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During his official state visit to Tanzania, German President Gauck met important representatives of religious groups in Zanzibar on 4 February 2015.

The high level meeting which focused on the interreligious dialogue was organized by the German Embassy, the Zanzibar Interfaith Centre (ZIC) and the KAS office in Dar es Salaam. For many years KAS and ZIC have been working together with different religious groups in Zanzibar and Tanzania Mainland to strengthen peace, religious tolerance and interreligious cooperation.

High level religious representatives attended the discussion forum. President Gauck was accompanied by Prof. Dr. Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and former Integration Commissioner of the Federal Government, Günther Nooke, Director for African Affairs of the Federal Government, Prof. Ulrike Freitag, Director of the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO), and the Prelates of the Protestant and Catholic Churches of Germany Dr. Karl Jüsten and Dr. Martin Dutzmann respectively. Zanzibar members of the Zanzibar Leaders for Peace and Tranquility Committee took part being represented by Sheikh Saleh Omar Kabi, Mufti of Zanzibar, Augustine Shao, Bishop of the Catholic Church of Zanzibar, and Sheikh Fadhil Suleiman Soraga, Secretary General in the office of the Mufti, to name a few. Sheikh Soraga was seriously injured during an acid attack in December 2013.

Discussion

In his welcome speech Sheikh Omar Kabi, Mufti of Zanzibar, thanked President Gauck for his visit to Zanzibar and his interest in the interreligious dialogue. His visit was an encouraging sign for those, who work for religious tolerance and cooperation across religious faiths, Sheikh Omar Kabi explained. President Gauck emphasized in his speech that he came to Zanzibar as a learner and not as a pioneer. He wanted to learn more about the Interreligious Peace Committee, which in his opinion is an important role model well beyond Zanzibar. Joachim Gauck referred to the situation in Europe and Germany. Young people followed the terrorist group ISIS; at the same time populists exploited resentments towards the Islam and therefore encourage mistrust and tensions between the religions. To meet these challenges, we needed a culture of respect and peaceful coexistence. In view of the conflict prone environment in and around Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar; such as the bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam 1998, the genocide in Ruanda and the terroristic attacks of Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, the work of the interreligious peace committee appeared even more important. The initiative encourages young people towards peace and tolerance and prevents them from following populist messages from fanatics, according to the President. Based on experience in Europe the dynamic of collective violence is well known. It is therefore important to respond at an early stage to these developments with the voice of reason and peace. After the speech by the German President, Sheikh Soraga presented on behalf of the Interreligious Peace Committee the history of the Christian-Muslim-relations in Zanzibar and the work of the Peace Initiative. He underlined the role of politics, which sometimes contributed to religious conflicts. In particular during years of elections politicians misused religion for political reasons. After the violent suppression of protests during election in 2000, which claimed dead and wounded, representatives of various faith-based groups started discussions with politicians to decrease the risk of violence in the future. In the run-up to elections in 2005 the Interreligious Peace Committee was founded to contribute to a peaceful, transparent and fair election process, Soraga explained. Since then the initiative has maintained its momentum. Meantime there are a couple of projects for peace, tolerance and interreligious cooperation in Zanzibar. The focus is especially on young people.

Afterwards President Gauck enquired about the composition of the local Peace Committees, Sheikh Soraga had mentioned. The prelate of EKD, Dr. Martin Dutzmann, referred to interreligious initiatives in Germany, for example joint prayers for peace etc., and noted the deficits in the theological dialogue. Therefore he was curious how the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and ethnic questions were discussed in Zanzibar.

Damas Mfoi, Priest of the Catholic Church of Zanzibar, explained, that the interpretation of the Bible and the Koran on specific questions were not under discussion in Zanzibar, but the Interreligious Peace Committee focused on examples and sections of the Holy Scriptures which call for peace and tolerance. These were also represented in the public sphere. Lusungu Mbilinyi, Priest of the Protestant Church of Zanzibar and youth coordinator for the Zanzibar Interfaith Centres (ZIC), added, that the Holy Scriptures were discussed together, not to find similarities, but rather to understand the differences. Caution should be exercised because the representatives of the committee were fast criticized of syncretism, especially through members of the Christian and Muslim communities, who are sceptical about the interreligious dialogue. One worked together in other fields as well, for example environmental questions, HIV prevention and family planning from Christian and Muslim perspective. But the focus of the work of the Interreligious Peace Committee clearly lied in the areas of peaceful conflict resolutions and preventing violence, said Mbilinyi.

