Overview of Speeches
- Judaism – Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber
- Judaism – Rabbi Jackie Tabik
- Hindusim – Umesh Chander Sharma
- Buddhism – Geshe Tashi Tsering
- Druze – Sheikh Moafaq Tarif
- Christianity – Archbishop Kevin McDonald
- Islam – Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad – Khalifatul Masih V(aba)
Religious leaders from various faiths took to the podium at the historic Conference of World Religions to explain what the role of God in the 21st century is according to their scriptures.
Judaism shares many similar teachings with Christianity and Islam and is 3500 years old, making it one of the oldest religions of the world. Jews believe in Mosesas and their holy book is the Torah.
Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber
Representative of the Chief Rabbi of Israel
Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber is a renown author and a Jewish scholar. He received his doctorate from University College in London and served as the Dean of the faculty of Jewish studies. He has taught at Bar-Ilan University in the departments of Jewish History and Talmud, since 1968. He serves as President of the Jesselson Institute of Advanced Torah Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is also the Rabbi of Congregation of Menachem Zion in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Your Holiness, the Khalifah of Islam, most distinguished representatives of the various faiths, esteemed participants in this very historic occasion, ladies and gentlemen, I do feel deeply honoured to have been invited to this very august meeting to represent the Israeli Rabbinate, and indeed the Jewish religion.
Judaism, as is well known, is the progenitor of the monotheistic religions, the so-called Abrahamic family; it posits a single Supreme Being who created the world, indeed the universe, and all that is in it, putting humankind on the world, not as masters, but as custodians, to tend it, to improve it, and preserve it for future generations. The Talmud tells us a story of a certain Rabbi who saw an old man planting a carob tree. ‘Old man’, he said to him, ‘why are you planting a carob tree that will only give its fruits in 70 years time?’ The old man replied, ‘My forefathers planted carob trees so that I could benefit from them. I shall plant a carob tree for my grandchildren.’ Hence, the involvement in conservation and ecology is not merely a matter of global interest, but it is also a divine directive. The concept of the Sabbath as a day of rest for all people constitutes a unique contribution to world civilization. Likewise, the notion of a Sabbatical year, when all debts are cancelled, giving an opportunity for the debt-ridden impoverished to reconstitute their lives, and when all privately owned land becomes public property for one year, creating a situation De jure of greater financial equality, and also a keener understanding that the land belongs not to humans but to God, this too is a spiritual message of the greatest import. The Hebrew Bible has numerous laws that may be divided into two major categories: the one-ritual laws, which refer primarily to Jews, and the other social-interpersonal laws, that constitute a blueprint for the morality and ethical behaviour of all humankind. Hence, charity, freedom, the dignity of the individual, the overriding value of human life, the care for the poor, the indigent and those less favoured by nature, are cardinal notions in Judaism, which have become universally accepted as humanitarian values. But Judaism sees them as divine directives. The Bible formulates two interrelated commandments: to love one’s God, and to love one’s neighbour, interrelated because all humans have in them a component of divinity. Hence, we respect the other and seek universal harmony in the spirit of these twin ‘loves’.
The Rabbis tell us that he who saves a single life it is as though he has saved the whole universe. So, a single individual is, in a sense, a microcosm of the whole universe, a microcosm that, as stated above, also has a component of divinity, or perhaps we should say, is infused throughout with the element of divinity. Each of us is a universe of its own, and when we view the other we are viewing yet another universe. Hence our care towards the other is our care towards its universe and its Supreme Creator, which both encompasses it as well as being contained within it. A true experiential realization of this truth creates for each and every one of us a tremendous duty of responsibility towards all that surrounds us.
Regretfully, we live in a world of ever-increasing secularism, on the one hand, and, as a sort of counter-reaction, a rapid growth of extremist and intolerant pietism. We live in a society where materialism is seen as a positive value of the highest order, and where the gap between the have and have-nots has reached terrifying proportions. In the name of progress, and comfort we are depleting the world’s natural resources, polluting our fresh-water assets, destroying our forests, and I hardly need to continue this litany of ecological maladies. We live in a world riven with political and religious strife and turmoil. The name of God and His messages are trampled underfoot in the name of rationalism and political convenience.
Let us return to a simple unsophisticated faith in the sanctity of God, man and His nature, and seek cures for the ills that plague our society: help, mutual respect and the legitimacy of pluralistic faith, thus ushering in a new vision of peace and harmony among all peoples.
We spoke of the tremendous duty of responsibility we bear towards one another. We pray to the Almighty that we may carry out this duty faithfully to the betterment of humanity and indeed of ourselves, and with God’s help we will surely succeed.”
