Astana, 11 October 2023 (TDI): The opening ceremony of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Maulen Ashimbayev, Head of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World & Traditional Religions delivered a speech on the occasion. Following is the text of his speech;

Dear participants of the Secretariat!

Esteemed guests!

On behalf of the Secretariat and myself, I sincerely congratulate you on the twentieth meeting of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions!

During this time, the Forum has become an important platform for global interreligious and inter-civilizational dialogue.

The Forum has also made a great contribution to popularizing the culture of mutual respect, peace, and harmony.

Over the past twenty years, leaders of world and traditional religions, state and public figures, and representatives of international organizations have provided significant support to the initiatives of Kazakhstan on the development of interreligious dialogue.

These leaders made a great contribution to the realization of the mission and goals of the forum.

Therefore, we express our special gratitude to all participants of the Congress.
Today, the meetings of the Secretariat have become an important part of the work of the Congress.

Our meetings are always based on the principles of trust and openness.

Constructive discussion of the most pressing issues has become a good tradition.

28 delegations from 22 countries are in Astana to participate in the XXI meeting of the Secretariat of the Congress.

Among them are guests who have participated in previous Congresses and meetings, as well as newcomers visiting the capital of Kazakhstan for the first time.

We are glad to see all of you in this hall. A warm welcome to all!

In general, our meetings serve as an opportunity to determine the direction for realizing the ideas and objectives of the Congress.

Therefore, I hope that today’s meeting of the Secretariat will be fruitful and productive.

Dear participants and guests!

Over the past two decades, seven substantial and representative Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions have been held in the capital of Kazakhstan.
Hundreds of meetings, round tables, and other events have been held in many countries under the aegis of the forum. More than 30 agreements on cooperation with various international structures have been signed.

These are the quantitative outcomes of the Congress’s work.

However, additionally important are the qualitative results that have been achieved through our joint efforts.

Firstly, for 20 years our Congress has served as a unique dialog platform, uniting both the primary figures and the most authoritative representatives of all world and traditional religions.

Last year, more than 100 delegations from 50 countries participated in the VII Congress.

We warmly remember are deeply grateful for the visits to Kazakhstan by Pope Francis, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, as well as distinguished guests from Russia, Israel, China, India, the United States, Mongolia, Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus, among other regions.

The VII Congress became an event of global significance that drew the attention of the entire world.

Secondly, when we talk about the results of the Congress, it is important to take into account the history of its origin.

After the horrific terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, humanity was on the verge of a civilizational split.

The Congress of Spiritual Leaders, convened in response to this threat, was one of the first venues where esteemed representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and other traditional religions met around the same table.

The peaceful and respectful dialogue of spiritual leaders clearly demonstrated that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with the true essence of religion.

Today, we can assert that thanks to the wisdom of world religious leaders, humanity at the onset of the 21st century has successfully avoided the “clash of civilizations” scenario.

A subsequent significant achievement of the Congress is its considerable contribution to the establishment and flourishing of global interreligious dialogue.

Many were skeptical during the initial meetings of spiritual leaders in Astana. They doubted the potential and importance of establishing a dialogue among religious leaders.

They were profoundly mistaken.

Today, interreligious dialogue has become not just a reality, but an important factor in international relations.

The signing of the Document on Human Fraternity between the Holy See and Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Meccan Declaration, the opening of the Abraham Family House in the United Arab Emirates, and many other events uniting representatives of different religions and confessions serve as compelling evidence of this.

As President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Kazakhstan promotes interreligious and interfaith dialogue as integral aspects of a culture of peace.

This signifies our country’s contribution to the constructive development of international relations.

Moreover, we also deeply appreciate the contribution of the Congress to the harmonious development of our own multi-confessional society.

The course of history has shaped Kazakhstan to become a home to representatives of more than 100 ethnic groups belonging to 18 different religions and confessions.

We are grateful to the participants of the Congress for supporting our efforts to strengthen inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony in Kazakhstan.

Your Excellencies!

While religious leaders demonstrate an example of successful dialogue and mutual understanding, disagreements and conflicts are increasing on the world stage.

We see the growth of geopolitical rivalry between major powers and the erosion of the international security system.

