Abby McBride is a youth representative for the UU-UNO. She attends Lehigh University and is pursuing a a degree in International Relations. She is a blogger and manager for The Assembly.
Religion tends to have a bad rap in the media. When people think of zealous religious figures, terms such as “bigot” or “xenophobe” often come to mind. A group of religious non-governmental organizations met at the United Nations on Friday, August 29th, 2014 to discuss putting an end to this trend. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) sponsored the interfaith dialogue workshop, entitled “Interfaith Progressive Values Promote Universal Human Rights” as part of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Co-sponsors included Muslims for Progressive Values, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the Tzu Chi Foundation, Soka Gakkai International, Won Buddhism, and Buddha’s Light International Association.
In the workshop, participants emphasized that, while faith is important, it should not stand in the way of basic human rights. Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, spoke of her dedication to Buddhism, but said her foundation will help any kind of person, not only Buddhists. Kamila Jacob, representing the UU-UNO, told the workshop that her drive for social justice is put into action by her faith.
Hiro Sakuri of Soka Gakkai International voiced his regrets that there is no longer an interfaith conference at the United Nations. In 2005 he established an interfaith conference at the UN, with support from 75 member states, 15 UN agencies, and a set of religious non-governmental organizations. Following this development was the first ever General Assembly high-level dialogue on inter-religious communication for peace. However, the interfaith conference no longer occurs since members of certain agencies and organizations have left. Now, he struggles to find committed people to bring this conference back to life.
Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, addressed the conflict that occurs between religion and human rights. She proposes that it is not religion itself that creates tension with human rights, but men’s interpretation of it. Of her own faith, Islam, she said “Sharia law is the interpretation of that divine inspiration [Sharia] by men of patriarchal society.” Zonneveld clarified that Sharia is the spiritual path of Islam. However, Sharia law has been warped by the values of the time (centuries ago) when it was enacted and the cultural issues it conflicts with today.
The UU-UNO affirms the Unitarian Universalist belief that there is inherent worth and dignity in every individual. Humanity is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, and the UU-UNO recognizes and embraces this fact. The UU-UNO wants to foster interfaith dialogue so that no religious groups stand in the way of the rights of individuals. We must be aligned in what is true, what is right, and what is good.
The UU-UNO recognizes that if religious groups are to succeed in protecting human rights, a greater degree of dialogue and cooperation in the future is essential. The workshop cast a look at what such a future might entail. Members attended from a plethora of religious groups – Jewish, Humanist, Catholic, Atheist, and a variety of others. The UU-UNO is hopeful that interfaith dialogue will continue as we need unity to secure fundamental rights around the world, rather than the division that has plagued religious dialogue in the past.