President David Granger called for greater collaboration among all religious and civil society groups to foster social cohesion, in his keynote address this morning, at the official launch of United Nations (UN) designated World Interfaith Harmony Week 2016, at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre (ACCC), Liliendaal.
“Guyana is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious State. Guyana is proud of its religious diversity. Our diversity is our strength, not a source of weakness,” President Granger said, adding that interfaith harmony is an obligation if Guyana is to advance social cohesiveness.
According to the Head of State, harmonious communities and happy homes are important if Guyanese are to enjoy the good life.
“We cannot be a happy people or enjoy a ‘good life’ in the midst of discord, distrust; disharmony and social conflict… the causes of most conflicts are varied and seem interminable. Many, however, have arisen out of religious intolerance,” President Granger said.
While States have a duty to support and encourage interfaith harmony, the President said, the mere observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week will not resolve these disputes, particularly since inter-faith harmony cannot be legislated or enforced by the State.
Interfaith harmony “must arise from the volition of our religious and social leaders. They must be convinced and inspired by the belief that interfaith harmony is both desirable and necessary,” he said.
Though religious freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana, which in itself, lays the groundwork for greater religious harmony; the Administration has established the Ministry of Social Cohesion to foster greater inclusiveness by all ethnic and religious groups.
President Granger asserted that people who do not have a full understanding of their own religion might be inclined to demonise other groups that they understand even less.
“Guyana is proud of its record of religious tolerance. Churches, temples and mosques, in many communities, stand side by side. There have never been religious riots in Guyana. Guyana has been spared the agonies of religious fratricide,” the President said.
He then called on religious organisations and civil society bodies to work with the State to attain a higher level of harmony by building on the level of trust that presently exists, to intensify existing cooperation and to move beyond the promotion of tolerance towards acceptance.
Further, he said, as Guyana celebrates its 50th Independence Anniversary this year, “it would be a gift to posterity for Guyanese to finally overcome the debilitating divisiveness under which this nation was born…”
During this morning’s opening ceremony, prayers and messages of peace and harmony were offered by representatives from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Baha’i faiths. Messages were also read by representatives from the main political parties.
World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by His Majesty, King Abdullah II of Jordan. It was unanimously adopted in October of that same year. It started as an initiative to bring together leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths in dialogue, but was later expanded to include all faiths.