The European Inter-Faith Youth Network: Striving Towards a United Planet

Submitted by SCM on Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - 16:18

SCM member Amar Behera tells us what happened at the recent summit of the European Inter-Faith Youth Network and why interfaith work is so important. 

There is enough strife in the world today and, despite all the good intentions and efforts around the world to bring about unity, religion remains one of the dividing lines that creates continued violence and sadness around the globe. Ensuring peace and stability remains a continued challenge that needs concerted efforts at dialogue. I was fortunate enough to be part of such an effort in December 2016, when the European Interfaith Youth Network (EIYN) held a 3-day summit at Taplow Court in the south of England. The summit was attended by people from different faith groups such as Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Athiesm, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.

I reached the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) headquarters at Taplow Court at around 8 pm on Friday, the 2nd of December. When I arrived at the centre, I was received into a meeting hall, where we played some ice-breaker games. The rooms were large and comfortable. I shared mine with Aarne Talvela, from the Finnish group ‘Youth against Extremist Violence’. I also had a late night dinner at the canteen which was delicious.

The next day, we started with presentations and talks by a Zoroastrian leader, Jehangir Faroosh, and Jamie Cresswell, who is the Director of the Centre for Applied Buddhism. Jehangir talked about his interfaith journey, discussing the responsibility of religions and the role of media in maintaining religious peace and unity. Jamie introduced us to the principles of Nichiren Buddhism and how they can be used to promote world peace. After coffee, there was a presentation and discussion led by Adam Deen, who was an Islamic extremist and has returned to mainstream society. This session was quite valuable-  Adam highlighted the hypocrisy of extremist leaders, and their desire to empower their own faith at the expense of others.

In the afternoon, there was a discussion led by Aarne Talvela, which helped the group to think deeply about interfaith issues, including countering extremism. In the evening, a young Hindu leader, Shiv Dattani, gave a talk about how to serve society through your faith, and how to explore spirituality. Later, we had a UK interfaith meeting, which led to the establishment of the UK Interfaith Youth Network (UK-IYN), with its own facebook group. I talked about the history of SCM during this meeting and others talked about their own organisations. Later that evening, we had a cultural program, which was good fun.

On the final Sunday, in the morning, we had a session led by Irene Incerti Théry, who graduated with a Master in Peace and Conflict Transformation from the University of Tromsø of Norway, and works for UnDialog. She did her thesis on dialogue and helped us think critically about this subject. The main lessons were to use “I” instead of “You” to prevent people from taking defensive positions, to time discussions and use a mediator, and to use specific questioning styles – open, closed, leading. The afternoon session highlighted the achievements of the EIYN over the last few years.

As we work hard towards a united planet, it is important to look beyond our religious labels and see one another as human beings. It is helpful to look and learn from countries like India which maintain religiously diverse populations where people live in harmony for the most part. Perhaps, it is useful in this context to recall and be encouraged by two quotes by Mahatma Gandhi, who Martin Luther referred to as the “greatest Christian” that walked on this planet, and which illustrate universal love and encourage us to be united: 1) "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew." 2) "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." At the prayer meetings organised by Gandhi, famous passages from the Gita, the Bible and the Koran were read. It is high time we realised that there are connecting threads among all the world religions. We must strive towards a united planet.

Amar is an SCM member and international post-graduate student studying mechanical engineering at Leeds university. He comes from India.

Tags: Interfaith