An Interfaith Gathering in Ukraine
By Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi addresses the interfaith conference
Dr. Siddiqi with Benazir Bhutto at the Kiev conference

On April 26-27, 2007 an interfaith conference on Peace and Tolerance among Jews, Christians and Muslims was held in the city of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It was organized by the World Congress of Christians, Jews and Muslims and the Global Foundation for Democracy and was hosted by the Ukrainian Interfaith Association and the Global Capital Associates. It was a select conference of about 100 people from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The participants were religious, political and business leaders from different parts of the world. For two days we discussed our ideas of peace and tolerance and ways to promote mutual understanding and resolution of conflicts in the modern world.
In my two talks delivered during the conference I mentioned that even though our religions differ in some beliefs and practices; our basic moral values are very similar. We all recognize the values of truth, honesty, justice, respect of human life, human dignity, freedom, equality, charity, generosity and loving for others what we love for ourselves. However, our problems are that many among us do not practice what we preach. We do not know each other and we do not care much about those who are suffering economic and political injustices and repressions in this world. Peace and tolerance in this world will come if we all can work sincerely and seriously to eliminate: false propaganda against each other, economic exploitation and extortion of the weak, and the excessive desire of some people and powers for political and military domination and hegemony. I suggested that the conference should affirm that:
1. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are inherently related. We share the most fundamental values of faith in the One Almighty whose name is Peace, who is merciful, compassionate and just. Our religions call upon their adherents to manifest these values in our lives and to advance them in relation to all persons.
2. We should reject the idea or theory of “Clash of Civilizations.” We must bring the civilizations and culture to concord, not conflict.
3. We should call upon Muslims, Christians and Jews to respect all human life, dignity and rights of all people.
4. We should call upon our governments, media and international institutions to show respect to the sacred personalities and sacred places and symbols of all people. We should condemn any desecration or destruction of sacred places of any religion and any incitement of hate against the people of faith.
5. We should emphasize urgent need for truthful and respectful education about each other's faith and tradition in our respective communities and schools; and should call upon those responsible to promote such education for peaceful co-existence.
6. We should reject all forms of anti-Semitism, Christian bashing and Islamophobia. We should call for intra-faith and interfaith dialogue to defuse all sectarian and religious tensions in the world.
7. We should condemn all those who commit the acts of terrorism, suicide bombing, racism, injustice or discrimination in the name of religion or any other name.
8. We must work to build bridges of understanding, respect, friendship and hope and must combat any and all incitement to hate, hostility and violence.
Ukraine is a beautiful country. It is located at the north of the Black Sea and is surrounded by Russia, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. It has a population of about 50 million people of different races and religions. It became an independent republic in 1991 after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Before going to Ukraine I did not know much about the Muslims of Ukraine; but I was very pleased to learn that Ukraine had a large Muslim community, estimated to be about two millions in number. The Crimean republic in the south, next to the Black Sea, was under the Ottoman rule in the 17th and 18th centuries and it has a large Tatar Muslim population. During the harsh Communist rule of Ukraine and Crimea, most people were not allowed to practice their religion freely. Now all religions are free and religious activities are thriving in the area. Every major city in Ukraine now has Islamic centers and mosques. There are about 90 mosques in Crimea. The Islamic Social Cultural Center in the city of Kiev is coordinating much of the activities. I visited the Islamic center and performed Jumu’ah prayer there with some other Muslim delegates of the conference.
After Jumu’ah we had a good session of questions and answers with the Muslims of that area. I was pleased to learn that some of my responses from the websites of Pakistan Link and Islamonline are translated into Russian and Ukrainian languages and were being used by Muslims in those areas. The Islamic center has a very active da’wah program and has translated many Islamic books into Russian and Ukrainian languages. They also have a weekly radio program that is aired from the Islamic center. They also have a very good and active Islamic website (www.arraid.org). By the blessings of Allah and through the efforts of these Muslims, many Ukrainians are learning about Islam and are joining the faith.
The Islamic brotherhood is amazing. You meet Muslims from totally different backgrounds and cultures and within minutes the bond develops and you feel as if you knew those people for a long time. Muslims of Ukraine were very hospitable, kind and respectful. They took us around, spent their time with us and showed us their city.
I pray to Allah to bless them, reward them, protect them and give them success in their good efforts. Ameen.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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