The present situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, problems it is facing in the task to preserve the spiritual unity in the Holy Land, religious life in Russia and the importance of interreligious dialogue and religious tolerance - these are the topics dealt with in the interview granted to Alexey Sosedov of Interfax-Religion by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, moderator of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, honorary professor at Moscow State University.
- Your Royal Highness, could you comment, please, on the present situation in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem?
- I think so far as decisions taken by Orthodox Churches are concerned, they clearly have to be consensual and reflect a common position. I do feel that it is important to preserve the moral authority of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. As an Arab I have sympathy with the view of possible inclusion of Arab bishops who may be part of the process. It is not for an outsider to suggest when and how Arab bishops should assume the responsibility. But this was and still is I think one of the aspects of the discussion on the role of the Patriarchate. Obviously because the Orthodox Patriarchate is sovereign in the context of the Holy Tomb and holy sites. I do feel that with so many differences between Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Muslims, Christians and Christians, what is important is the development of a concept for the management of the holy sites in Jerusalem. I think itís important at least for the reasons of demography. Christian Arabs emigrate from Jerusalem. Itís very tragic that places of worship become lifeless and turn into museum and places for pilgrimage without the oxygen of worshippers from within the Holy Land. It is a time for healing and sensitivity in relations. What is important is the presence of free expression for religious communities in Jerusalem. It is important that Orthodox Greeks, Orthodox Russians and for that matter the multiplicity of Orthodoxy including Arab Orthodox relations are respected and enhanced. Politics should not be the domain of religious authorities; religion should be separated from state and politics. Jordan fully supports ecumenical and consensual relations between Orthodox Churches. And I hope that Christian churches will recognize the hugely important role of Jerusalem in terms of permanent status. As we know there has been much discussion in the International Commission of Jurists on the moral standing and moral responsibility of the religious authorities. I think that all churches in the region including in Iraq are deeply concerned with the unity of perception by the churches, and we, as Muslims, will find it extremely beneficial to feel that an independent contribution of moral authority in holy places in general is respected in the future for that matter, in Najaf, Mecca and Medina. I think that religious values have to be seen as supernational. They should rise above politics.
- How do you estimate the level of religious freedom in Russia, in particular, the position of its Muslim community?
- I am not qualified to comment in detail. I had the pleasure of meeting with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and with representatives of the Russian Muslim community in the past. I would just like to say that the establishment of an Interreligious Council in the Russian Federation is an important first step. I think that a strategy has to be developed for communication and public diplomacy both between Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, and for that matter between them and the international community. Because not enough is known about interrelations which would respect the modus vivendi of religious communities in the Russian Federation. In that context I would like to say that Russia is a Eurasian country. The success of models of cooperation is vivid in developing education. For example, I know that the Russian education authorities are deeply concerned with the Bologna process of accreditation of European universities. So, I think that a lot is to be done.
I am happy to hear that at least one Russian media network is concerned with developing consensus in Eurasian context between faith groups. I think we need this alliance between the media and academia. I just hope that we can assist in the future in fora that would bring closer to the Russian Federation some of the examples of the work being done in other parts of the world. As the moderator of the World
Conference of Religions for Peace, I am involved in Africa with hope for African children, in the hope that Muslims will work together. I am happy to see Asian Muslims working together with Catholic Bishopsí Councils and Muslims working in Christian's majority countries. It's all the question of working against terror, as is the case of Chechnya, for example. But it also a question of working for a shared value system, which should be reflected in practical measures in education, economy and social fields.
- World Conference of Religions for Peace headed by you is considered to be the most authoritative interreligious organization in the world. What are the priority directions of its activity today?
- I am happy that we were able to contribute to the creation of Councils of Reconciliation in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Indonesia. Our position is very clear when we need religious leaders to say: we are servants of the community, we are servants of the servants, and how can we assist in developing conversations. The same has taken place in Sierra Leone between Christians and Muslims. With Iraq we have hosted over five meetings of Iraqi Christians and Muslim religious leaders, and we have tried to develop a concept of peaceful dialogue by exposing these religious leaders to each other. We have found that Christians have not spoken to each other for years, let alone Christians and Muslims. It is certainly true for Iraq and then we try to expose them to the international community when we talk about the importance of entering in interconfessional dialogue. The second priority is humanitarian outreach, especially in Africa. The use of religious centers, mosques and churches, is very important for facilitating the charity of funds with recognition of the international criteria. For example, there was an initiative taken by the outgoing president of the World Bank for the World Faiths for Development Dialogue. We still remain hopeful that the international assistance can recognize the importance of working through mosques and churches with these international criteria.
Otherwise traditional forms of assistance will tend towards proselytizing and evangelizing on both sides, whether Muslim or Christian, which can only lead to trouble at the end of the day. When we find people suffering from leprosy or deprivation what is important is to build up their self-respect and their human dignity and to give them the freedom of choice. The third priority of our activity is to try in the context of international legality to translate the religious values into terms of international agreements such as the Declaration of Human Rights. As moderator I have called since 1998 right up to the 2004 UN General Assembly for a new international humanitarian order. And I would hope that religious values and secular values shared human values and can be recognized as enhancing the human rights and humanitarian law in developing the law of peace.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Russian Orthodox Church pay special attention to the development of ties with Arab countries, first of all with Jordan. How this cooperation is carried out in practice?
- Personally I am very sad that your initiatives in Eastern Europe at the time of the Soviet Union context of a network of the finest Orientalists in the world hang on, as well as academic studies, production of media materials and outreach in communications and public diplomacy. This approach has ended because of the shortage of funding at the end of the Soviet Union. I think that culture is not been given sufficient attention. I hope that we can start this conversation on the basis of business and culture. But once again how can we develop intercultural conversations without a clear commitment, and I think this commitment and the spiritual call to tolerance and mutual respect is something that requires a policy directive by governments and NGOs, and needs creating a standing on this partnership between media and academia.