The role of inter-religious dialogue in the context of the human rights universality

01 November 2022

The relevance of the issue of inter-religious dialogue in the context of the universality of human rights in the modern world is caused by the fact that religious organizations and movements have significant potential to consider them as an influential force in world politics. The religious factor is an important component ensuring international security. The study of this topic involves the use of an interdisciplinary approach in a complex of philosophical, religious, ethnological, political and cultural points of view.

In the context of the philosophical paradigm, the concept of interreligious dialogue has a long history, the beginning of which can be attributed to ancient Greek sages. In the modern world, its practical implementation in international relations as an instrument of political communication in various fields, thanks to its constructive potential, is becoming increasingly important. With the increasing number of interethnic armed conflicts, accompanied by numerous casualties, increasing threats of extremism and terrorism, the problem of exposure of ethnic and religious groups becomes extremely acute, which ultimately leads to a violation of human rights. In contrast to the demonstration and applying of military actions and economic sanctions, it actualizes the role of soft power diplomacy.

In most countries of the world, in recent decades, complex processes of change in the confessional population composition have taken place, caused by dynamic global trends, and the importance of civilizational identity has increased. After the collapse of the bipolar system in international relations, the civilizational paradigm of world development comes to the fore, determining the features of dialogue formats in the examined field.

The evolution of the world history was accompanied by the formation and development of various cultural and civilizational communities. European countries, basing on the negative idea of civilizational superiority, pursue a policy of ignoring the specific ethno-cultural, religious   features   of   traditional   societies. “A.J. Toynbee in the middle of the 20th century noted the expansionist nature of Western civilization, due to its higher level of technological and scientific development. Peoples whose way of life during their historical evolution was distinguished by rigid family traditions, it is more difficult to perceive Western standards of human rights and free democratic principles of the political system, which does not mean their inability to self- development and economic modernization compliance to need of the hour.”

In practice, issues of interreligious dialogue are associated with the development of international public regulators of dialogue models with the participation of state and public structures, international organizations. In a speech by the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Rector of the General Church Postgraduate and Doctoral Studies named after Saints Cyril and Methodius Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk at the conference “Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations” on March 15, 2019, it is noted: “unfortunately, the last decades were marked by speculation on the religious feelings of people and attempts to stir up confrontation between the East and the West, between Christians and Muslims. I am talking about events in the Middle East, where extremists and terrorists for years intensely promulgated among the population the ideas of confrontation between Muslim and Christian civilizations. In this region, unrest continues in regard to the status of the holy city of the three Abrahamic religions - Jerusalem.”

Acute political, socio-economic problems in today’s world dictate the need for the common efforts of international actors to develop effective development strategies to guarantee the sustainability of human rights security against threats such as armed conflict, violence, environmental and epidemiological disasters and others. So, for example, over the past century, sectarian wars have broken out on the African continent, accompanied by bloodshed and numerous casualties, as it was in Sudan, Nigeria and other countries. Another region of ethno- political conflict is the Balkans, a complex node of confessional, intercultural contradictions, the tragic results of which are such events in the territory of the former Yugoslavia as the Croatian, Bosnian, Kosovo crises.

Large-scale migration processes and movements caused by ongoing conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan and other countries lead to enormous deprivation, violations of the rights of millions of people. In a number of European countries, including Great Britain, Germany, the United States of America, France, as a result of active migration processes, numerous Muslim communities have formed. The number of Muslims in Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden and other European countries also increased significantly. These trends make actual the issue of the need for new mechanisms of public administration that ensure the integration of the immigrant population into the foreign environment and the provision of a complex of human rights, including the religious sphere, with particular urgency.

A manifestation of the Western ideological concept of “clash of civilizations” is the book “Self-Liquidation of Germany” by Bundesbank director Tilo Sarrazin, published in 2011, in which the author gives reasons for inability of immigrants from Muslim countries to assimilate into German society and considers them as a threat to the country’s national identity. It is also worth mentioning the publications of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that appeared in the Danish and some other European media, which caused an acute reaction in Muslim states.