Rabbi Jackie Tabik
Convenor of the Reform Movement Beit Din, Co-President of the World Congress of Faiths
Rabbi Jackie Tabik is a leading member of the Jewish community and joint president of the World Congress of Faiths (WCF). The World Congress of Faiths has its origins in the Congress, organised by Sir Francis Younghusband, which took place in 1936. The organisation is committed to respect the integrity of world faith traditions. It publishes journals and holds interfaith meetings to improve understanding on faith matters.
“First, let me say how honoured I am to have been invited to attend this gathering this evening, and I bring greetings from my Co-President, Reverend Marcus Braybrooke, who would have loved to have been with you, but could not make it and sent me in his place, so thank you very much!
The connections between the World Congress of Faiths and that event in 1924 are very close. The founder of the World Congress of Faiths, Sir Francis Younghusband attended that meeting in Imperial College, and perhaps it was that meeting that helped him along the way to found the World Congress. It was a strange root journey for Sir Francis Younghusband. He was a scion of the British Empire who had been sent out to help rule in India and Tibet, and while he was there he gained a different understanding of religion and spirituality. He came back and said that the religions of the East were like the beautiful mountains of Tibet, in comparison to what he felt the Church of England was at that time; the low foothills.
He also brought to the World Congress of Faiths a really important value that I would like to share with you this evening; he called it fellowship, and it means various different things as the years have gone by. To Sir Francis Younghusband, it didn’t just mean the fellowship that one gains from being in the company of just wonderful people, though that is part of what we seek in interfaith relationships; to get to know other people, to get to learn, to be excited about the differences between faiths, to be supportive of each other on our spiritual journeys through life. His notion of fellowship, though, went deeper; he wanted us to have an understanding of the oneness that lies behind all these differences, the oneness of creation, the oneness as the source of our spiritual desires, and this is what he brought, and I think in looking around the world today, if only we could all follow this value of being excited of the differences between faiths, being true to our own faiths but understanding and valuing the oneness behind all faiths as all of us of creatures of the oneness, the spirituality, the God that is there. And so I bring you greetings, and may you go from strength to strength, and as a rabbi I say to you, ‘mazel tov’; which is both saying wonderful that you have got this far, and good luck for the future, and thank you again very much indeed.”
The Bhagavad Gita, is one of many scriptures sacred to the Hindus. Hinduism has close to 900 million adherents worldwide and can be traced back to ancient Indian cultures along the Indus Valley. Hindus believe in a supreme God that is worshiped through various deities.
Umesh Chander Sharma
Chairman of Hindu Council UK
Mr. Umesh Chander Sharma has been actively involved in the community through various leadership roles and been instrumental in advancing the social, cultural and religious interests of the Indian and Hindu communities living in the UK. He is the Chairman of the Hindu Temple Trust and the Chairman of the largest Hindu umbrella body in the UK, the Hindu Council UK.
“His Holiness, faith leaders and political leaders, I am deeply honoured that I have been invited to address the conference, because many years ago when I visited Huzur Sahib [Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba] for the first time, I suggested Huzur Sahib to have these kinds of conferences where we can openly discuss about our problems and bring faiths together, bringing communities together, and to my surprise Huzur Sahib told me: ‘Umesh, these things are happening for so many years, come next time.’ So, I am glad I have been able to attend all those conferences, and today I am addressing the conference as Chairman of the Hindu Council UK.
Today’s topic is very interesting – God in the 21st century. It means that at least one thing is sure, that all of us, we believe that God exists. And the other thing which is very clear, is that all the political leadership and other groups, they have failed to bring peace and, harmony among the communities, or in the world as a whole. You can see conflicts all over the place, and for one reason or the other, people don’t believe political leaders. So, I think this is the time when we have to come back to our faiths and when I say ‘faith’, faith is to believe 100%, we cannot choose part of what our Messiah said, what our books are saying, we have to follow them 100%.
Today, although in the Hindu religion there are many scriptures, many sayings, many books; I have chosen Bhagavad Gita as our guideline and our guiding light, because Bhagavad Gita is the scripture which Lord Krishna himself told Arjuna, when Arjuna was in a state of deep, deep depression. He was not very sure what to do, what decision to make, and at that particular time lord Krishna guided him. I have one verse from Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna says: ‘Always think of one. Become my devotee. Worship me. And offer your homage unto me, thus you will come to me without fail. I promise you this because you are my very dear friend.’ This is verse 18.65. Because Gita’s message is for the whole universe, it is not for Indian communities, not for India, it is for the universe, because at no stage has lord Krishna mentioned about Hindus, he has spoken about mankind because Gita will tell you what is the aim of life, what is happiness, what is death; all these problems today are caused by ignorance.
