In a recent interview with Ruth Turner, Chief Executive of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, we discussed the significance of World Interfaith Harmony Week, the work of the Faith Foundation, ways in which we can engage difference, and more.
Rahim Kanani: What was your reaction to the passing of the United Nations General Assembly resolution to recognize World Interfaith Harmony Week annually during the first week of February?
Ruth Turner: I think what is significant about this is the recognition by the UN that the world only really works if the issue of how different religions interact with each other and the secular world is not swept aside, but is proactively and positively addressed. Too often we put religion in the “too difficult box”. I can understand why. But it means so much to such great proportions of the world’s population that no matter how difficult it is to talk about religion, it’s dangerous not to. If we avoid tricky conversations, into that vacuum rush people who will distort ideas and convictions. Those who ferment religious extremism and prejudice have no hesitation about speaking out as loudly as they can, and claiming the dominance of their ideas. Why should the rest of us simply back off and leave them the stage? We need to hear a counter position. Having spoken to HRH Prince Ghazi, who with King Abdullah of Jordan was the instigator of this, I also appreciated the simplicity and directness of the idea. The silent majority need to speak up and counter the ignorance and the intolerance: this is a week when those voices of moderation, co-operation, open-mindedness and respect can all be heard together. I hope over time it will grow – with religious leaders everywhere knowing that at least once every year their congregations will expect to hear this message explicitly from them.