Representatives of world religions meet at Prague Castle

(from left to right) President Vaclav Havel, Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali, Dalai Lama, photo: CTK

Following the Forum 2000 conferences that took place in Prague between 1997 and 2001, Czech President Vaclav Havel and the Forum 2000 Foundation have decided to launch a new initiative called "Bridging Global Gaps" that is aimed at promoting dialogue between various players in today's globalised world. The first event to be part of this project was a round-table discussion with representatives of world religions. My colleague, Dita Asiedu, was at the meeting on Wednesday and is here now to tell us what was discussed. Hello Dita. First of all, who took part in the discussion?

(from left to right) President Vaclav Havel, Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali, Dalai Lama, photo: CTK
Dita Asiedu: Well, the star of the meeting was the Dalai Lama who was invited by his old friend, President Havel. Mr Havel, of course was also at the meeting. Representing Japanese Buddhism was Archabbot Kakuhan Enami, Czech Rabbi Ephraim Karol Sidon - who is also a writer - was there to represent Judaism, and then there were Hans Ucko - an ordained minister of the Church of Sweden, and Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali from the Iraqi opposition. Tomas Halik - the renowned Czech priest and Professor at Charles University hosted the meeting.

Now you said that the Dalai Lama was the star of the meeting?

DA: Yes, he certainly was. The roundtable discussion focused on "The Role and Responsibility of Religion in the Contemporary World" and the Dalai Lama, who spoke on the subject for over half-an-hour, made it clear he believed that religion still had a significant role to play in today's modern world.

Dalai Lama: "I feel that in spite of material development, human faith and human belief still have a very important role."

DA: The Dalai Lama also suggested several ways of increasing religious dialogue, including multi-religious pilgrimages to the holy sites of different faiths:

DL:"We would go together as a pilgrimage and not as tourists and show our devotion and respect to the other traditions."

DA: In fact all the members of the panel agreed that there must be dialogue between the different representatives of world religions. As far as Islam is concerned, Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali, pointed out that most people have been misled by the recent acts of terrorism into thinking that the Muslim community does not tolerate other beliefs:

Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali:"The Koran specifically discusses the need to recognise different sources of knowledge, the need to increase dialogue and mutual understanding and the need to respect others. So, with roots such as these, we as Muslims have the religious and theological basis to support interfaith dialogue."

Did you ask any of the members of the panel how they liked the meeting after it was over?

DA: Yes. They all thanked President Havel for giving them the opportunity to take part in such a meeting. I think Reverend Ucko's words represented what everyone felt:

Hans Ucko:"I believe much in multi-disciplinary ways of addressing issues so I am always in favour of not only religious people meeting but people of different walks of life and I think it's a wonderful thing that the president of a country feels committed to such a thing. I think this is laudable and should be listened to in other parts of the world. I think that such meetings have a ripple effect and I hope that each in our own communities can work on deepening insights that we have learned."

Do you have any words of criticism from the meeting, Dita?

DA: Well, I think that there were some topics on the list of discussion that were not addressed. How globalisation has influenced the relationship among different religions, for example. Or what can be done to minimise the abuse of religious ideas and symbols used for political purposes. There were a few other questions that remained open. Of course, the Middle East conflict, Northern Ireland, or the disagreement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir where religious differences all play a big role - were mentioned but not addressed in detail. Basically, the message that all members of the panel had was that their religions are open to so-called interfaith dialogue. But I must add that Wednesday's meeting was only the first of a number of similar discussions that are to follow regularly and President Havel has a clear vision of what they should entail, so I'm confident that there is still much good to come of the initiative.