If we follow the path of lord Krishna’s teachings, all the problems which we are facing can be addressed, because Gita is the message of oneness, Gita is message for love and service to those who need it. Gita is not for one community, or for one aim.
I am very, very thankful that His Holiness has provided us a platform like this today, where we can hear and share our faiths, and our thoughts, but one thing I would say that when we come back to our devotees, when we talk to them, we should lead by example. They will only listen when they see, like Huzur Sahib’s example, that he is leading by example. He means what he says, and he says it openly, and they do it practically. With these words I thank again, and extend my best wishes to the Conference.
Buddhism has attracted 376 million followers worldwide and follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism focuses on spiritual development and the ultimate attainment of Nirvana.
Geshe Tashi Tsering
A representative of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
Geshe Tashi Tsering represented His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and shared a special message from him. Geshe Tashi Tsering was born in west Tibet and in 1974 he became the first young man to join the Sera Mey Monastery. He studied there and gained his Geshe Lharampa Degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. He came to Europe in 1991 and taught in monasteries in France and the United Kingdom. He is the resident teacher in Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London.
“Your Holiness and distinguished guests, it is a great honour and I am humbled be here with you and to read His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s message:
“All religions teach the virtues of love, altruism and patience, therefore, even though they may hold different philosophical points of view, we should respect them all. Every religious tradition has made a significant contribution to the humanity for centuries past. In the future too, such traditions can help us promote peace in our own respective communities and bring about harmony and understanding between neighbours. The important thing is for all believers to put the teachings of their respective religious traditions into practice sincerely in their day-to-day lives. Essentially, all religions teach us to discipline and transform ourselves so that we can achieve inner peace and a kind heart. In this Era of rapid advancement, material development has brought with it an undue emphasis on external progress. As a result, we often forget to foster the most basic human need for kindness, love, cooperation and caring. Yet, every development of human society is founded on such a basis. So preserving our essential humanity involves cultivating a sincere responsibility for our fellow human beings.
Today, our interdependent world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. Many of our world’s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us altogether as a human family. We forget that despite the superficial differences within us, people are same in their basic wish for peace and happiness. Conflict in the name of religion occurs when people fail to grasp true intent of their respective faith.
For some time I have felt that there are measures that we can adopt to help us nurture understanding and harmony among our different religious traditions, and thus promote peace and security in society. We should convene regular inter-faith meetings among leaders of different religious traditions so that we can share their spiritual experiences and insights. We should also promote meetings of scholars to discuss and study what they have in common rather than what is different among various religious traditions. Finally, and perhaps most important for the far-reaching effect it can have, we should encourage contacts among the followers of different religions and visit to each other’s places of pilgrimage and prayer. I firmly believe that if these steps are taken, the general public will develop respect for other’s religious traditions. This, in turn, will help promote harmony in society.
It is this context that I give my whole-hearted support to the Conference of World Religions being convened in London on 11th February 2014 by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, UK. I believe that meetings of this sort have a powerful symbolic effect. The symbolic effect of the leaders of many religions coming together and speaking from a shared platform sets a strong example to the millions of religious followers all over the world. It signals our need to reach out to each other and work for the common human goal of peace and happiness. On this auspicious occasion I offer my greetings to everyone attending and participating in this event and I pray that fruits of your exchanges will be far-reaching and long lasting.”
Sheikh Moafaq Tarif
Spiritual Leader of the Druze Community of Israel
Sheikh Moafaq Tarif is the Spiritual Head of the Druze Community in Israel. Sheikh Tarif is a descendant of the Tarif family which has been leading the Druze Community in Israel since 1753. He inherited his role as the leader of the Druze Community from his grandfather Sheikh Amin Tarif in 1993 and has responsibility for the Community’s holy sites in Israel.
Translated from the Arabic
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.
Praise be to Allah and peace be upon all the Prophets and Messengers.
Distinguished religious leaders and guests,
It is a great honour to stand in front of you on behalf of myself and on behalf of the people of the Unitarian Druze Community in Israel; a sect which has strong relations and close ties with all sects and religions in the Holy Land, which is a peace-loving land, the supporter of peace, the Promised Land, the cradle of faith and the home and place of the spiritual journey of all the Prophets.
Dear brothers and sisters, everyone who reads the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible in its Old and New Testaments, will find that the heavenly religions urge to unite towards the Great Creator and all of these religion’s followers recognise the power of God over His creation, and believe in judgment day and that Allah the Almighty has created human beings and given them nearness and honour. All these heavenly religions agree on the Unity of God the Almighty as everyone is created equally, despite the differences in colour, gender, religion and belief.
