Interreligious Dialogue Fostering a Fraternal World
Msgr. Indunil J. Kodithawakku K. 

Conference on ‘Promoting Peace Together,’ Ecumenical Centre, Geneva

21 May 2019

As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you! Pope Francis began his speech at the Interreligious meeting held on April 4 in Abu Dhabi with this traditional Arabic greeting. During these 50 days of Easter we can also recall that the risen Christ offered the same greeting to his disciples: Peace be with you.

The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, identifies “religious extremism” as one of the causes of a “third world war [that is] being fought piecemeal.” On May 7, the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said that following the territorial defeat of Islamic State (ISIL) many jihadists as well as those they inspire, represent a major transnational threat.[1] These observations make it clear that we cannot speak of interreligious dialogue as a way of fostering a fraternal world without addressing the scourge of religious extremism.

The document on Human Fraternity clarifies the nexus between religion and violence as follows:

“Terrorism […] threatens the security of people, […] and disseminates panic, terror and pessimism, but this is not due to religion, even when terrorists instrumentalize it.”

“Every attempt to attack places of worship or threaten them by violent assaults, bombings or destruction, is a deviation from the teachings of religions as well as a clear violation of international law.”

One of the causes of terrorism is “an accumulation of incorrect interpretations of religious texts […] for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted.”

Religious leaders rightly condemn terrorism in the name of religion. More than that, religions need to work together to eliminate the religious extremism that is used to justify terrorism. To do that,

  1. Religious communities need to look inwards

Each ethnic and religious group needs to engage in a communal examination of conscience to determine if fundamentalist/nationalist groups within its own community are or have been directly or indirectly responsible for radicalization within other religious traditions. Have the religious and political leaders of the community been silent observers, tacit supporters or active collaborators of the radicalisation of the youth in their own community? When atrocities committed, it is not enough to say ‘that’s not who we are or what our faith is about’. The right question to be asked, is: “who and what created the young men and women within our community capable of such hate and violence?”

Some religious groups who have suffered violence committed by religious extremists, have resorted to acts of retaliation and reprisal against the entire religious community of the religious extremists who attacked them. Such violent responses only provide ammunition to the ‘outside’ fringe fundamentalist/nationalist groups as well as to religious extremists within one’s own community. Meeting violence with violence does not put an end to violence but only intensifies it. Moreover, religious communities need to be aware that local and regional secular leaders may exploit divisions within a given society to advance their own political and economic interests.

  1. Religious communities need to look outwards

It is not enough to say that ‘terrorists have no religion’, extremists from other religious traditions are ‘fringe groups’, or ‘they deviate from the true teachings of their own religion’, or ‘they interpret their religious texts incorrectly.’ There are many other angles to explore: What is the religious ideology that underlies religious extremism? Who preaches it? Where are these preachers trained? Who finances this training and propagation? How and why are moderate religious communities exposed to and influenced by extremist religious worldviews from ‘outside’? How to tackle online radicalisation?

  1. Religious communities need to foster a fraternal world through interreligious dialogue

The vast majority of people wish to live in harmony and friendship with the followers of other religious traditions. For that to be possible, we need to heal the wounds and dispel the mistrust created by religious extremism. In this regard; Pope Francis noted in his keynote address in Abu Dhabi, “There is no alternative: We either build the future together or there will not be a future.”

What role can religion play in the construction of world peace? The document on Human Fraternity proposes that the various religious traditions first of all need to recognize that “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.” The Document says that religions then need to work together to

  • Foster reconciliation and fraternity among all believers, indeed among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will;
  • Promote the authentic teachings of religions, namely peace, human fraternity, harmonious coexistence, wisdom, freedom, justice, and love;
  • Awaken religious awareness among all, especially among the young;
  • Refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism, and oppression;
  • Promote a culture of dialogue with all and at all levels to construct full citizenship for all;
  • Reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities.


The document on Human Fraternity invites “all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together” and also offers a counter-narrative against religious extremism, which is now one of those major global challenges that States can no longer handle alone. The international community must come together to combat it, doing so by

  • analysing the root causes behind religious extremism;
  • eliminating the underlying causes;
  • exposing the contradiction namely the violence that is labelled religious is condemned, whereas violence that is labelled secular is not regarded as violent but as peace-making:
  • fostering education inspired by respect for human life and diversity;
  • combatting the use of the internet to promote radicalization;
  • promoting inclusivity and respect for cultural, religious, and ethnic differences at the national level.

Let me conclude with the appeal made by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi: “Together, as brothers and sisters in the one human family willed by God, let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power, against the monetization of relations, the arming of borders, the raising of walls, the gagging of the poor; let us oppose all this with the sweet power of prayer and daily commitment to dialogue”.