The famous orientalist historian Vitaly Naumkin notes: “It is harmful and erroneous to attribute allegedly inherent intolerance and rejection of freedom to the Islamic world. If we refer to the Muslim historical heritage, then one cannot but recall those striking manifestations of free thinking and tolerance that have existed in it for many centuries.” It is worth emphasizing that the problems of perception of the West by the Islamic world are complicated at present by actively developing trends of undermining the foundations of family values in European states, when registration of same-sex marriages and even raising children in them are allowed. The Social Doctrine of Russian Muslims of June 14, 2015 states: “The development by Europeans in the 18th and 20th centuries of declarations and legislative documents on human rights testifies to the desire of the human spirit to escape from the darkness of ignorance to the truth. However, the diminution in these acts of conservative-religious values ultimately led to such extremes of modern liberalism as the public legitimization of evils, including the substitution of the historically established concept of family with the concept of “same-sex marriage.”

The practical implementation of the complex of human rights enshrined in universal international documents in the modern world faces many serious difficulties and problems. The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly was an important stage in the consolidation of a wide range of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the guarantee of which should be regardless of citizenship, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, religion, language or other condition. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are central in the complex of human rights, the importance of which is confirmed.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the concept of “a world free from poverty, hunger, disease and need, free from fear and violence,” consonant with principles of human security. Under the UN, a special structure was created – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Statutory Body of the Human Rights Council, 10 treaty bodies monitoring the implementation of major international human rights treaties, such as, for example, committees against torture, on the rights of the child, on enforced disappearances and others.

The UN General Assembly Declaration “Transforming Our World: Sustainable Development Agenda 2030” states: “We see a world in which universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination, respect for racial, ethnic and cultural diversity; a world of equal opportunity, enabling the full realization of human potential and promoting universal prosperity. A world that invests in its children and in which every child grows up not knowing what violence and exploitation are“.

When posing the question of the role of inter-religious dialogue in the context of the problem of the universality of human rights in the realities of the modern world community, it is worth highlighting one of the most controversial aspects regarding the opposition of the countries of the Western world with its guarantees of rights and freedoms, individualistic worldview and Islamic states with the peculiarities of their religious traditions and culture. Western human rights standards are difficult to combine with the religious-traditional system of law of Islamic states, based on the provisions of the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet.

In the international format, the countries of the Islamic world adopted a number of key human rights documents, namely: the Universal Islamic Declaration of 1981, the Cairo Declaration of 1990, the Arab Charter of Human Rights 2004. The general conceptual approach of these international normative acts is that the basis of the human rights embodied in them is such principles as equality, justice, freedom, dignity. These important ideas comply with the principles of human rights established by Western standards, but human freedom in Islam is determined by Sharia norms, which is reflected in the constitutional acts of states. Thus, in accordance with Article 20 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, “All Iranians, regardless of gender, equally enjoy the protection of the law and have all humanitarian, political, economic, social and cultural rights, taking into account the adherence to Islamic norms.” At the same time, this document guarantees the rights of non-Muslims in Article 14: “According to the ayat, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Muslims are obliged to treat non-Muslims with kindness and Islamic justice and respect their human rights. This principle applies to persons who do not oppose Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran and do not participate in a plot.” Iran is one of the countries in which at the constitutional level the subordination of secular power to religion. Countries in which Islam as a state or official religion has a direct impact on the national system of law include Algeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Qatar, Malaysia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

In the modern world, an intense desire of peoples to preserve and strengthen their national or religious identity is developing. At the same time, religious fundamentalism is often used by nationalists and ethno-separatists to achieve political goals. Long-running international conflicts, accompanied by humanitarian problems, force people to leave for other countries in search of a peaceful life. As a result, legal and illegal immigration to European countries is increasing.

In these circumstances, the role of world religions in the search for peaceful means of solving acute problems caused by new challenges and threats, at the center of which are practical human rights issues, is increasing. In spite of the position of representatives of the secularization of public life, the positive potential of religion has the ability to influence the strengthening of the spiritual sphere. This topic was reflected in one of the important documents - the Rhodes Declaration – 2009, which was adopted at the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” on the island of Rhodes in Greece. “We call on leaders of religious movements and believers around the world to continue dialogue and cooperation, doing everything possible to achieve mutual understanding and respect, thereby contributing to progressive development and peace on earth, wherever there would be no place for conflict and crisis.”

