The Bulgaria Conference on “religion and terrorism”

The Bulgaria Conference on “religion and terrorism”

By Fr. Rifat Bader

In the small and quiet Bulgarian capital, Sofia, with a population of 1.5 million people in a country of seven million people, a three-day conference has convened touching on the issue of our time, namely, terrorism and its relationship with religion. I had the honor to accompany the Jordanian delegation, which was led by former minister of awqaf His Excellency Dr. Hayel Abdul Hafiz Dawood, and Dr. Yousef Al-Abdullat of the University of Jordan, as well as his brother Jum’a Al-Abdullat, who was one of the organizers of the conference in his capacity as having pursued his studies in Bulgaria and worked there for several years. The conference was organized by the Middle East Studies Center, founded and administered by Dr. Muhammad Abu Assi.

I had the honor to address the conference, as I made--in association with Dr. Al-Dawood--a joint address focusing on terrorism which is categorically rejected by all religions and their followers. Religion implies peace, and if it is associated with violence it loses its spiritual significance and gets distorted. On the one hand, we focused on all aspects of the Jordanian sublime model. Jordan has launched numerous initiatives to all the world countries over the past decades, and thus became a lighthouse worthy of respect and appreciation, as well as of being emulated by other countries. The Amman Message, the Common Word initiative, the Interfaith Harmony Week as well as welcoming the forcibly displaced people from Mosul are bright spots in the modern history of Jordan. However, their underlying messages are suitable for adoption by neighboring countries, so as to be in a position to minimize or rather terminate violence and bloodshed on daily bases.

One of the most outstanding figures in the conference—as there were participants from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia and Algeria-- was Bishop Atallah Hanna, who is well known for his noble positions and his participation in the Kairos Palestine Document which was published seven years ago to clearly show the Arab-Christian stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He said that the Christians in Palestine and the Arab countries are not an imported commodity; they are rather a basic component of their peoples, thus it is their undisputed right to continue their honorable contributions and presence in the development of societies as has been the case in the past.

What is interesting to note, is the presence of the Jordanian youths who organized the conference from abroad. This is a cultural image and a civilized cultural presence offered by our youths who are armed with education. Yes, our youths are capable, at home as well as abroad, not to absent themselves from the intellectual arenas. One of its most important features nowadays is the unstinting endeavor to openly enhance the culture of meeting, openness and mutual respect, unlike what is being disseminated by some parties that call for liquidation, exclusion, and disrespect for human dignity.

As for the final statement, it asserted the need for openness, as well as for respect of the views of others and their faiths. It states: “The labeling of others who have diverse views as infidels and the endorsement of shedding their blood is a dangerous phenomenon which has to be criminalized in religions since it distorts the image of religion on the one hand as well as it is a flagrant facet of terrorism and it is one of its causes on the other.” The statement also considered this conference as a non-governmental organization for Islamic-Christian cooperation in the face of religious extremism and hatred which includes clergymen, the intellectuals, and politicians from Bulgaria and the Arab countries. The final statement considered the participants in the conference as members serving as a basis for this great project. Among the most important objectives sought by this project is denouncing violence and terrorism, asserting that religions have no connection with violence, stressing the need to pay special attention to the upbringing of the new generations so as not to be associated at any time with the camps of violence and blood shedding, but to serve as supporters for cordiality, love and respect.

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