Dear guests, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you.”
How strange is it that some people differentiate between human beings and his fellow brothers while God has created man in His own image and exalted him far above all other creatures, and sent prophets and messengers to invite people to worship Him and prevent them from fighting each other; as He forbade killing and the differentiation between human beings and to judge them according to his religion or belief, as everyone who believes in God is a brother to his fellow brother, who believes in the same God. He has the full right to profess and exercise his religion freely, as it is stated that ‘there is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab except in piety.’
My brothers, some wonder whether the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Creator of the universe, exists or not and what the signs are of His presence and existence.
Allah the Almighty sent His Prophets and Messengers to unite people and to enable them live according to His commandments, after creating the universe out of nothing. Every sensible human being should clearly conclude that a Supreme Engineer is behind its design, as each physical body consists of a head without which nothing functions and operates, whether the body belongs to a human or to an animal. As the physical head is the summit of everything so it is the Supreme Being, who is called Al-Bari, who is the summit of this universe.
Dear brothers, I always believe in good relations which exist between people in our country, by Allah’s Grace and Wisdom, in addition to the wisdom of the religious, social and political leaders in leading daily life and creating mutual understanding and cooperation between all the religious groups. This wisdom was needed to establish harmony among all people. It was a positive factor to establish freedom of religion and belief, and a motivation for tolerance and love between human beings and his fellow brother, and between servants and God, the Lord of all worlds.
All the heavenly messages are based on sacredness, nobility and purification; all those who believe in God believe in brotherhood of nations, justice and pure faith in God. The pure objective of all religions is reformation, creation of peace, love and understanding and all the ways and methods in implementing it.
Unfortunately, we observe that some people attempt to misinterpret and misquote anything related to religion, which transforms a merciful religion into a merciless religion of intolerance. They will forbid what is allowed and allow what is forbidden.
Every religion urges goodness, harmony, tolerance, love and brotherhood, and does not differentiate between the believer and his fellow brother and calls for a mutual respect, regardless of differences in belief or opinion.
Dear brothers, I am really grateful to His Holiness, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, and also the Amir of this Community in Israel, Mohammad Sharif Odeh and to all of its members for inviting me today. I am congratulating you for this impressive Conference of World Religions, which is a part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim UK’s centenary celebrations. This community which we respect and we are so proud of; we have strong ties with its members and Amir in the Holy Land, it is an honour for us to participate in your celebrations and it will be an honour for us as well if you will share with us our different celebrations and occasions. I wish that today’s conference will be successful and its objectives will be achieved.
Dear brothers, let us all, with the help of Allah and by following the commandments of all prophets and messengers of all religions, join our hands in denouncing violence, aggression and evil acts in all forms and shapes, and let us do our best to bring hearts together and to sow the seed of love to promote just and comprehensive peace, not only in the East but all over the world. The Earth is vast and spacious; and there is a place and abode for everyone.
Let us all, as religious and political leaders and as believers, hold fast to the rope of Allah to establish love, brotherhood, harmony and peace among people, in order to develop unity and to create a society which is like one family. ‘And hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided’, ‘And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and transgression’, ‘blessed are the Peacemakers for they are called the sons of God’.
Finally, I extend on behalf of the Unitarian Druze Community, our warmest congratulations to our brothers—members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community— with regard to this special and honourable event wishing you the best, and to all participants in this conference wishing that God would help and guide us to the ways of good and to the right path, and lead us to the best ways of taking care of the followers of our religions and sects. The matter will ultimately lead to the best of the world.
Peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all!
The Catholic Church has more than 1 billion followers around the world. Catholicism is one of the oldest religious institutions in the Western world. The Catholic Church varies from other Christian denominations based primarily upon its structure.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald
Catholic Church UK
Archbishop Kevin McDonald was ordained as a priest in 1974 and his first appointment was to All Saints, Stourbridge, in Worcestershire. He worked as an official at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in Rome, where he had special responsibility for Anglican and Methodist relations. In 1993 he returned to England and was the Parish Priest of English Martyrs, Sparkhill from 1993-1998. This is mostly a Muslim area and it was here that he developed his interest in inter-religious dialogue. He was ordained as the Bishop of Northampton May 2001 and went on to serve as the Archbishop of Southwark from 2003-2009. He leads the UK Catholic Church’s work on interfaith relations.
