Interfaith Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief

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Interfaith Dialogue
Interfaith Dialogue

Humanists International thanks the Kingdom and Parliament of Morocco for hosting this event and the Inter Parliamentary Union for the invitation to this conference on Interfaith Dialogue: Working together for our common future.

I understand that this is the first time that humanists have been invited to participate in this important program. The invitation demonstrates a paradigm shift, a commitment to the promotion of a more inclusive interfaith dialogue. Freedom of religion or belief is critical to the realization of an inclusive interfaith communications. People cannot engage in any meaningful dialogue if they cannot freely believe and not believe, worship or not worship, if they cannot change their religion or belief, dissent or criticize religious teachings and doctrines without fear of being arrested, attacked or killed.

Dialogue is a discussion with free beings, not a talk with people who are being held hostage. People cannot dialogue if they are treated with indignity and disrespect; if they openly declare their non belief in God or Allah, in the prophet(s), in the holy books, holy men and women. Dialogue is an exercise of equals, not an exchange between a master and a slave. Dialogue is not a conqueror and conquered affair, or a dictate from the lord to the subject.

So an inclusive dialogue cannot be realized where those who belong to other religions and beliefs are treated as second class citizens, denied leadership positions, jobs, burials or given longer prison sentences.

Unfortunately, legislations that exclude people on religious or belief grounds undermine peace and inclusion of religious and non religious persons. Laws that criminalize blasphemy and apostasy are in force in different countries and have been deployed against minorities including real or imagined atheists, humanists and other non believers, denying them their right to freedom of religion or belief.

It is pertinent to note that we are all believers and non believers. We are all in the minority in some place, time and form.We must rally against the oppression and persecution of minority religious and belief groups.

In Nigeria, Islamic theocrats have used laws that criminalize blasphemy and apostasy to persecute, prosecute and sentence the president of the Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, to prison. They alleged that he made blasphemous posts that insulted the prophet of Islam. Some muslim clerics have been sentenced to death for blasphemy, and others have been extrajudicially murdered or arbitrarily detained. In 2014, when Bala renounced Islam, the family took him to a mental hospital.

In response to the tensed and volatile religious situation, the Humanists Association organized, with the interfaith mediation center in Kaduna, an interfaith/belief dialogue in 2021. It was the first interfaith belief dialogue in the history of the country. Many faith leaders who were invited boycotted the event. We were told that these faith leaders said they did not want to dialogue with non believers.

They only wanted to dialogue with those who belong to the Abrahamic faiths or those that they described as “People of the Book”. But some faith leaders attended. Some of those who were at the event refused to take a photograph with us. They opposed a media coverage of the dialogue. Humanists urge parliamentarians to help remove legal barriers to inclusive interfaith dialogue and the exercise of freedom of religion or belief by all citizens.

The Humanists International is committed to partnering with all parliamentarians and other stakeholders toward the realization of an inclusive interfaith dialogue, and the furtherance of freedom of religion or belief across the globe.

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