President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that Guyana can act as a model for many parts of the world, particularly in the area of religious tolerance.
“We can teach them about good governance and tolerance in the area of religion, and not stereotyping people based on the way they look, or because of their religion,” President Jagdeo said.
His comments came at the Ethnic Relations Commission’s (ERC) inter-faith conference, which was held yesterday at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.
The event, which was held under the theme “Propagating one’s faith in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society,” saw participation from religious leaders in all faiths from all the regions of Guyana.
According to the Head of State, the Guyanese society has managed to overcome many challenges and forge a stable society which is at peace with itself.
Acknowledging that there are still problems and challenges, President Jagdeo noted that the society was forged out of foreign intervention, and foreign hands play a significant role in shaping the challenges that are being faced today.
The President urged all the religious leaders to appreciate what Guyana has, and how it could become a model for those countries that are now struggling with religious issues.
“We have something to teach to the rest of the world, and here in this land we need all of our people working together to achieve the ideals and dreams of our people.”
According to President Jagdeo, the religious leaders should be the ones leading the people to enlightenment, peace, harmony, tolerance and respect. “Because, in this world, not having multi-cultural skills, not understanding other people, not having tolerance is darkness.”
Noting that some in attendance might not appreciate his comments, the President said that sometimes people live perfectly well until some religious leader starts stirring them up. “We must be the enlightened ones in the society.”
The President also called on the religious community to work together in paying more attention to social issues, such as domestic violence, child abuse and alcoholism.
He stated that societal problems should ideally be tackled by the religious community, with the Government playing a supporting role.
“I think if we go down this road more, work together and identify the big issues in our society, and we get involved in them, that these problems which may come up from time to time between the different faiths… could easily be overcome, because there is trust, there is an existing relationship…people have worked with each other.”
President Jagdeo congratulated the ERC for bringing together a diverse group of the Guyanese people to work on a very important area of development. Chairman of the ERC, Bishop Juan Edghill, said that yesterday’s event was a history-making one.
“For the first time in this multi-religious society, we gather from across religious groups and denominations in a single space to chart a way forward to ensure that religious harmony prevails in our country.”
According to him, never, to his knowledge, have so many leaders, representing so many different groups from all administrative regions in Guyana, met to have inter- faith dialogue.
“The norm is for denominations of the various religious groups to meet and have their discussions; but today we transcend the divide that labels us as separate, and we meet here as a religious community.”
Bishop Edghill noted that the gathering represents over 95 percent of Guyana’s total population, for there are remarkably very few Guyanese who do not conform or profess themselves to be of one religious group or another.
“This gives us awesome leverage to determine how Guyana moves forward as a country. Will it be in a society where sections or groups are not allowed to practice what they believe in, or will it be a society where each is allowed to follow his/her belief in the understanding that their fundamental right as an individual to practice their faith is not only guaranteed in our Constitution, but is respected by their neighbour?”
He said that the event will determine how to tolerate those of a different belief; and in exercising that tolerance, respect the right of an individual to practice his/her faith.
“The ERC is mandated by the Constitution to eliminate all forms of discrimination or discriminatory practices based on ethnicity.”
According to him, people often dwell on what separates and divides — symbols, mode of dress, style of worship, the design of the place of worship, and even diet; but fail to examine common ground. The conference was attended by Rastafarians, Bahai’s, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
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