March 1, 2007

Welcome from Western Cape Province Premier Ebrahim Rasool

AR Online found these remarks from the IRLA World Congress in Cape Town South Africa compelling in their call for mutual respect. Neither AR Online, or the Adventist Review magazine, however, endorses all of the speaker’s remarks or viewpoints.
capI want to welcome you to Cape Town, and I’m hoping that this conference will not be so tight so as not to give you a chance to enjoy the beauty, as well as the history and the culture of this very beautiful and important cosmopolitan city at the southern end of Africa. It has been, against his will, the home of Nelson Mandela for 27 years, while he languished in prison out on Robben Island, or at Pollsmoor, or at Victor Verster, where he was released. But that is a person who spent so much of his life in Cape Town. It is also the home of someone like Desmond Tutu, as archbishop of Cape Town, leading much of what has become the conscience of the world in dealing with the apartheid situation. 
I want to welcome you to South Africa, which I believe is one massive laboratory and experiment in humanity—an experiment in which we try to push the limits of reconciliation without sweeping under the carpet the difficulties of the human existence, in which we try to take those things which have been uncomfortable in our past, hold them up for scrutiny, argue about them, debate them, but allow at the same time our common humanity to hold us together even while we deal with the uncomfortable parts of the past. And hopefully, the lesson that South Africa teaches in this great laboratory is a lesson that says that you can deal with difficult issues and still remain committed to a common humanity.
I think that an important conference such as this one organized by the International Religious Liberty Association will do w ell to look critically at what is happening in this laboratory that is called South Africa—to learn the best lessons and to critique the worst mistakes. And if this conference can do that, then all of the delegates as you return to your various continents and countries and locations, you would have done well to have not only learned from what you have said to each other in this conference, but from the atmosphere that South Africa presents for a conference such as that. 
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The Muslim premier of the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Ebrahim Rasool, welcomed delegates to the IRLA World Congress on Tuesday with a call to mutual respect and valuing.  [Glenn Mitchell]

I believe that you come here to assert religious liberty, but you hopefully leave here believing that religious liberty is more than the freedom to believe. It is also the freedom to let believe. Religious liberty is more than the freedom to evangelize. Religious liberty is also the responsibility to find the common ground even as you evangelize: that religious liberty has to assert the great spirituality of all human beings while persuading of better ways to reach and to worship God. And if we can find the balance between all of that, then I believe that this conference will have done well in a world that is deeply troubled, and where religious beliefs and religious behavior is often at the root of such trouble. And if we can assert that balance, I believe we immediately begin to speak into the deeply troubled nature of the world.

The troubled nature of the world manifests itself and justifies itself on the basis of religion, and manifests itself through terrorism, through Islamophobia, through anti-Semitism, through intolerance of a variety of natures across the world. Much of the root causes of all of that is the fact that we who profess a belief in God in one way or the other are the first victims of globalizing uncertainty. The first victim of globalization, the first victim of the onslaught of science, the first victim of the onslaught of technology is often tradition, culture, and religious belief—not because they are mutually exclusive—but because they shake the foundations that we hold so easily: and they force us to go back and find the relevance we need to present to the world. In the words of J. K. Galbraith, the Canadian-born American economist—I think that that’s the best description of him—in the words of J. K. Galbraith, he said: “The more uncertain people are, the more dogmatic they become”—because they retreat into the few essential truths that they can hold onto, and they become dogmatic about those few essential truths because everything else has changed. 
The family structure has changed. And so often, in Muslim communities, we retreat into one truth about the place of women. In much the same way, our children learn far more quickly from MTV, KTV, and all of those kind of things than they learn from a year of Sunday Schools and 10 years of madrasa. And they make us uncertain to the core about whether we can control the emerging generations, their value base, and their behavior—whether we can hold them back from drugs and sexual experimentation, and HIV and AIDS. And so they shake our certainties and they shake the essential beliefs, and unless we reinvent ourselves, we will not be able to speak either to women or to the young. And so J. K. Galbraith is absolutely correct: the more uncertain we become, the more dogmatic we become. 
And this is the cradle of ideologies of certitude which bedevil the world today. Then it is religion being the fig leaf for ideologies of certitude. This is the birthplace of extremism; and we all know extremism: it labels because it cannot debate and argue. It fights because it has forgotten how to love. It isolates and condemns because it doesn’t know how to unite and find common ground. And it has perfected the art of dying for a cause because it cannot live for a cause.
So the religious dialogue and trialogues, and quadrologues that we require, the conversations we require, are not simply between Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, etc., etc.. The conversations we need are conversations of mindsets across all religions, because extremism—fundamentalists in Christianity, in Islam, in Judaism, in Hinduism or any other religion—speak far more of a common language than progressive and well-meaning people across all of those religions. Extremists have their own conversations: they slug it out on the battlefields of Iraq; they slug it out in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, or wherever the case may be. They speak that language to each other because they are essentially the same, even if they raise a Christian flag here, a Jewish flag there, and a Muslim flag there.
Traditionalists have their own conversations. They retreat into the churches, the mosques, the synagogues, and the temples, hiding from the world, unable to deal with this world. They have their own conversations because across all the religions, they have the same language.
And those of us who believe that religion remains essential to the world, that its values would be the savior of the world, that its behavior is going to be critical to temper the excesses of globalization, and give the common poor people something to hold onto both in this world and the hereafter—we have to fashion a conversation that crosses the formal lines of division between Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, etc., etc. And unless we find each other, the world will be condemned.
The key to it is, I believe, in what the Koran teaches when it says, “[Arabic phrase],” when Gods says “I have blown of My spirit into you.” And in the same vein, when in the first epistle of John, John says, “Who lives in love, lives in God and God in him. And it ends up by saying, “This I say to you: I have given you My spirit.”
If the Koran says that God has given of His spirit to each human being, and in John it is declared that God’s spirit is left for each person, then we begin to get the answer. We can only go forward if we recognize that each one of us carries a part of the spirit of God in us—that when we speak to each other, we don’t speak to the Muslim dress that the one wears and the clerical clothes that Catholics wear, or the garbs that the Hindus wear, whatever. We aren’t speaking to their clothes: we are speaking to the divine in each one of them. We are not speaking to the Muslim fez and the Christian collar, whatever the case may be; we are speaking to the divine in each one of them. And even as we differ formally, the common ground is that each one of us carries the spirit of God within us and is worthy of respect, is worthy of love, and is worthy, at the very least, of tolerance. . .

A member of the African National Congress and a Muslim, Premier Rasool has been in office since 2002