Why Humanitarian Efforts Need Religious Leaders and Interreligious Dialogue

Why Humanitarian Efforts Need Religious Leaders and Interreligious Dialogue June 14, 2016

By Faisal Bin Muaammar, Secretary General of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID)


Roman Yanushevsky / Shutterstock.com
Roman Yanushevsky / Shutterstock.com

Faced with the greatest humanitarian challenge in 75 years – and experts predicting more challenges ahead – the international community gathered at a milestone summit meeting last month in Istanbul to urgently find means to make humanitarian aid and work more effective and safer.

Less well known is a second milestone: not only was this the first World Humanitarian Summit, it was also one of the first times that religious leaders and faith-based organizations were equal partners at the table, offering best practice examples to support governments, UN agencies, humanitarian organizations and civil society. Inclusion of the religious communities is essential for developing implementable and sustainable action plans that can help those who protect the weak do their job in a world that needs humanitarian aid more than ever.

As the head of an organization that promotes interreligious and intercultural dialogue, I welcome the progress in bringing together those who wish to be part of the solution, yet have not been able to join the team. All too often, secular and religious humanitarian efforts are not designed and implemented in alignment.

Religion and religious institutions play an integral and vital role in the lives of the majority of the world’s population. Religion often is a source for moral guidance among people who currently live in areas that are facing conflict, or are troubled or vulnerable to division and communal tension. When humanitarian action is taken in troubled areas around the globe, responsible religious leaders can offer invaluable support and access to alleviate suffering.

Indeed, humanitarian relief and development are advocated in all religious traditions, which enjoin us to uphold the sanctity of human life. Protecting the vulnerable, supporting the poor, and improving the human condition are primary values in all religious traditions.

In regions where this aid is needed, religious leaders, who themselves are threatened by lethal violence, are actively working as role models of empathy and compassion. They display civil courage, giving their communities the strength to resist hate speech when silence appears safer in the face of intimidation.

Religious leaders are natural advocates of humanitarian values because they are rooted in spiritual teachings that are aligned with these values. They work face-to-face, on a personal level in their local communities. Religious leaders are trusted and respected in areas where the local population may not immediately cooperate with international humanitarian teams. Our experience bears this out – religious leaders often have greater reach into communities, especially those in developing countries, where international aid workers might be seen with suspicion.

Our message at the WHS was simple: When religious leaders and communities are brought together in collaboration through interreligious dialogue, they can strengthen humanitarian relief where it is needed most. Interreligious dialogue gives secular and religious humanitarians a powerful tool to address the world’s great humanitarian challenges.

There are already very encouraging signs of progress, such as the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD), under the leadership of the German Ministry for Development. This is a joint endeavor by several donor nations and international organizations, such as Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, the United Nations and the World Bank. The aim of PaRD is to increase cooperation between the international development community and religious actors, develop common ideas on how to improve cooperation with religious communities, promote interfaith dialogue, combat stereotypes and prejudice through education and the media, strengthen religious freedom and religious diversity, and promote human rights.

In our work in conflict areas, we at KAICIID see how inclusive interreligious dialogue platforms can bridge divisions in areas where these divisions are a source of obstruction for development and relief.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), one of the Centre’s priority areas, continuing distrust among and between various groups is hindering sustainable peace. Working with representatives from the Catholic, Evangelical and Islamic communities in CAR, KAICIID has been able to serve as a neutral facilitator in creating dialogue platforms where different groups can come together to discuss ways forward.

In Nigeria, another one of the Centre’s priority areas, there is a great deal of quality interreligious work taking place. One example is the programme led by Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, who are undertaking a long-lasting partnership to promote interreligious dialogue for conflict prevention and co-existence in Kaduna, in the north of the country. The Interreligious Mediation Centre they established – a great example of a dialogue platform – brings together Christians and Muslims to work towards long-term solutions.

There are innumerable other examples. Take KAICIID Fellow Sister Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, a Catholic Nun, who is implementing a social media training program for women in her local area in Nigeria to counter violence. Or KAICIID Fellow Dr. Mohammed Issa Ibrahim Al Sheraifin, who is offering dialogue and diversity training through Islamic texts for students from the Sharia faculty at the King Zain Alsharaf Association in Almafraq City in Jordan.

Dialogue can act as a key to unlock frozen relationships in conflict areas, as well as in areas recovering from strife. Given the extent of the challenges we face, we cannot afford to leave religious communities out of the team. Indeed, their engagement is vital to the long-term success of humanitarian relief and sustainable development.


Faisal Bin Muaammar Photo[2]Faisal Bin Muaammar is the Secretary General of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), an intergovernmental organization that was founded in 2012 by Austria, Saudi Arabia, and Spain, with the Holy See as Founding Observer. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Bin Muaammar held a number of senior positions in the Saudi Arabian administration and various nonprofit organizations. Among the highlights of a distinguished career, which has encompassed major roles in state government and international organizations, Mr. Bin Muaammar has served as Vice Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Advisor to the Royal Court of the then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and Deputy of the National Guard for Cultural & Educational Affairs. The Secretary General was instrumental in the foundation of the King Abdulaziz Public Library in 1987 and the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue in Riyadh (KACND) in 2003. He continues to work as Supervisor-General of both these organizations, as well as Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

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