United Nations: As sectarian violence tears apart societies and atrocities are promoted in the name of faith, religious leaders gathered here for a high-level meeting on tolerance and countering extremism raised their voice for reconciliation and peace through education.
"Buildng a peaceful and inclusive society" requires "respecting each and every religion and honoring each and every faith," said Sri Sugunendra Theertha, the head of the Udipi Shree Puthige Matha.
He was one of the speakers Wednesday at a High-level Thematic Debate on "Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism" that was convened by General Assembly President Sam Kutesa.
He said Hindu philosophers and teachers over the millennia have taught people to respect other religions and this attitude was needed to bring peace.
He recounted the experience of Acharaya Madhava, the 13th century founder of the Dvaita school of Hindu philosophy to whom his Matha, or seat of religious learning, traces its lineage. On a pilgrimage to the north of India, Madhava was confronted by the army of a king "of another faith," he said. Madhava went up to him respectfully and held a dialogue with him. The king was touched by this action of peace and openess and gave him a share of his kingdom, Sugunendra Theertha said.
In dealing with extremism, he said, a baffling problem was that "using violence to counter violence results in more violence and aggression. Instead, he said, "education was a peaceful weapon" to counter extremism.
He suggested that all schools should teach the Bible, the Koran, the Granth and the Vedas. "Act like a bee, which collects honey from all flowers," he said. "Collect the best from all religions and distribute love and peace."
Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, the chairman of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in Birmingham, Britain, spoke of the need for reconciliation in a time of sectarian strife.
"Reconciliation is inextricably linked to compassion and forgiveness for ensuring sustainable peace," Ahluwalia said.
Some people were quoting isolated passages from religious texts to promote extremism in the name of faith, he said. To counter this, religious scholars need to work to clear misquotations of religious texts for extremism, he said.
"It is only throgh empowering the mind of the individual through good values and virtues is it possible to foster a peaceful and inclusive society," he said.
Speaking at Wednesday's session, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, "Religion does not cause violence; people do."
"Violent extremism is not a North-South or East-West issue," he said. "It is not confined to a particular region or religion. It transcends borders and exists across the world."
To counter the attraction of extremism to young people, Ban said, "We must show them another way, a better way. That includes working to end poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity".
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)