The possibility of peacekeeping efforts of traditional faiths in crisis and conflict situations, at the same time, may decrease as a result of the lack of unity within religious structures, as evidenced by the example of the church dissent in Ukraine, where in 2018, on the initiative of ex-President P. Poroschenko, the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU) was created. The new “church” received a tomos on autocephaly (document of independence) from the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church severed full communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The shown intra-religious dissent certainly affects the civil rights of believers. It is significantly, in this regard, an understanding of the severity of the problem in the decision of the United Nation Committee on Human Rights of November 11, 2021, dedicated to the problem of violation of the rights of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “This document also instructs the Ukrainian authorities to guarantee the exercise of freedom of religion in the country and to ensure the investigation of all incidents of violence against believers there.” Currently, Orthodox churches across Ukraine are also subject to assaults related to robberies by armed nationalists. The confessional factor in this case acts as a detonator of the aggravation of political tension.

In this situation, the practical importance of interfaith dialogue in the formation of a common approach to events in Ukraine is significantly increasing. Questions about the need to achieve a lasting peace in Ukraine based on justice as soon as possible were discussed on March 16, 2022 during a meeting in the remote format of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. His Holiness the Patriarch emphasized that every person should have the right to freely profess his faith and speak his native language without being subjected to political persecution. The practical importance of such a dialogue in the situation with the Ukrainian crisis is undoubtedly high also from the point of view of reliable information exchange between the parties, in the context of attempts to isolate the Russian media from the West.

Practical steps to promote interreligious dialogue in the context of such important issues as the protection of human rights require obvious and joint efforts of States both at the bilateral level and in multilateral formats. Russian experience should be noted in this direction of state activity. High authority in the Muslim world allowed the Russian Federation to obtain official observer status with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2005. An important role in the development of the dialogue with the Muslim world belongs to the Group of Strategic Vision (GSV) “Russia – Islamic World,” which was organized in 2006 at the initiative of Vladimir Putin and under the leadership of prominent personalities Evgeniy Primakov, Mintimer Shaimiev. On November 23–26, a traditional annual meeting of the Group of Strategic Vision «Russia- Islamic World» was held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, dedicated to preserving the traditions of interfaith dialogue. The event with the agenda “Russia-Islamic World: Dialogue and Prospects for Cooperation” was attended by 33 state and public figures from 27 Muslim countries. One of the members of the GSV  Alhaj Syed  Nazibul  Bashar Maizwandari, the Chairman of the Tarikat Federation of Bangladesh and the current Member of Parliament, stressed in his publication following his participation in this meeting, that under the leadership of the President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, The Group of Strategic Vision «Russia- Islamic World» is turning to a strong advocate for Muslims in the international arena with a deep understanding of Islamic values and the importance of local heritage and culture.

Finally, it is possible to distinguish a number of conclusions:

– the role of world religions in the formation and development of the international foundations of the complex of human rights and freedoms has a conventional nature;

– theoretical approaches to the assessment of inter-religious dialogue formats are determined by understanding the following important messages based on the analysis of worldwide trends in global change: on the one hand, attempts of political forces to use inter-civilization dissents for their practical purposes; on the other hand, the processes of globalization are changing the forms of communication between people, understanding the essence of the influence of religion both at the domestic and international levels on the intensification of problems of national identity and updating the study of the effectiveness of existing communication mechanisms in a religious environment on the observance of fundamental human rights and freedoms, ideas of humanity, as basic values; – interreligious dialogue contributes to the search for mechanisms for coordination of common principles of international legal regulation in the field of human rights with national state-legal systems;

– the effectiveness of the implementation of international norms governing human rights and freedoms can be determined on the basis of a combination of fundamental human rights and a historically established legal culture and religious characteristics of peoples;

– attempts to absolute Western standards in ensuring human rights in the context of increasing and strengthening the role of the new non-Western world centers of power and influence in the system of international relations, face discrimination against their cultural identity;

– the problem exists not only in different approaches to assessing the principle of universality of human rights and freedoms, embodied in documents adopted by the UN, but also in practical realities related to violations of the relevant norms of international law by a number of states;

– – a modern, essentially critical stage in the history of international relations, determines the relevance of the role of religions, intensification of spiritual exchange to find common ground and understanding in contrast to the policy of confrontation and the threat of nuclear catastrophe.



Author: Executive Director of the Foundation for the Promotion of Strategic Dialogue and Partnership, Doctor of Political Sciences - Sadykova Elmira Lenarovna