we will build faulty bridges if we build them at all. We will not appreciate our own strengths and will remain ignorant of the strengths of others. We will not talk. We will not prosper.

Today, in the United Arab Emirates, we prosper because we talk to each other. We seek to know and respect the many people of many beliefs who work with us in building a prosperous global economy. We all freely hold our various beliefs and respect each other for the universal virtues that we all value. We in the U.A.E. have a good story to tell in Brisbane. It is a story that demonstrates that common progress is possible when people of different faiths and backgrounds come to know one another as equals, when dialogue and understanding replace pre-conceived biases and emotional over-reactions, and when tolerance and sensitivity are values that define civilized behaviour.

My best wishes to all of you for a productive and successful symposium WAM/AAMIR/Moran