SAAJ Interfaith Symposium
Louis Leakey Auditorium, Nairobi National Museum
On 22nd November 2014, the Shia Asna Ashri Jamaat (SAAJ) organized an Interfaith Symposium, a platform for dialogue, to encourage unity and cooperation among diverse religions & communities across Kenya with various speakers from the Government and different faiths presenting their views on topics relating to the influence of religion on various aspects of our lives and our country as a whole.
The Symposium was well attended with the presence of several Ambassadors including the Iranian Ambassador, representatives from SUPKEM, the Aga Khan Council President and Delegates, and the Head of Ummah Foundation. Also in attendance were the heads of 30 Hindu communities as well as representation from the National Churches Council of Kenya. Also present were dignitaries from other organizations based in Nairobi.
We were honored to have the attendance of Alhaaj Riyaz Nasser, Chairman of Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania (BMMT) and Alhaaj Mahboob Somji, Vice Chairman of BMMT, both of whom represented the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaats of Africa (AFED) and Alhajj Ghullamhussein Mukhtar, President of Arusha Jamaat,
The event was competently moderated by Dr Hassan Kinyua Omari who began by welcoming all the guests and introducing the speakers. The guest of honour, Honorable Joseph Ole Lenku, Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, was unfortunately delayed to the event due to the tragic killing of 28 in Mandera earlier that morning, which resulted in his having to go for an emergency security meeting.
In his welcome speech, the Chairman of SAAJ, Alhajj Murtaza Kanani outlined the emphasis of peace in Islam and the aim of all religions to improve society regardless of race, cast or ethnic background. This was then followed by prayers led by Muslim, Hindu and Christian representatives.
Dr. Ali Adam, representing Dr. Ahmed Yasin, Director General of the National Museum of Kenya, explained the role of religion in conflict management. He congratulated SAAJ for organizing this timely symposium, and emphasized on the need for unity through the common belief in The Almighty. He mentioned that widespread conflict and poverty cannot be eradicated in its totality, but rather should be used as an opportunity for dialogue for the benefit of mankind. On behalf of the National Museum of Kenya, he invited all members of the symposium to form a National Centre for Civilizational Dialogue, of which the NMK would graciously host.
Sheikh Adan Wachu, Chairman of the Inter Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) appreciated the platform for dialogue, and condemned all evil actions against places of worship. He mentioned the religious emphasis on education and peacebuilding which would assist in the current problems faced by society.
Oliver Kisaka of the National Council of Churches of Kenya stressed on the need for efforts to be made to arrest those taking innocent lives. He also suggested a change from a mentality of ‘Religious Tolerance’ to one of ‘Mutual Respect’ allowing all to live in harmony. His proposal was one of attempting to bring in the radicalized youth to a similar forum to show them the correct path.
Sister Sumayya Hassan Athmani, CEO of National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK) eloquently explained the role of women in Islam, especially in the corporate world, and how their experiences are not dissimilar to non-Muslim women. She urged the audience to overlook the examples of countries where legislation against women is extreme, and rather to focus on countries which have nurtured successful female leaders, Indonesia being her prime example of a Muslim Country to have a female President.
Dr. Ludeki Chweya, Director General of Kenya School of Government concentrated on the joy of diversity and explained that nation-building will not come about as a result of religious uniformity. The solution here would be for people with different religious backgrounds to unite under their fundamental values. The importance of family and youth, in his opinion, is also a major factor in the outcome of behavior within society.
Mr. Nitin Malde, Secretary General of the Hindu Council of Kenya (HCK) emphasized on co-operation and peacebuilding. He mentioned that the misuse of the religion should be condemned. He further went ahead to explain the role of religion in enhancing patriotism in our beloved country Kenya.
Sheikh Mohammed Nur, Resident Aalim of SAAJ, then took the stage and began by differentiating between simply being a Muslim and actually practicing Islam. On this basis, he stated that all the radical ‘Jihadist’ groups are far from Islam. He stressed on the need for properly moderated inter-faith dialogue to allow for the clarification of misconceptions and to nurture unity. Perhaps the most remarkable point he made was when he outlined the 3 types of identity everyone conforms to:
- Tribal Identity where unity is based on ethnic or racial background.
- Religious Identity where unity is based on similar faiths.
- The strongest type of identity, he mentioned, was National Identity where the entire population of a country comes together as a nation to overcome any challenges coming their way.
With this in mind, he placed emphasis on the need for everyone to Love, Honour and Respect our Nation, Kenya. This would go a long way in assisting the Government and Authorities to overcome radicalism and other modern conflict.
Dr. Mazahir Jaffer then launched the Interfaith Consultation Forum which aims to continue the mission of this conference that is to increase national unity and peace. The Forum, called ‘The Solution’ is made up of a quarterly journal that will express the views of all religions on National and Global problems, a blog where ideas can be shared and frequent workshops between various religions can be held. Dr. Jaffer urged all to carry on the dialogue, even subsequent to the event with the aim of neutralizing all negative actions to society.
It was at this point that Alhajj F. S. Abdalla welcomed the Honorable Joseph Ole Lenku who confirmed the Government’s aim of bringing the perpetrators of the morning’s incident to Justice. He highlighted that this was the action of a terrorist group and not one affiliated to the Islamic faith. He then went on to approve of the symposium and emphasized the need of having more of such gatherings to increase national peace and security.
The event was eased to a close with a beautifully recited poem on Love by Sister Darshna Parekh.
Alhajj Fazleabbas Chandoo, Vice Chairman of SAAJ, gave a vote of thanks and appreciated all the efforts put in by the speakers and the audience in bringing peace to our country. Each speaker was presented with a plaque and a copy of ‘Nahjul Balagha’ and ‘The Voice of Human Justice’.
We pray that these efforts lead us down the path towards peace and co-existence between all walks of life.