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Report on the G20 Interfaith Forum, October 13-17, 2020

Dr. Maria Reis Habito

The G20 Interfaith Forum, an organization that focuses on bringing faith and policy together, was livestreamed from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from Oct. 13 to 17, 2020. Founded in 2014, the Forum is convened every year in preparation of the G20 Leader’s summit.  It calls upon the political leaders to include the voices of religions in the policymaking process and to build policy based on shared values of respect, solidarity and coexistence. In particular, the G20 Interfaith Forum seeks to raise awareness of the role of religious organizations and faith-based organizations in the implementation of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek to ensure that every person has access to the basic necessities of life: health, education, water, security, equality and a clean environment.

Prepared by six regional meetings convened earlier in the year, the agenda for this Forum included such topics as addressing the COVID-19 pandemic; combating hate speech and racism; promoting education and religious literacy; and addressing climate change, environmental degradation and disasters caused by both.

In addition to leaders from most major world religions, denominations and interreligious organizations, the G20 Forum also included representatives from the United Nations Alliance of Civilization, the World Muslim League, and the European Commission, as well as the host International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), organizations that were among the co-sponsors and supporters of the event. The Forum was attended virtually by over 2000 participants from 90 countries.

Speakers of the opening Session highlighted the importance of coming together like this during the global COVID 19 pandemic that knows no boundaries and yet has disproportionally affected the poor and disadvantaged members of society. But instead of witnessing a strengthened global cooperation and solidarity in combating the virus, the world has seen a heightened form of political nationalism, localism and divisiveness, which has resulted in the loss of many lives and exacerbated structures of economic and racial injustice. Under these circumstances, religious leaders and faith-based grass roots groups have been able to collaborate beyond boundaries in reaching out to the most isolated and needy groups during the pandemic.

Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican, a dear friend of Master Hsin Tao who welcomed us in Rome in 2017 and also co-sponsored and attended the Buddhist-Christian Dialogue conference held at Ling-Jiou Mountain in that same year, highlighted the Pope’s new Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All)” as a blueprint towards the formation of the one human family, wherein people seek the common good and affirm the dignity of each human person.   Throughout the entire conference, speakers resonated with the Pope’s message in their own ways,  emphasizing that we must not only hear the voices of the powerful and experts in public, but also the voices of wisdom from religious traditions, from families, from the marginalized, seeing the image of God in each other and deeply realizing our interconnectedness. Worse than the Coronavirus, they pointed out, is the spiritual virus of greed, anger and ignorance that shapes the political and economic forces which are destroying our Earth.

The introductory plenary was followed by the different panels on the themes of the conference. The panel on hate speech and racism raised awareness of the loss of civility, the scape-goating of racial minorities, the conspiracy theories and incitement to violence, which have been spread on social media during the Corona epidemy. But one successful example for curbing the steep global rise of Anti-Semitism was the recent decision by Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, to instantly counteract posts on Facebook that deny the Holocaust, through providing correct information.  This was made possible through the joint intervention by two religious leaders, Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League and Chief Rabbi David Rosen, another friend of Dharma Master, who has also attended the Elijah Interfaith conference at Ling-Jiou Mountain and the Museum of World Religions some years ago.

The panel on education was chaired by Patrice Brodeur, another dear friend of Dharma Master who had welcomed us at KAICIID in Vienna in 2017. The panel discussion noted the utmost importance of a holistic and caring education, which includes knowledge, understanding and respect for the Religious Other in society. Yet in spite of the utmost importance of religious and Interfaith education for personal, societal and world peace, there is still no political will in many countries to incorporate Interfaith studies into the school curricula. Adequate Teacher-training is another huge issue and challenge.  The research and recommendations of the working group on peace education will be submitted to the G20 by its director, Dr. Scherto Gill of the Guerrand Hermes Peace Foundation, who is a member of the Birmingham MWR working group and also a long-time friend of Dharma Master. 

Speaking on the climate crisis, religious leaders stated that destroying the Earth, which has been entrusted to humans by the Creator of us all, is a serious ethical and moral issue that needs to be addressed much more clearly and powerfully. For example, the fact that the ministers of the G20 nations asked for bailouts for the fossil fuel sector instead of funding for a transition to green energy points to a lack of awareness and political will. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for five million premature deaths each year.  This is a moral issue, just as the fact that 850 Million people throughout the world lack access to energy, negatively impacting their health and education. While the G20 want to use this gap by using fossil fuels, there is no way to meet the climate change without an end to fossil fuel, large scale animal farming and cutting down of the rain forests. The G20 Interfaith Forum is so important, because it conveys the voices of the religious leaders and communities to the economic and political decision makers, whose decisions will affect the lives of all of us, but most of all those who are the most vulnerable and threatened by the climate crisis, like the ethnic minorities that are threatened with extinction by raising ocean levels and deforestation. 

Even though the problems we are facing as a global community right now at the time of the Corona pandemic can seem completely overwhelming, this was not the feeling that participants were left with at the end of this  forum. On the contrary, my own feeling after participating in this Forum for 5 days was one of celebration, hope, inspiration, energy and joy, born from witnessing the power and beauty of people of such different religious, countries and cultures coming together in this time of crisis to share their insight, friendship and collaboration, based on their love for the Earth and humanity, and their willingness to take the responsibility of caring for both very seriously.

For further information on the Forum visit and