Harmony week; a celebration of religious diversity for peace
Religious leaders and believers from almost all faith groups of Uganda converged at the offices of Nile Dialogue Platform (NDP) in Muyenga for the annual Interfaith Day celebrations.
Nile Dialogue Platform is one of the leading non-government organizations that seek to promote peace through understanding and building good relations in Uganda.
From the Muslim faith, to the Baha’I and several Christian’s denominations under their umbrella body the Inter religious council of Uganda, Harmony Week was arguably the most diverse event, in terms of religious denomination that one could ever find in Uganda.
Held under the theme; Celebrating World Interfaith Day: Living in the Spirit of Harmony and Solidarity Amid COVID-19, it was heartening to witness an exchange of ideas about the need to nurture a culture of tolerance within Uganda’s diverse religious population as the precondition for peace.
Happening after the general elections, the discussion naturally gravitated towards the role and place of religious leaders in influencing the opinions of their flock in enhancing the gains.
Uganda has achieved
Comprised mainly of religious leaders, the congregation greatly supported the view that religious leaders have not only a right to guide society, they have a responsibility too.
The NDP Secretary General, Issa Kirarira said since Uganda is blessed with diversity, Harmony Week is always an opportunity to build stronger partnerships for sustainable peace and development.
He said although COVID-19 has led to reduced household incomes, religious leaders are playing a vital role of keeping children and citizens informed and safe. Muhamadi Katende, a lecturer at the Institute of peace studies at Makerere University, made some thoughtful comments on the importance of religion religious tolerance.
Talking about the different faiths in Uganda Katende said: “Our commonalities far exceed our differences. And COVID has come to remind us that we belong to the same community.”
He quoted the late Indian leader as Mahatma Ghandi whose record on tolerance has become a rallying example for peace.
“We have more things that bring us together than separate us. We shall never come to a point when you live only with those who are like you.
“If we don’t cooperate as humans, we are working for our own self destruction,” added Katende.
Nuwagaba Kaduyu who is NDP Peace Building Advisor said worshipping centres should be encouraging believers to unity under diversity rather than preaching sectarianism.
“We should not be seen creating sectarianism. Religious leaders should like everybody despite differences in ideology, faith, profession and colour,” Kaduyu said.
He castigated the media for always publishing stories involving violence, saying the rhetoric has been so divisive.
He, therefore, said it’s everybody’s responsibility to take the narrative of peace; tolerance and respect for human rights.
“Uganda has the best soils and weather but some issues affecting us like bad governance can be solved through dialogue,” he said.
The Second Deputy Mufti of Uganda, Sheikh Muhammad Ali Waiswa appealed to religious leaders to serve Ugandan citizens with pride, adding they are accountable to their creator.
“So let us serve our people with honour regardless of things that have kept dividing us,” Waiswa advised.
Fr. Vincent Karatunga of Uganda Catholic Secretariat called upon Christians to work together to build a better Uganda and the World at large.
‘We are responsible for some of the darkest scenes on humanity. Religious leaders should cooperate to avoid a repeat of the worst scenes that Uganda experienced in the past in order to build it,” he stated.
Karatunga said whatever religious leaders decide for the country has consequences. She therefore called upon Ugandans to desist from people, who preach intolerance, disunity, and hate.
David Muzaale of Uganda Joint Christian Council said it troubles him to see young people being deluded.
“As religious leaders we should help to bring back those innocent souls to line and we are here to remind ourselves to take the message of peace, tolerance and peace to our people,” Muzaale said.
The debate was further enriched by the teachings of world renowned Turkish Islamic scholar and Human rights icon Fethullah Gülen (born 27 April 1941), as well as the late Pope John Paul II, both of whom not only advocated but also practiced tolerance and coexistence.
In his Blueprint for World Peace, Fethullah Gulen said, Peace cannot be taught; instead peace is inculcated through examples and actions.
Participants were however comforted by the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II, who emphasized the centrality of Justice as a pre-condition for peace.
The celebrations ended with sumptuous lunch that was served by NDP.