To our deep regret, attempts to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and other conflict zones have not yet yielded tangible results.

We are all concerned about the major escalation in the Middle East and the heightened Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has caused many civilian casualties.

In these circumstances, we urge the pursuit of political avenues to address these issues peacefully, refraining from measures that could lead to further escalation and expansion of the conflict.

Simultaneously, we see that the effectiveness of international efforts to address global strategic challenges is diminishing.

Amidst the prevailing severe crises, issues of sustainable development, climate change, biological threats, nuclear disarmament, inequality, and other fundamental challenges are being relegated to the background.

The danger of these existential threats is growing. Addressing them requires the joint efforts of the entire global community.

The rise in “hate speech” remains a serious threat.

The actions of provocateurs who try to manipulate the religious feelings of believers for selfish purposes are of great concern.

The burning of holy books and insulting religious symbols is vandalism that incites hostility between peoples and religions.

As the President of Kazakhstan noted at the UN General Assembly, such impermissible and barbaric actions have nothing to do with freedom of speech.

Amidst growing international tension, it is vital to find new approaches to strengthening global dialogue and trust.

Many participants of the VII Congress echoed this.

It is clear that a moral crisis lies at the heart of many contemporary challenges.

The pursuit of material success, a consumerist stance towards nature and fellow humans, and the devaluation of moral priorities have a destructive impact on human society.

In these conditions, the role of world and traditional religions as guardians of fundamental and moral values is of significant importance.

As leaders of world’s religions have repeatedly emphasized, unshakable spiritual and moral values, and a culture of tolerance and dialogue should be the foundation of modern society.

These values can ensure peace and facilitate a new global order.

In this regard, President Tokayev has initiated the inception of a new global movement for peace, aiming to establish a robust system of international security.

The role of leaders of world and traditional religions in this process is paramount.

Therefore, Kazakhstan is resolutely committed to furthering the collaborative efforts of religious leaders to address the most important problems facing the international community today.

Dear participants!

The need to further develop and strengthen our dialog platform was repeatedly noted at the VII Congress.

The final Declaration of the Forum set the task to develop a draft Concept for the Congress’s Development for 2023-2033.

Today, we will review the draft of this document, which was prepared jointly with the participants of the Congress.

This is a conceptual document that offers a renewed vision for the development of our forum in the coming years.

A key innovation in the draft Concept is the expanded mission of our Congress.

During the forum’s initial phase, from 2003 to 2023, its main goal was to strengthen and promote multilateral interreligious dialogue.

Today we can confidently affirm that this mission has been successfully completed.

In the coming years, the Congress will continue to develop and strengthen interreligious dialogue. At the same time, we see immense potential in spiritual diplomacy.

By standing together, world religious leaders could make a significant contribution to addressing contemporary global problems, such as poverty, inequality, and disintegration.

Their collective voice can contribute to ending wars and conflicts, while fostering a culture of dialogue and mutual respect.

The Concept outlines the mechanisms for promoting Congress’s mission at a new stage.

Specifically, it is envisaged to deepen cooperation between the Congress and UN institutions and other international structures, thereby expanding both the spectrum of partners and the geographical scope of the Forum’s activities.

The proposal includes the establishment of the Congress Goodwill Ambassadors institution, which can become an important tool of spiritual diplomacy.

In line with our commitment to inclusivity, it is planned to involve more youth, women, and individuals with disabilities in the work of the forum.

Plans are underway to organize a Forum of young religious leaders. This initiative should contribute to the preservation of traditions and ensure sustained dialogue among spiritual leaders.

We will expand cooperation with research and educational structures and involve the expert community in promoting the mission of the Congress.

In essence, the draft Concept offers a holistic view of the future endeavors of our Congress.

Yesterday, the draft Concept was thoroughly discussed within the working group.
I hope that this document will be reviewed in detail and supported at today’s meeting of the Secretariat.

The Concept should definitively outline a clear vector for the dynamic development of our forum for the coming years.

Dear participants and guests of the Secretariat!

I am confident that today’s meeting will foster a substantive and constructive dialogue.

We will discuss the outcomes of the past years and chart innovative plans for the future.

I wish everyone productive work!

Also read: Religious Leaders unite for Peace & Harmony at XXI Secretariat Session

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