“Your Holiness and distinguished guests, I am both honoured and grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church at this Conference of World Religions, organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in this, your centenary year. It is a sign of the times that a gathering of this kind should take place, and it is a reason to be grateful for the times in which we live.
The heart and the centre of Christian faith is, of course, the person of Jesus Christ. One of the most vital tasks of the first followers of Christ – the people who began to celebrate Easter, to celebrate the resurrection of their Lord from the dead – was to discern and decide under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the set of books which were to be recognised as the normative witness to their Risen Lord. It was eventually settled over a long period of time, and the result of that process of discernment was what we call the Canon of Sacred Scripture; and at the heart of it, of course, are the gospels. These are words of Jesus to his disciples, taken from St Matthew’s gospel:
‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again. You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in the sight of men, so that seeing your good works, they may give the praise to our Father in heaven.’
And in St John’s gospel, he says:
‘Peace I bequeath to you,
my own peace I give you
a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.’
It was in obedience to the Lord’s words and, I believe, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that in 1986 Pope John Paul II convened the gathering of Christian leaders and representatives of other religions to pray and witness to peace together in Assisi. I see today’s meeting as another moment in the contemporary process of the coming together of religions in the cause of peace and justice. We would all explain our reasons for responding to the call to be here together in somewhat different ways, shaped by our own deepest convictions and beliefs. I am convinced, however, that the contribution that each of us has to make and, most crucially, the contribution we can and must make together, is vital for the peace in the world.
As Christians, we recognise Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, as the Prince of Peace. We pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and to guide is in the way of peace. But Christians cannot, and do not, stand alone in the cause of peace, but must stand in solidarity with all people of faith. Last June, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, who is Pope Francis’s principal advisor on interfaith matters, visited several communities of other religions in this country, and in our dialogue we focused on the theme of peace from different perspectives. What struck me most as I listened to contributions from representatives of different religions was that consistently there was a clear connection between prayer and peace. Men and women become people of peace precisely through prayerful fidelity to the religious truth in which they believe. That is how it works. We can be peacemakers if we personally receive the gift of peace.
And the reasons we need to come together is that our witness to peace will be all the more effective if it can be a common and concerted witness. When Pope Benedict addressed politicians in Westminster Hall in 2010, he spoke of the vital contribution that religions must make to the Common Good, to identifying and promoting the values that underpin our lives, that underpin social harmony and peace in our communities, and in our world. Christian values have created the moral framework for our social life in this country, but as Christian faith loses its purchase in society, our moral compass falters and we lose direction. Changing that situation is a task for all faith communities who live together in this country. We must be in solidarity, not in conflict, and the terrible events we watch unfolding in Syria and elsewhere should act as a stimulus for taking that forward. To me, one of the most shocking and discouraging things in our world today is to see people of religion at odds with one another.
It is often said that Britain is now a secular country, but that is rather simplistic. In Britain today we welcome people from all over the world – people of different races and different faiths. What I want to say is that it is vital that together, we identify the shared values that can be the basis of a peaceful society, and a more peaceful world. And I suggest that in Britain we have a special responsibility for contributing to this process, because this is a fundamentally tolerant society. We are free to learn and receive from one another, and to contribute to the common good together. I see today’s meeting as another opportunity to learn that lesson afresh, to commit ourselves to peace together, and to do that for ourselves for our society and for our world. Our theme today is ‘God in the 21st century.’ I believe that all of us, from the vantage points of our own faith communities, should be able to see our coming together in the cause of peace as being an opportunity to be part of God’s purposes in our times. Thank you!
I also have a message from my superiors. This is from the Vatican, specifically from Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:
“On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I am grateful for the opportunity to direct this by my prayerful greeting to the Centenary Conference of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, especially as representatives of different faiths gathered to consider peace.
I make my own and share with you, the words which Pope Francis addressed, on 20th March, to representatives of the world’s religions who gathered for the inauguration, on the previous day, of his ministry as a Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter.
With the Holy Father, I pray that your conference increase awareness of ‘the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect. There is much that we can do to benefit the poor, the needy and those who suffer, and to favour justice, promote reconciliation and build peace. But before all else we need to keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and to counter the dominance of a one-dimensional vision of the human person, a vision which reduces human beings to what they produce and to what they consume: this is one of the most insidious temptations of our time.’
Rather, may love, that ‘extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace’ and which ‘has its origins in God,’ inspire our shared commitment to promoting the justice and peace of the whole human family.
Finally, I wish to commend your gathering and deliberations of God’s guidance and inspiration. May His peace be with you all!”
Cardinal Peter K.A Turkson,
1. Holy Qur’an, Sura Al-Hujurat, Verse 14.