Dr. Karl Jüsten, Prelates of the Catholic Church, indicated that religious tensions often came along with social tensions or are caused by them. In particular the question of education was important in this regard. In Germany there was the effort to found a Muslim Welfare Associations analog to the consisting Christian initiatives. However one had to realize that the concepts were not transferable. Against this background he was interested in the experience of joint social projects.

Bischof Shao confirmed this assessment. In Zanzibar social ills and insufficient education also being taken as justification for the radical preachers to spread their hate messages. Against this the government was required to improve the system because the religious communities alone would not be able to solve this problem. He noted that there were a couple of Christian and Muslim educational institutions which were by law forced to be open for every religious group. Muslims could visit Christian Schools and the other way around but there was no common interreligious education institution. With a view to joint social Projects the Bishop also referred to the successful cooperation on HIV-prevention. Therefore the HIV-infection rate in the African and Tanzanian context would be exceptionally low.

Bishop Shao referred to the challenges and risks of the interreligious dialogue during his speech. Zanzibar was not immune, there were radical there as well, who promote hate and violence against representatives of liberal thinking. He reminded of attempted assassinations of Catholic Priest 2012/2013 as well as acid attack on Christian Priest and on Sheikh Soraga in December 2013 who was sitting next to him. Nevertheless they would not be frightened by violence propagated by radicals but the Interreligious Peace Committee will keep supporting peace and tolerance.

In his closing speech the German President Gauck appreciated the valuable contributions by the participants and encouraged them to continue working together. One has learned that interreligious dialogue was not about finding consent in every question, there was no “Chris-lam”. The most important was tolerance. But tolerance was only possible, if there were differences and if one has learned to deal with the difference, President Gauck said. The faith-based peace initiative would be an encouraging sign with respect to the global challenges in the relations of the religions. Every small step was important in positive as well as in negative respect. In the history even small steps guided from hate to genocide. In the same way small steps from single peacemakers and initiatives can lead to a reliable social peace. Finally President Gauck thanked the participants and organizers of the panel and asked them to continue the exchange of experience and the cooperation in form of interreligious dialogues. The event ended with a closing prayer by one of the religious leaders and a group picture of the German President, representatives of the Interreligious Peace Committee, ZIC and KAS.

Reactions and Perspectives

The members of the Interreligious Peace Committee positively assessed the dialogue with President Gauck. According to participants the visibility and awareness of the work of the Committee as well as the importance of interreligious dialogues has been strengthened. The visit of the German President would not only be an honor but also an obligation for the future, reminded Lusungu Mbilinyi, youth coordinator of ZIC. The meeting with the German President came at an opportune time for the Peace Committee. During election year 2015 Zanzibar and Tanzania Mainland are facing major challenges due to potential political tensions and conflicts. The experience has shown, that a combination of social, political and religious motived conflicts can lead to violence especially during election years. To counteract conflicts and escalation of violence, it is important to further support the work of the Interreligious Peace Committee. The visit of the German President contributed to public recognition and strengthening of the Committee also toward the Zanzibar and Tanzanian politics, which has major meaning for their future work. While two years ago the work of the committee was restricted because of a critical attitude of the responsible government department it now enjoys the full recognition and receives official support from the State.

ZIC and KAS will keep on supporting the work of the Interreligious Peace Committee. Further meetings are planned for 2015 to encourage the dialogue between the religions and to contribute to peaceful, transparent and fair elections.

About this Serial

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, its educational institutions, centres and foreign offices, offer several thousand events on various subjects each year. We provide up to date and exclusive reports on selected conferences, events and symposia at www.kas.de. In addition to a summary of the contents, you can also find additional material such as pictures, speeches, videos or audio clips.

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Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.


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