Azhar Goraya, Mexico
Today, May 21, is the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.The day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity.
It is critical in our continually shrinking world to be tolerant and respectful of each other and the different value systems and traditions that have come to define so many peoples. This is necessary to avoid misunderstandings and hatred that can lead to conflict According to UNESCO, three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension.
UNESCO defines culture as,
‘the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs’ (UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity)
One of the great religious traditions that make us the cultural mosaic of our world is Islam. With over two billion followers, it is the second largest religion in the world. Islam is a universal religion, and therefore has adherents all over the world. Being a religion for all people, it is inherently tolerant of different traditions. The Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam and the word of God, affirms that God has created all people and has divided them into different peoples and tribes. Nevertheless, it tells us that there should be no discrimination because of this. According to God, the best amongst people are those who are most righteous (49:14).
Islam teaches that God has sent prophets amongst all the peoples of the world, and that amongst these prophets he also sent religious books to guide them. These prophets brought about great revolutions in the world, and today, the moral compass of the world is to a great extent guided by the teachings that these luminary figures preached and practiced.
Nowadays, there is a general decline in religious belief, and as a consequence, we see that there is less adherence to the generally held norms of morality and values. In his address. titled Islam and Europe – A Clash of Civilizations? delivered in Berlin on October 22, 2019, the Fifth Caliph and worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) spoke about this decline and the importance of maintaining culture and heritage. First, he outlined the difference between civilization and culture. He said:
‘Civilisation is the material, technological and intellectual development of a society, whereas its culture is based on the religious, moral and philosophical make-up of that society.
The difference between civilisation and culture can be easily understood if we look back to the early period of Christianity. At that time, the Roman Empire was at the peak of its powers and, even now, it is considered as one of the greatest civilisations in the history of the world. Due to their material prosperity, urbanisation and the way its territories were governed, the Romans were considered to be tremendously civilised and educated.
However, their sophistication did not equate to higher standards of morality; rather, it was during the early period of Christianity that their people were infused with a progressive culture. Christianity gave people guiding principles based on religion and morality, whilst the Romans prescribed worldly laws and limits.’
Then commenting on the importance of protecting one’s heritage and culture, he said:
‘So, as a Muslim leader, I believe you should protect your heritage and culture by focusing your energies on arresting the decline in religion and bringing people back towards faith and belief, whether that be Christianity, Judaism or any other. It should not be that in the name of advancement, those values and moral standards that have been part of society for many centuries are suddenly abandoned.’
Therefore, on this day, let us recognize the importance of coming together and appreciating the different cultural and religious practices that make up who we are as humans beings. These practices not only show us where we have been but chart a course for our future as well.
To read the full transcript of the address delivered by His Holiness (aba), follow the link below:
About the Author: Azhar Goraya is currently serving as an Imam in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.