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Lack of understanding major hindrance to inter-faith talks

Published: Friday, 28 April, 2006, 12:48 PM Doha Time

By Ramesh Mathew

THE absence of reciprocity and lack of mutual respect and understanding among members of different faiths hinder the scope for inter-religious dialogues, feels Dr Serhiy Hovaran, a Russian Orthodox priest.

Dr Hovaran was in Doha to participate in the Fourth Doha Religions Dialogue which concluded at Four Seasons Hotel yesterday.

Like many other delegates who attended the proceedings at the dialogue, which he described as an ambitious initiative, Hovaran said every religious community was duty-bound to respect the religious sentiments of others. The 60mn plus Russian Orthodox church is the single largest religious denomination in the world’s largest country.

“It is natural that each of us has different perceptions on various religious issues. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect the moral, social and religious values of others,” Hovaran said.

Everyone has to respect the religious and moral values of the other in a holistic way, he said.

“Unfortunately that is simply not happening among some leaders, who on one side issue public appeals for sanctity among his community members in the event of some untoward happenings and on the other hand fail to respect the religious rights of others,” he said.

Even while acknowledging that a lot of headway has been made by leaders of different faiths in reaching a meeting ground, where everyone could talk and discuss issues, Hovaran feels that there are some regimes that keep on making life tough for minorities in their territory. To prove his point, Hovaran cited the example of a Middle East country, whose founding father he said had displayed a remarkable respect for secularism. “Now, its rulers cannot even tolerate the building of a seminary at a location which the Orthodox Church considers as historically important to its interests,” he said.

Such rigid approach by some leaders is enough to sabotage the gains of the dialogue between different faiths over the years, Hovaran said.

On Chechnya, Hovaran felt that even though the ongoing issue has some religious overtones, it is not entirely a religious issue either. “It is a combination of extreme nationalism, crime, politics and lastly religion, each of which is backed by some vested interests, adamant on destroying the age-old harmony which existed among the Russians.

“Strictly speaking, it is not a conflict between people of two different faiths,” he said.

However, Havoran feels that with the involvement of the World Russian People’s Council, a forum comprising people of different faiths in the country, a new beginning is being made to settle the contentious issue.

“Obviously, there is a remarkable urge these days among the representatives to settle the issue for ever,” he said.

Condemning those responsible for the recent cartoon controversy, Hovaran said no one has the right to offend the religious sentiments of others. “There is nothing as bad as spreading religious hatred among people,” he said.

“Equally worse is the attitude of some regimes in not granting religious rights to minorities in their territories,” he added.

When queried on the biggest achievement of the Doha Dialogue, he said it was the bringing together of Muslims and Jews on the same platform for the second year running.

Havoran added that a similar meeting with the involvement of more faiths will be held in Moscow, in June. Recommendations of the meeting would be forwarded to G-8 meeting to be held in Moscow, along the same time. The meeting is being held under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church, with partial patronage of Russian administration, he added.

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